Tag Archives: Vivaldi di domenica

Domenica con Vivaldi: “Vivaldi” Takes On the Solo Partita

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 12 in D
RV 214
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist and Ensemble: Unknown for YouTube clip,  Alberto Martini and I Filarmonici in audio clip

Vivaldi expert Michael Talbot attributes this concerto to composer Domenico Gallo, but false attributions haven’t hindered our journey through Vivaldi’s works, so why start now?

Besides, even if Vivaldi’s publisher chose to conclude Opus Seven with an imposter, it still makes a rousing closer: the racing first movement, with its rocketing ascents and breathless atmosphere, followed by a pleasant melodic stopover in the second movement and capped off by the soloist’s gymnastics in the third movement, often sans continuo and with just threadbare orchestra.

Drop out the supporting parts behind the soloist and the final movement feels like a work for unaccompanied violin. Unlike works written in that genre by Bach or Telemann, this movement is a purely violinistic display. Give it another listen and hear how it thrives on purely technical devices such as octaves, trills and double-stops, all at a furious tempo:

Instead of narrative continuity or contrapuntal allusions, Vivaldi (or Gallo, or whoever) focuses on the instrument and by extension the performer. Whether or not that makes this work less or more purely “musical” is a matter of taste. It just has its own priorities, and they’re made clear at the outset.

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Just The Chords

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 10 in F
RV 294a
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Filarmonici, dir. Alberto Martini

Buried in Vivaldi’s lesser-known Opus 7, sandwiched among spurious works and overshadowed by the Grosso Mogul concerto that follows it, this piece is a real gem in the haystack. The first movement is characterized by beautifully intricate passagework and subtle tension between the soloist and the orchestra. Beginning with a polite but inert ensemble ritornello, like an oh-so-very-nice cocktail party, the violinist bursts in for some heated discussion:

It’s easy to just let the ensemble pass by until the next solo. By the end of the movement [at 2:18 in the above clip], the soloist is biting at the ensemble’s finicky phrases. The cadenza is the real climax (and dig Alberto Martini tearing through it like a skateboarder on a halfpipe). That final ritornello? A convention, barely even an afterthought. Concertos are supposed to contrast ensemble and soloist, but here Vivaldi practically castrates the orchestra.

The second movement is also unique, foregoing the usual operatic lushness in favor of long, sinewy reflection between the two more upbeat movements. Towards the middle of this Adagio, with just continuo, the soloist sounds positively mired in his own thoughts:

The final movement picks up on the elegant finger busting of the first. Even the way the ensemble baldly spells out chords carries a certain momentum when it’s working in tandem with the soloist’s leaps and runs:

Many of Vivaldi’s concertos contain an array of patterns, arpeggios, upper register flourishes and other violinisms, but for some reason they all come together in an especially breathless way here. Jazz critic Andre Hodeir actually cites Vivaldi’s gift for “…beautiful melodic lines largely based on breaking up chords.” He explains that it’s not just spinning arpeggios like some five-finger exercise but a combination of the notes, “rich accompaniment” and terrific harmonic development.

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Spurious Author, Spurious Listening Practice

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 9 in B flat
RV 373
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Filarmonici, dir. Alberto Martini

The third and final imposter concerto in Opus 7 takes a while to warm up, so why not listen to its three movements backwards? The “Alla Breve” movement’s fugal theme and solo meditations over minor drones (at 0:55) work just as well as a novel beginning as an energetic conclusion:

Vivaldi employed fugues sparingly but powerfully (for example in the famous D minor concerto, op. 3 no. 11). The central “Grave” on the other hand relies on a serial Vivaldi effect: huffing chords over a subtly dramatic progression, sandwiching solo rhapsodies with just continuo. Here the two come together in a brief, uneasy détente (at about 1:43):

Reversing back to the opening “Allegro,” things seem slightly tamer, more innocent but far less gripping. The wide-eyed opening ritornello recalls Vivaldi at his most joyous, but spends all of its capital on being beautiful and not much else:

Whoever composed this concerto obviously admired Vivaldi, or his popularity, stitching the Red Priest’s signature devices into a pretty little work that might otherwise be forgotten if not for the master’s coattails.

