Happy Belated Birthday, Vivaldi!

The miracles of email calendars, Facebook reminders and iBerries aside, apparently it is still possible to forget birthdays in 2011.  I missed two this week, a good friend’s birthday (technically I got the date wrong, but I still missed the date of their birth) and the 333rd birthday of favorite composer Antonio Vivaldi (born March 4, 1678).  Fortunately other people got my friend’s birthday right, and you can always call the living.

As for how many other people remembered the late Vivaldi’s birthday, Bernard Gordillo assembled a geographic collage of standing tributes (let’s hope the local DPW never find that graffiti), while also covering the small distance between contemporary Tehran and seventeenth century Venice.  Google honored Vivaldi last year with a Four Seasons-inspired font but seemed to have forgotten him this year.  Based on morning reading, the respective arts sections for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Gate and Chicago Tribune made no mention of Vivaldi’s birth.  However The Red Priest does have an active following on Facebook.

Vivaldi’s musical influence has becomes so fundamental as to be unremarkable.  He didn’t invent the three movement, fast-slow-fast, solo concerto form, but his catchy melodies, vivid harmonies and athletic rhythms popularized it.  It helped that the gifted composer was also a phenomenally impressive violinist.  The musical drama of flashy, emotive soloist pitted against massed orchestral foil is now such a standardized form that it invites radically modernist reinterpretation.  Yet Vivaldi, alongside Bach (a huge Vivaldi admirer himself) and later on Mozart, had a huge role in emphasizing this setting against the older concerto grosso style (which Vivaldi also knew his way around).  His experience in opera and sacred music shaped instrumental works into miniature theatrical scenes without words.  For Vivaldi  instrumental and vocal music styles were passing lanes rather than opposite side of the highway, which accounts for a style as recognizable in the concert hall as a Lexus or DeBeers commercial.

Vivaldi wrote music of immediacy and power that was meant for performance, not dissection or philosophizing.  He also wrote A LOT of it, joking once that he could write a whole concerto faster than a copyist could write out all the parts.  He’ll probably never make it into the “genius” club with prodigies like Mozart or storm-tossed innovators like Beethoven.  Stravinsky quipped that Mozart wrote the same concerto four hundred times, but as long as people continue to play his music, we’ll never hear it the same way twice.

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