VIVALDI: Oboe Concertos, Vol. 1 (Bela Nagy/ Failoni Chamber Orchestra/ Geoffrey Thomas/ Judit Kiss Domonkos/ Stefan Schilli/ Tamas Benedek) (Naxos: 8.550859)
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Oboe Concerti Vol. 1
Concerto in D Minor, RV 454
Concerto in C Major, RV 534
Concerto in D Major, RV 453
Concerto in D Minor, RV 535
Concerto in C Major, RV 452
Concerto in A Minor, RV 536
Concerto in C Major, RV 450
Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation that equals 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 the service of the great basilica of San Marco, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist of remarkable ability. A later visitor to Venice described his playing in the opera-house in 1715, his use of high positions so that his fingers almost touched the bridge of the violin, leaving little room for the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. The experience, the observer added, was too artificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldi was among the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composer of music that won wide favour at home and abroad and exercised a far-reaching influence on the music of others.
For much of his life Vivaldi was intermittently associated with the Ospedale della Pieta, one of the four famous foundations in Venice for the education of orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained as musicians. Venice attracted, then as now, many foreign tourists, and the Pieta and its music long remained a centre 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 Pieta. The position was subject to annual renewal by the board of governors, whose voting was not invariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly as his reputation and consequent obligations outside the orphanage increased. In 1709 he briefly left the Pieta, 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 Pieta for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestrodi Cappellada Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German nobleman appointed by the Emperor in Vienna to govern the city.
By 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship with the Pieta was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi was commissioned to write two new concertos 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, and indirectly sought possible appointment in Paris through dedicating compositions to Louis XV, although there was no practical result. Vienna seemed to offer more, with the good will of Charles VI, whose inopportune death, when Vivaldi attempted in old age to find employment there, must have proved a very considerable disappointment.
In 1730 Vivaldi visited Bohemia; in 1735 he was appointed again to the position of Maestro de' Concerti at the Pieta and in 1738 he appeared in Amsterdam, where he led 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 of concertos specially written as part of a serenata for the entertainment of the young Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony his impending departure was announced 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 in June, and had time to sell some of the scores he had 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 with as little expense as possible. As was remarked in Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, but through his extravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi's expenditure was presumably in the opera-house. He was associated from 1714 with the management of the San Angelo Theatre, a second- rate house which nevertheless began to win a name for decent performances, whatever its economies in quality and spectacle. Vivaldi is known to have written some 46 operas, and possibly some 40 more than this; he was also involved as composer and entrepreneur in their production in other houses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-house that led to Benedet to Marcello's satirical attack on him in 1720 in Il teatro alla moda, on the frontispiece of which Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen as an angel with a fiddle, wearing a priest's hat, standing on the tiller with one foot raised, as if to beat time. It has been suggested that \on the fiddle" had similar connotations in Italian to those it retains in English. Vivaldi had his enemies.
Vivaldi wrote some twenty concertos for oboe and strings, in addition to a further three for two oboes and a score or so more concertos making use of the oboe with other solo instruments. His first published concertos for the instrument appear in the two books published in Amsterdam in 1716 and 1717, each set including one concerto for solo oboe and five for solo violin. These follow the publication by Albinoni of his oboe concertos, issued in 1715. The first recorded oboe teacher at the Pieta is Ludovico Erdmann, employed in 1707 and shortly afterwards in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Another oboist of German origin, Ignazio Siber, was appointed in 1713 and was replaced in 1716 by Onofrio Penati, an Italian musician in the musical establishment of St. Mark's. Siber was re-appointed in 1728 as flute master. These appointments suggest some attention on the part of the governors of the Pieta to the teaching of the oboe.
The Concerto in D minor, RV 454, is an alternative version of the ninth concerto of the set of twelve violin concertos published in 1725 as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest between Harmony and Invention), the collection that includes The Four Seasons. The first movement opens with a syncopated figure for oboe and violins. The slow movement aria leads to a final Allegro with an emphatic opening figure, from which the conclusion of the movement is derived.
The first of Vivaldi's concertos for two oboes and strings, RV 534 in C major, opens with the two oboes playing in thirds, followed by the strings antiphonally. The slow movement, an A minor duet accompanied by violins and violas is followed by a final Allegro of relatively simple texture, introduced by the strings.
The single D major Oboe Concerto, RV 453, starts with the strings, followed by the entry of the solo oboe, with basso continuo. The D minor Largo is an aria, with solo cello and cembalo, and leads to a compound rhythm final Allegro which allows the solo instrument some rhythmic variety in across-rhythm of four against three.
RV 535, in D minor, is the second of the concertos for two oboes. A slow introduction for strings and cembalo leads to an Allegro in which the two oboes are echoed by the violins in a continuing antiphonal pattern. The two wind instruments answer each other in a slow movement accompanied by solo cello and cembalo and the last movement, after a strong orchestral opening and slow cadence, allows the second oboe an initial contrapuntal entry.