VIVALDI: Dresden Concertos, Vol. 4
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Dresden ConcertiVolume 4
Concerto in D minor,RV240; Concerto in B minor, RV388
Concerto in E flatmajor, RV260; Concerto in A major, RV344
Concerto in D major,RV224; Concerto in D major, RV219
Concerto in D major,RV213
Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation thatequals the international fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678,the son of a barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in theservice of the basilica of San Marco, he studied for the priesthood and wasordained in 1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist ofremarkable ability. A later visitor to Venice described his playing in theopera-house in 1715, his use of high positions so that his fingers almosttouched the bridge of the violin, leaving little room for the bow, and hiscontrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. The experience, theobserver added, was too artificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldi wasamong the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composerof music that won wide favour at home and abroad and exercised a far-reachinginfluence on the music of others.
For much of his life Vivaldi was intermittently associated with theOspedale della Pieta, one of the four famous foundations in Venice for theeducation of orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whomwere trained as musicians. Venice attracted, then as now, many foreigntourists, and the Pieta and its music long remained a centre of culturalpilgrimage. In 1703, the year of his ordination, Vivaldi, known as il preterosso, the red priest, from the inherited colour of his hair, was appointedviolin-master of the pupils of the Pieta. The position was subject to annualrenewal by the board of governors, whose voting was not invariably in Vivaldi'sfavour, particularly as his reputation and consequent obligations outside theorphanage increased. In 1709 he briefly left the Pieta, to be reinstated in1711. In 1716 he was again removed, to be given, a month later, the title Maestrode' Concerti, director of instrumental music. A year later he left thePieta for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestro di Cappella daCamera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German nobleman appointedby the Emperor in Vienna to govern the city. By 1720 Vivaldi was again inVenice and in 1723 the relationship with the Pieta was resumed, apparently on aless formal basis. Vivaldi was commissioned to write two new concertos a month,and to rehearse and direct the performance of some of them. The arrangementallowed him to travel and he spent some time in Rome, and indirectly soughtpossible appointment in Paris through dedicating compositions to Louis XV,although there was no practical result. Vienna seemed to offer more, with the good will ofCharles VI, whose inopportune death, when Vivaldi attempted in old age to findemployment there, must have proved a very considerable disappointment. In 1730Vivaldi visited Bohemia; in 1735 he was appointed again to the position of Maestrode' Concerti at the Pieta and in 1738 he appeared in Amsterdam, where heled the orchestra at the centenary of the Schouwburg Theatre. By 1740, however,Venice had 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 Pieta, who were asked, and at first refused,to buy some of his concertos.
The following year Vivaldi travelled to Vienna, where he arrived inJune, and had time to sell some of the scores he had brought with him, beforesuccumbing to some form of stomach inflammation. He died a month to the day afterhis arrival and was buried the same day with as little expense as possible. Aswas remarked in Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, butthrough his extravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi's expenditure was presumably in the opera-house. He wasassociated from 1714 with the management of the San Angelo Theatre, asecond-rate house which nevertheless began to win a name for decentperformances, whatever its economies in quality and spectacle. Vivaldi is knownto have written some 46 operas, and possibly some 40 more than this; he wasalso involved as composer and entrepreneur in their production in other housesin Italy. It was his work in the opera-house that led to Benedetto Marcello'ssatirical attack on him in 1720 in Il teatro alla moda, on thefrontispiece of which Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen as an angel with afiddle, wearing a priest's hat, standing on the tiller with one foot raised, asif to beat time. It has been suggested that "on the fiddle" hadsimilar connotations in Italian to those it retains in English. Vivaldi had hisenemies.
In April 1716 four musicians, the young organist and later performer onthe fashionable pantaleon Johann Christoph Richter, the organist and composerChristian Pezold, the composer Jan Dismas Zelenka and the violinist JohannGeorg Pisendel came to Venice, as part of the entourage of Frederick Augustus,future Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Pisendel, born in Cadolzburg in1687, had joined the Dresden court musical establishment in 1712. He hadearlier served as a chorister at Anspach and had studied with the Kapellmeisterof the Margrave of Brandenburg there, Francesco Pistocchi, and with GiuseppeTorelli. In Venice he delighted his patron by outwitting Italian musicians inthe performance of a concerto by Vivaldi. The Italians decided to play the lastmovement molto accelerando, but Pisendel seemingly brought them to orderby stamping out the beat. He established a friendly relationship with Vivaldi,who on one occasion saved him from threatened interrogation by the secretpolice, who had mistaken him for a suspect foreigner. This friendship isreflected in dedications of concertos to Pisendel and in the concertos of Vivaldifound in autograph in the Dresden library. Pisendel studied with Vivaldibetween April and December and returned to Italy the following year, when hevisited Naples, Rome and Florence. His career continued, largely in Dresden,and he remained, reputedly, the most distinguished German violinist of his day.
His pupils included Franz Benda.
Vivaldi's connection with Dresden and the royal house of Saxonycontinued in 1740 with the visit to Venice of Frederick Christian, son of theElector, an event celebrated by the Pieta with a set of new works by Vivaldi.
The present violin concertos survive in manuscript in the Dresden SaxonyLandesbibliothek and represent part of the repertoire of the distinguishedorchestra employed at the court.
The Concerto in D minor, RV 240, starts with the customaryopening ripieno, a descending scale figuration in the violas and cellos. Thefirst solo entry is over a sustained tonic, with syncopation giving way tobroken chord patterns in the solo part. The ritornello appears again,now in A minor, followed by a second solo entry, leading in turn to theritornello now in F major, after which the solo violin introduces anew pattern.
The ritornello is heard again, now in G minor, followed by a passage involvingsolo double-stopping, before a brief reference to the material of the firstsolo entry and the final ritornello. The slow movement is introduced by thewhole ensemble, leading to a solo aria in triplet rhythm. The concerto endswith a triple-metre Allegro, introduced by the violins together, withviolas and the bass line in thirds. The first sol