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Domenica con Vivaldi: The “Stick Around” Concerto

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 8 in G Major
RV 299
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Filarmonici, dir. Alberto Martini

In case the audio player doesn’t play on your browser, please click the hyperlink titles.

Given all the spurious concertos in Opus 7, the unmistakably Vivaldian sound of this concerto might be welcome but the opening Allegro Assai is a little too familiar:

Characteristically elegant and brimming with Vivaldi’s beloved sequences, it just never takes off. The violin solos are more like sexy etudes: perhaps juicy stuff for the violinist but nothing Vivaldi hasn’t covered elsewhere.  The central Largo Cantabile is lyrical enough, and mysterious in its brevity, but so are many other middle movements by Vivaldi:

Other than the brief, tortured chromatic ascent towards the end (at about 1:12), nothing tugs at the heart or sticks in the ears. Turns out that’s up to the final Allegro:

Patience is rewarded, in this case with a miniature opera overture spotlighting spinning strings and a canvas for dynamic experiments (either historically accurate “terracedeffects or thoroughly inauthentic but satisfying swells). The soloist is the least interesting aspect, resembling a small child wiggling on a dance floor next to gracefully sashaying professionals. The strings are the thing, unusual for a Vivaldi concerto, and their simple but effective unisons echo a similar effect heard in the previous (faker) concerto of this set. Maybe that’s why Vivaldi’s publisher placed them back-to-back? Keep listening, especially all the way to the end.

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Fake but Fun

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 7 in B flat (Spurious)
RV 464
Solo Instrument: Oboe
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Unknown
Ensemble: I Filarmonici, dir. Alberto Martini

Another concerto inserted into Vivaldi’s Opus 7 that Vivaldi himself neither composed nor probably even heard, Vivaldi’s publisher could have chosen far worse to pad this collection. The introduction is Vivaldi-like enough, and by the time the audience realizes that things sound too sprightly to be authentic, they’re probably already hooked:

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto In B Flat, Op. 7 No. 7, RV 464, 1.Allegro

If it lacks Vivaldi’s harmonic and technical flair or his rhythmic incisiveness, then the tumbling oboe, frisky calls and response between soloist and ensemble and violin sequences alluding to the guy on the title page remain good fun. A brief modulation to the minor key doesn’t add a pinch of gravity to the lighthearted atmosphere; neither does the scraping solo violin (perhaps another jab at a Vivaldi trademark).

The middle movement is beautiful in an abstract and completely superficial way, with lots of curves that do nothing else but sound pretty (don’t hate yourself in the morning, this is the Baroque after all):

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto In B Flat, Op. 7 No. 7, RV 464, 2.Largo

The final movement’s sheer motor energy almost makes the listener forget Vivaldi, or all the dissonant right angles he might have added to this harmonically static, incredibly exciting conclusion. Yet starting in a minor key and finishing in a major is something even the master might have avoided:

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto In B Flat, Op. 7 No. 7, RV 464, 3.Allegro

That shaking unison figure for the oboe with orchestra is a simple but satisfying trick that must have been as much of a hoot for eighteenth century ears as it is for modern ones. This fun little concerto might have gone unnoticed were it not for the Red Priest’s historical coattails. Now it has a home in Vivaldi’s catalog, and listeners have a chance to hear it. Thank goodness for unscrupulous publishers.

