VIVALDI: Famous Concertos (Capella Istropolitana/ Gabriela Krckova/ Jaroslav Krecek/ Jiri Pospisil/ Jozef Zsapka/ Juraj Cizmarovic/ Karol Kopernicky/ Ludovit Kanta/ Miroslav Kejmar/ Peter Baran) (Naxos: 8.550384)
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Concerto in F Major for Oboe, Strings andBasso Continuo, No.2, RV 455
Concerto in G Minor for Violin, Stringsand Basso Continuo, Op. 12 No.1, RV 317
Concerto in D Major for Guitar andStrings (Lute Concerto RV 93)
Concerto in B Flat Major for Oboe,Violin, Strings and Basso Continuo, RV 548
Concerto in D Minor for Trumpet andStrings (transcribed by Jean Thilde)
Concerto in G Minor for Two Celli,Strings and Basso Continuo, RV 531
Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldinow enjoys a reputation that equals the international fame he enjoyed in hisheyday. Born in Venice in 1678, the son of a barber who was himself to windistinction as a violinist in the service of the great Gabrielis and Monteverdiat the basilica of San Marco, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist of remarkableability. A later visitor to Venice described his playing in the opera-house in1715, his use of high positions so that his fingers almost touched the bridgeof the violin, leaving little room for the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, afugue played at great speed. The experience, the observer added, was tooartificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldi was among the most famousvirtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composer of music that wonwide favour at home and abroad and exercised a far-reaching influence on themusic of others.
For much of his life Vivaldi wasintermittently associated with the Ospedale della Piet?á, one of the four famousfoundations in Venice for the education of orphan, illegitimate or indigentgirls, a select group of whom were trained as musicians. Venice attracted, thenas now, many foreign tourists, and the Piet?á, and its music long remained acentre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703, the year of his ordination, Vivaldi,known as il prete rosso, the red priest, from the inherited colour of his hair,was appointed violin-master of the pupils of the Piet?á. The position wassubject to annual renewal by the board of governors, whose voting was notinvariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly as his reputation and consequentobligations outside the orphanage increased. In 1709 he briefly left the Piet?á,to be reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was again removed, to be given, a monthlater, the title Maestro de' Concerti, director of instrumental music. A yearlater he left the Piet?á, for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestrodi Cappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German noblemanappointed by the Emperor in Vienna to govern the city.
By 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice andin 1723 the relationship with the Piet8. was resumed, apparently on a lessformal basis. Vivaldi was commissioned to write two new concertos a month, andto rehearse and direct the performance of some of them. The arrangement allowedhim to travel and he spent some time in Rome, and indirectly sought possibleappointment in Paris through dedicating compositions to Louis XV, althoughthere was no practical result. Vienna seemed to offer more, with the good willof Charles VI, whose inopportune death, when Vivaldi attempted in old age tofind employment there, must have proved a very considerable disappointment.
In 1730 Vivaldi visited Bohemia; in 1735he was appointed again to the position of Maestro de' Concerti at the Piet?á andin 1738 he appeared in Amsterdam, where he led the orchestra at the centenaryof the Schouwburg Theatre. By 1740, however, Venice had begun to grow tired ofVivaldi, and shortly after the performance of concertos specially written aspart of a serenata for the entertainment of the young Prince FriedrichChristian of Saxony his impending departure was announced to the governors ofthe Piet?á, who were asked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos.
The following year Vivaldi travelled toVienna, where he arrived in June, and had time to sell some of the scores hehad brought with him, before succumbing to some form of stomach inflammation.
He died a month to the day after his arrival and was buried the same day withas little expense as possible. As was remarked in Venice, he had once beenworth 50,000 ducats a year, but through his extravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi's expenditure waspresumably in the opera-house. He was associated from 1714 with the managementof the San Angelo Theatre, a second-rate house which nevertheless began to wina name for decent performances, whatever its economies in quality andspectacle. Vivaldi is known to have written some 46 operas, and possibly some40 more than this; he was also involved as composer and entrepreneur in theirproduction in other houses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-house thatled to Benedetto Marcello's satirical attack on him in 1720 in Il teatro allamoda, on the frontispiece of which Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen as an angelwith a fiddle, wearing a priest's hat, standing on the tiller with one footraised, as if to beat time. It has been suggested that "on thefiddle" had similar connotations in Italian to those it retains inEnglish. Vivaldi had his enemies.
Vivaldi wrote some twenty concertos forsolo oboe, strings and basso continuo. The Oboe Concerto in F major, RV 455, isin the usual three movements and in a characteristic musical idiom thatcontains in itself an infinite variety. The manuscript Sassonia on thescore is presumably a reference to performance in Dresden, where Vivaldi'sfriend and pupil, the violinist Pisendel, presided over an orchestra thatincluded excellent wind-players. The oboe, however, was also played at thePiet?á.
The Concerto in G minor forviolin, strings and basso continuo, RV 317, formed part of the group of sixconcertos published in 1729 in Amsterdam by Le Cane, the series making, with Opus11, published in the same year, the now usual set of twelve. The D majorLute Concerto, RV 93, here played on the guitar, belongs to a group ofconcertos written for various combinations of instruments and makes use of alute and two violins, with basso continuo. The autograph carries a dedicationapparently to Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby, an imperial official of someimportance in Prague. From this and from the paper on which the autograph iswritten, it has been plausibly suggested that the work was written duringVivaldi's visit to Bohemia in 1730.
In addition to solo concertos, Vivaldiwrote concertos for groups of solo instruments. The Concerto for oboe,violin, strings and basso continuo, RV 548, is the second for a combination ofsolo instruments that Bach also found of interest. It is followed by anarrangement for solo trumpet of a Concerto in D minor. Although trumpetswere occasionally needed in church music written for the Pieta and for seculardramatic occasions, they do not seem to have formed part of the normalinstrumentarium of the Pieta, where they might have seemed both inelegant andirreligious. The present arrangement, one of several by Jean Thilde, make auseful addition to the solo trumpet repertoire.
The Concerto for two solo cellos,with strings and basso continuo, RV 531, is the only one for such a pair ofinstruments, the sonorities of which it exploits to excellent effect, anexample of the mastery that shows itself, as Goethe later suggested, inlimitations of form.