VIVALDI: Concertos for Strings
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 -1741) String Concerti
Concerto in Cmajor, RV114
Concerto in A minor, RV161
Concerto in F major, RV138
Concerto inG minor, RV157
Concerto in Bflat major, RV167
Concerto in G minor, RV153
Concerto in Gmajor, Alla rustica, RV151
Concerto in Gminor, RV156
Concerto in Cmajor, RV113
Concerto in Dminor, RV127
Once virtuallyforgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation that equals theinternational fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678, the son ofa barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in the service ofthe great Gabrielis and Monteverdi at the basilica of San Marco, he studied forthe priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time he establishedhimself as a violinist of remarkable ability. A later visitor to Venicedescribed his playing in the opera-house in 1715, his use of high positions sothat his fingers almost touched the bridge of the violin, leaving little roomfor the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. Theexperience, the observer added, was too artificial to be enjoyable.
Nevertheless Vivaldi was among the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well asbeing a prolific composer of music that won wide favour at home and abroad andexercised a far-reaching influence on the music of others.
For much of hislife Vivaldi was intermittently associated with the Ospedale della Piet?á, oneof the four famous foundations in Venice for the education of orphan,illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained asmusicians. Venice attracted, then as now, many foreign tourists, and the Piet?áand its music long remained a centre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703, the yearof his ordination, Vivaldi, known as il prete rosso, the red priest, fromthe inherited colour of his hair, was appointed violin-master of the pupils ofthe Piet?á. The position was subject to annual renewal by the board of governors, whose votingwas not invariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly as his reputation andconsequent obligations outside the orphanage increased. In 1709 he briefly leftthe Piet?á, to be reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was again removed, to be given,a month later, the title Maestro de' Concerti, director of instrumental music.
A year later he left the Piet?á for a period of three years spent in Mantua asMaestro di Cappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the Germannobleman appointed by the Emperor in Vienna to govern the city.
By 1720 Vivaldiwas again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship with the Piet?á was resumed,apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi was commissioned to write two newconcertos a month, and to rehearse and direct the performance of some of them.
The arrangement allowed him to travel and he spent some time in Rome, andindirectly sought possible appointment in Paris through dedicating compositionsto Louis XV, although there was no practical result. Vienna seemed to offermore, with the good will of Charles VI, whose inopportune death, when Vivaldiattempted in old age to find employment there, must have proved a veryconsiderable disappointment.
In 1730 Vivaldivisited Bohemia; in 1735 he was appointed again to the position of Maestro de'Concerti at the Piet?á and in 1738 he appeared in Amsterdam, where he led theorchestra at the centenary of the Schouwburg Theatre. By 1740, however, Venicehad begun to grow tired of Vivaldi, and shortly after the performance ofconcertos specially written as part of a serenata for the entertainment of theyoung Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony his impending departure wasannounced to the governors of the Piet?á, who were asked, and at first refused,to buy some of his concertos.
The following yearVivaldi travelled to Vienna, where he arrived in June, and had time to sellsome of the scores he had brought with him, before succumbing to some form ofstomach inflammation. He died a month to the day after his arrival and wasburied the same day with as little expense as possible. As was remarked inVenice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, but through hisextravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi'sexpenditure was presumably in the opera-house. He was associated from 1714 withthe management of the San Angelo Theatre, a second-rate house which neverthelessbegan to win a name for decent performances, whatever its economies in qualityand spectacle. Vivaldi is known to have written some 46 operas, and possiblysome forty more than this; he was also involved as composer and entrepreneur intheir production in other houses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-housethat led to Benedetto Marcello's satirical attack on him in 1720 in Ilteatro alla moda, on the frontispiece of which Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, isseen as an angel with a fiddle, wearing a priest' s hat, standing on the tillerwith one foot raised, as if to beat time. It has been suggested that "onthe fiddle" had similar connotations in Italian to those it retains inEnglish. Vivaldi had his enemies.
Dating theconcertos of Vivaldi presents obvious difficulties, except in the cases whereconcertos were published, thereby providing a date post quem non. Atleast 44 of the concertos are designed for four-part string orchestra. some ofthese have the alternative title of Sinfonia, while other works forstring orchestra without soloists appear under the alternative title of Sinfonia.
The distinction between the two is not clear, although the latter aregenerally homophonic in texture, the former allowing a marginally greaterelement of counterpoint. As with the solo concertos, these are in threemovements, two faster outer movements framing a central Adagio.
The Concerto inC major, RV114, opens with a ritornello theme based on the dotted notes ofthe arpeggio, a formula that Vivaldi uses with infinite variety. There is avery short slow movement, leading to a Chaconne, a Baroquedance-variation form that here owes something to France. The Concerto in Aminor, RV161, has a strongly marked opening theme of an ascending anddescending five-note figure. The following Largo is a mere ten bars inlength and leads to a final Allegro which makes use of a wide range inits ritornello material.
The Concerto inF major, RV138, one of eight in this key, bases its opening theme on thearpeggio, leading to a chromatic slow movement and a triple rhythm final Allegro,its ritornello theme based on the ascending scale and descending arpeggio.
The Concerto in G minor, RV157, has a syncopated opening theme, whiledotted rhythms mark the Largo and syncopation is provided in the finalquadruple-time Allegro by the use of tied notes.
The Concerto inB flat major, RV167, has a strong opening theme, with octave leaps used tostress the tonic key. There are off-beat rhythms in the central Andante andrhythmic variety in the triple-time final movement. A further G minor Concerto,the Concerto in G minor, RV153, uses the arpeggio and descendingscale in its opening, simple material from which Vivaldi creates music of thegreatest subtlety and variety. Dotted rhythms mark the central Andante andthe concerto ends in a rapid gigue-like movement.
The Concertoalla rustica in G major, RV151, has a lilting 9/8 first movement, endingominously in the minor, leading to the sixteen-bar slow movement, capped by afinal 2/4 Allegro, its opening figu