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Bait and Switch, Circa 1720

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 6 in B flat
RV 374
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Filarmonici

This might be one of Vivaldi’s most clever concertos. Opening in warm, flowing B flat and with an utterly good-natured atmosphere, the first movement works its way back to the descending four-note tonic arpeggio heard at its start as an act of sweet emotional blackmail (click the link to listen):

Vivaldi: Opus 7, Concerto 6 1. Allegro (I Filarmonici, Martini)

The slightly more agitated solo passages have been heard in other Vivaldi concertos, but no matter how busy or repetitive they get, that simple phrase pops up like a little kid who knows exactly how cute they are.

The first movement quickly makes itself at home in the listener’s ears, allowing the tense minor key theme of the Adagio to really pull at their nerves more effectively:

Vivaldi: Opus 7, Concerto 6, 2. Largo (I Filarmonic, Martini)

A central movement modulating to a minor key is nothing fancy, but here Vivaldi really pulls the rug out from under the audience both harmonically and narratively, ending this dark episode too quickly to allow any real denouement. He also recycles the winding motif heard in the strings at the top of the movement for a heartbreaking scene of familial betrayal in his opera La Verita in Cimenta (“The Truth on Trial,” premiered the same year Vivaldi composed this concerto):

Most of the third and final movement is devoted to sprinting solo passages. It starts in a bright mood but the soloist quickly charges into a shadier minor key (about 0:24 in the clip below) and spends a little more time there than in most of Vivaldi’s other conclusions:

Vivaldi: Opus 7, Concerto 6, 3. Allegro (I Filarmonici, Martini)

The concerto doesn’t end unhappily but it’s still a long way from the relentless optimism of the beginning.  Manipulative mother, wasn’t he?

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Domenica con Vivaldi: ” Get Your Fresh Concertos, Concertos for Sale!”

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 5 in F Major
RV 285a
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Heinz Holliger or Salvatore Accardo
Ensemble: I Musici

When I started writing about one Vivaldi concerto each Sunday, I knew that some concertos would be harder to tackle than others. Vivaldi was a hugely popular composer who had to write a lot of music for a lot of different clients, leaving hundreds of concertos bearing his frantic writing.  That legacy speaks as much to his facility as his ability.

He bragged that he could compose an entire concerto faster than a copyist could reproduce all the parts, yet this particular work begs the six million ducat question of precisely what Vivaldi could cook up on demand:

There’s a few particularly attractive moments, such as the little rhyme in the first movement [at about 0:43 in the above clip] and the suspensions of the second [starting at 3:37], but otherwise it’s all a little too neat. There’s none of the characteristically Vivaldian dissonance or infectious rhythm. Most of the solos are little more than sequences based on some merely pleasant phrase. The relentlessly chipper third movement collapses into an endless sequence of sequences [starting at 7:41] like its spinning donuts in a parking lot. It’s as though Vivaldi lost interest and just wanted to give the player something to keep them busy.

Whether that player was a dilettante nobleman, a less than precocious pupil at the Ospedali where he taught music or someone who actually enjoyed sequences more than the composer himself (which is really saying something), music like this is literally a fact of life.  The market was calling and Vivaldi responded.  Some listeners hear an opportunist or an also-ran; I hear an artist moonlighting as an artisan (but it’s easy to decide which gig I’d rather listen to).

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Domenica con Vivaldi: A Priest and A Violin Walk Into a Concert Hall…

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 2 in C Major
RV 188
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Filarmonici

Between writing the opera seria that audiences demanded and the sacred works that were most composers’ bread and butter (supplemented by his own virtuosic instrumentals), Vivaldi didn’t have an opportunity to write any comedies in his lifetime. Maybe he was sublimating his punchier instincts through this concerto [click the link below to listen]:

Vivaldi: Opus 7, Concerto #2, RV 188, 1. Allegro (I Filarmonic, Martini)

A suitably pompous half cadence fakes the listener out at the start: instead of something grand and spacious, Vivaldi spins a tight, busy sequence of arpeggios. A flat reading of the notes on the page might comes across like a warm-up exercise, but this ensemble emphasizes the tongue-in-cheek side of things through seesaw inflection and a bit of sarcasm. Soloist Alberto Martini delivers Vivaldi’s undulating theme straightforward enough, like he’s trying to keep cool amidst all the craziness, but then flies into the rapid descending figure with abandon as well as a shining upper register. Eventually all the fuss come to a head and everyone launches into cathartic double-time [at about 1:54 in the above clip].

