VIVALDI: Wind Concertos

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)

Wind Concerti

Concerto in F Major for two horns, RV 539

Concerto in C Major for two flutes, RV 533

Concerto (Sinfonia) in D Major, RV 122

Concerto in C Major for two trumpets, RV 537

Concerto in C Major for two oboes and two clarinets, RV 560

Concerto in F Major for two horns, RV 538

Concerto in G Major for oboe and bassoon, RV 545

(directed from the keyboards by Nicholas Kraemer)

Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation that equalsthe international fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678, the sonof a barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in the service ofthe great basilica of San Marco, where the Gabrielis and Monteverdi had onceworked, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same timehe established himself as a violinist of remarkable ability. A later visitor toVenice described his playing in the opera-house in 1715, his use of highpositions so that his fingers almost touched the bridge of the violin, leavinglittle room for the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at greatspeed. The experience, 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 his life Vivaldi was intermittently associated with the Ospedaledella Piet?á, one of the four famous foundations in Venice for the education oforphan, 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 ofgovernors, whose voting was not invariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly ashis reputation and consequent obligations outside the orphanage increased. In1709 he briefly left the Piet?á, to be reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was againremoved, to be given, a month later, the title Maestro de' Concerti, director ofinstrumental music. A year later he left the Piet?á for a period of three yearsspent in Mantua as Maestro di Cappella da 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 thePiet?á was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi was commissionedto write two new concertos a month, and to rehearse and direct the performanceof some of them. The arrangement allowed him to travel and he spent some time inRome, and indirectly sought possible appointment in Paris through dedicatingcompositions to Louis XV, although there was no practical result. Vienna seemedto offer more, with the good will of Charles VI, whose inopportune death, whenVivaldi attempted in old age to find employment there, must have proved a veryconsiderable disappointment.

In 1730 Vivaldi visited Bohemia; in 1735 he was appointed again to theposition of Maestro de' Concerti at the Piet?á and in 1738 he appeared inAmsterdam, where he led the orchestra at the centenary of the SchouwburgTheatre. By 1740, however, Venice had begun to grow tired of Vivaldi, andshortly after the performance of concertos specially written as part of aserenata for the entertainment of the young Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxonyhis impending departure was announced to the governors of the Piet?á, who wereasked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos.

The following year Vivaldi travelled to Vienna, where he arrived in June, andhad time to sell some of the scores he had brought with him, before succumbingto some form of stomach inflammation. He died a month to the day after hisarrival and was buried the same day with as little expense as possible. As wasremarked in Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, but through hisextravagance 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 forty-six operas, and possible some forty more than this;he was also involved as composer and entrepreneur in their production in otherhouses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-house that led to BenedettoMarcello's satirical 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.

Among the five hundred or so concertos written by Vivaldi there are a numberof works for two or more solo instruments. These include some two dozen doubleviolin concertos and one concerto for two cellos as well as a group of concertosfor pairs of wind instruments. Two of these, both in F major, are for pairs ofhorns. The second of the two, the Concerto RV539 opens with an Allegromovement in which much use is made of triadic figuration in a texture thatallows for the characteristic imitation of one instrument by the other. The slowmovement is in the rhythm and mood of a Siciliano, started by the stringsof the orchestra, and triadic figuration again finds a place in the triple metrelast movement. The first of these concertos, the Concerto RV538 has asyncopated opening, in which the horns double the violins, before the first soloentry, where each takes it in turn to imitate the other. The D minor slowmovement is a cello solo, with basso continuo, followed by a triple metre finalmovement where the triadic patterns suitable for the lower register of thenatural horn predominate.

The single concerto for two flutes, the Concerto in C major, RV533, startswith brief contrasts of texture, as the flutes, doubling the violins, areaccompanied in a short passage only by the violas, before the solo entries,where much use is made of dialogue between the two. A similar procedure isfollowed in the slow movement, where the first flute is echoed by the second,before the two join together. Each takes its turn on the thematic material ofthe final movement, with later dialogue between them and rhythmical combinationin passage-work.

The Concerto in D major, RV122, described in the surviving manuscriptas a Sinfonia, is a work of a different kind. Here the wind instruments,two oboes and a bassoon, double the strings throughout, and might without damageto the work be omitted. Two other such sinfonie survive, all in manuscripts inDresden. The first movement of the D major Sinfonia makes typical use ofoctave figuration, followed by an ascending scale. The slow movement is a Sicilianoand there is a brief triple metre final movement.

Players of the instrument have regretted and tried to remedy the fact that notrumpet concerto by Vivaldi exists. There is, however, a concerto for twotrumpets, the Concerto in C major, RV537.
Disc: 1
Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon in G major, RV 545
1 I. Allegro
2 II. Larghetto
3 III. Allegro
4 I. Allegro molto
5 II. Largo
6 III. Allegro
7 I. Allegro
8 II. Largo
9 III. Presto
10 I. Allegro
11 II. Largo
12 III. Allegro
13 I. Laghetto - Allegretto
14 II. Largo
15 III. Allegro molto
16 I. Allegro
17 II. Largo
18 III. Allegro non molto
19 I. Andante molto
20 II. Largo
21 III. Allegro molto
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