VIVALDI: Wind and Brass Concertos
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Flute Concerto in F Major "LaTempesta di Mare", Op. 10, No.1, RV 433
Oboe Concerto in D Minor, Op. 8, No.9, RV454
Trumpet Concerto in G Minor (transcribedby Jean Thilde)
Flute Concerto in D Major "IlGardellino" Op. 10, No.3, RV 428
Trumpet Concerto in B Flat Minor(transcribed by Jean Thilde)
Bassoon Concerto in E Minor, F. VII,No.6, RV 484
Flute Concerto in G Minor, Op. 10, No.2,RV 439, "La Notte"
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 Piet?á 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 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'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 possible 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 teatroalla moda, on the frontispiece of which Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen asan angel with a fiddle, wearing a priest's hat, standing on the tiller with onefoot raised, 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 fifteen concertos forflauto traverso, the transverse flute, two for solo recorder and three for aninstrument he describes as a flautino, identifiable with the sopranino recorderrather than the anachronistic piccolo. The three concertos here included, Latempesta di mare (The Storm at Sea) RV 433, Il gardellino (TheGoldfinch) RV 428, and La notte (Night) RV 439, were all published by LeGene in Amsterdam in 1729, forming part of the set of six concertos thatmake up Opus 10. It is hardly necessary to draw attention to thedescriptive elements in the music, although these are by no means as detailedor programmatic as the famous Four Seasons, published in Amsterdam threeyears earlier, with their poetic explanation. Nevertheless La tempesta,like the other concertos of the same name, provides something of a storm, whilethe goldfinch exerts its lungs to as good effect as the birds of spring in theFour Seasons.
The trumpet as a solo instrument found noplace at the Piet?á, where, a recent scholar has pointed out, its presence wouldhave demanded the employment of another expertteacher for an instrument that might have limited appeal for the young ladiesof the establishment. The two arrangements for solo trumpet by Jean Thilde makea useful addition to the repertoire of the trumpet, calling, as always inBaroque trumpet music, itself originally designed for valveless instruments,skilful manipulation of the upper register, where alone consecutive notes ofthe scale were possible in Vivaldi's day.
The Oboe Concerto in D minor, RV 454,also exists as the ninth concerto in Opus 8, published in Amsterdam in 1725 as Ilcimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest of Harmony and Invention)and including the Four Seasons, designed for strings.
The bassoon was an instrument includedin the instrumentarium of the Piet?á and for it Vivaldi wrote some 39 concertos,two of them incomplete. The E minor Concerto, RV 484, like itscompanions, demands a degree of virtuosity, testimony to the prowess of thegirls of the Piet?á, or to the teachers often drawn from their ranks, or perhapsto the bassoonist Giuseppe Biancardi, a member of the Guild of Musicians whosename appears on one of the concertos.