Incidentally, the harpsichord in this performance makes a good a case for the instrument’s merits beyond authenticity: its spindly chimes don’t just provide transparent harmonic and rhythmic support but needle the musical actors along the whole way through. Puck goes to Venice.

The second movement seems oddly reflective after the mirth of the opening, and the third and final movement relies on some cheery but predictable conventions. Maybe Vivaldi was reluctant to keep the joke going (say, with an over-the-top sendup of the stereotypical opera lament, or a parody of another composer’s work). Judging by the first movement, his comedic instincts were there. Yet since Vivaldi never lived to see the rise of opera buffa, his timing couldn’t help but be off.

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Domenica Con Vivaldi: Lip-Syncing Long Hairs

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto for Oboe in B Flat (Spurious)
RV 465
Solo Instrument: Oboe
Published in Opus Number: Seven
Soloist: Paolo Pollastri
Ensemble: Accademia I Filarmonici; Alberto Martini, conductor

Sometimes it’s the music of another artist.  Other times it’s prerecorded work playing during live shows (“Pieces of Me” remains a supreme act of betrayal for this blogger). Either way, today’s audiences are used to “musicians” pawning off other sounds as their own. It hardly a case of Luddite grumpiness to observe that technology, in part, makes this phenomenon possible.

In the days before mixing boards and overdubs, pop acts like Vivaldi dealt with the opposite phenomenon: hack composers and opportunistic publishers slapping his respected name onto their stuff.  Musicologist and Vivaldi groupie Michael Talbot has even questioned the authenticity of half of the twelve concertos published as Vivaldi’s Opus 7.

Listening in light of Talbot’s commentary, the first concerto in the set does seem to lack Vivaldi’s spark:

There’s a singsong monotony and harmonic placidity to this concerto that doesn’t even sound like Vivaldi on a bad day. He could be predictable and excessive, but was rarely boring. Even when he phoned it in, there was at least one interesting twist of the chords or some catchy rhythm. Here, the first movement’s sequences and the second movement’s stabbing notes and tender melody are just knockoffs of what the master did so well.

The Music is Timeless, but This Joke is Old

Or maybe Vivaldi was trying something new. In the nine years separating Vivaldi’s groundbreaking Opus 3 and this collection, the Red Priest had grown a large fan base through both printed scores and live performances across Europe, and popular tastes were beginning to change. A few years down the line Vivaldi would face fierce competition in the opera house from Neapolitan upstarts, whose light, supple approach was a move away from the dense textures and exaggerated emotions of the Baroque, and a move towards the relaxed vibe of the Galant Era. Vivaldi drew upon that style in some of his later works, but this concerto is just a case of “too little, too soon” and “nice try.”

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Right There in the Score

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 6 in D Minor
RV 239
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Virtuosi Italiani

Lots of variety here: the vigorously contrapuntal opening and the soloist’s a capella entrance sticking out like a bright screwdriver in some dense, churning machine, the pacific lyricism of the second movement and the finale’s rhythmic twists and harmonic turns. Even the soloist seems overcome by it all, staggering his way through the first solo before wrapping into some unexpected phrase endings:

What’s most surprising is that it’s all done with “just” strings. Absent any wind colors or exotic tuning, Vivaldi creates variety with a uniform palette. The music would work just as well with a chorus, or a band of double reeds (man, I’d love to hear this arranged for an orchestra of oboes, English horns and bassoons). In addition, while it might conjure up a variety of images and memories, there’s no clever subtitles or musical representation of storms or birds. Instead, the music is just music, pure aesthetics, unconnected with the external world and filled with possibility.

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