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.
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.