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8.550908 - VIVALDI: Cello Concertos, Vol. 2
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Cello Concerti Vol. 2
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, where the Gabrielis and Monteverdi had presided, 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 Pietà, 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 Pietà 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 Pietà. 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 Pietà, 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 Pietà for a period of three years spent 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 the Pietà was officially 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 Pietà 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 Pietà, 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 possible 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 Benedetto 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 left 27 concertos for cello, string orchestra and basso continuo. Seven of these, three of them in the earliest datable manuscript versions, were preserved in the library of an amateur cellist, Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, at Wiesentheid. Three of the concertos were copied by Johann Philipp Homeck, in the service of the brother of Count Rudolf and in Venice during the winter of 1708-1709. Other music was bought from Venice through the agency of Regaznig, representative of the Elector of Mainz, uncle of the Schönborns, in Venice, between 1708 and 1713. Other concertos are in the collection of the Turin Biblioteca Nazionale, with one, RV 404, from Schwerin in the Mecklenburgische Landesbibliothek.
In the Concerto in E flat major, RV 408 the rhythm of the opening is continued in the first solo entry, later to be varied by the soloist. The slow movement is in the form of a C minor aria on a descending bass line and the last movement, in triple metre, has a strongly characterized opening figure that frames the episodes for the solo cello.
Vivaldi wrote one concerto for two cellos, the Concerto in G minor, RV 531. Here he employs the two solo instruments in close imitation one of the other at the outset, a practice continued in the G minor Largo, accompanied by basso continuo. In the final Allegro, after the tutti opening and first cello entry there is a fugal passage introduced by the second cello, followed by the first, after which dialogue is resumed between the two, here and in later entries.
Dotted rhythms mark the opening ritornello of the Concerto in G major, RV 413, contrasted with the semiquaver movement at first entrusted to the cello, before roles are reversed. A unison orchestral opening precedes the solo entry in the D major Largo, followed by an Allegro where a figure derived from the descending scale is of importance. The Concerto in C minor, RV 401, has an imitative opening in which the first violin is followed by doubled second violin and viola. The successive entries of the soloist make use of more complex rhythms, triplet semiquavers (sixteenth notes) followed by demisemiquavers (thirty-second notes). The slow movement, in the same key, is a moving aria, introduced by the strings of the orchestra, and leads to a final Allegro ma non molto in 3/8, in which the upward leap of an octave by second violin and viola is answered by a leap of a ninth in the first violin, while wide leaps mark the writing for the soloist.
The Concerto in A minor, RV 422, starts with an arpeggio figure in the second violin, answered by an ascending scale from the first, figuration that marks the ritornello, leading to the broken chords of the solo entry, with its sequential pattern. The slow movement is again in the form of an aria, accompanied only by basso continuo and the last movement, in 9/8 metre, allows the soloist considerable variety of cross-rhythms.
The Concerto in C major, RV 400, has a strongly marked opening figure and an equally forceful cello entry, later accompanied by the violins of the orchestra. The A minor Largo is a deeply felt aria, while the last movement opens with a descending cello arpeggio figure, imitated by the violins in the first tutti.
Since winning the Gaspar Cassado International Cello Competition in Florence at the age of 24, Raphael Wallfisch has given concerts across the world. In Europe he has performed in Austria, East and West Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark. He regularly plays in Australia and in 1990 undertook a four-week tour for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation before going on to make his début in Hong Kong. He also makes frequent visits to the USA and Canada.
Raphael Wallfisch is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and Professor and Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music.
City of London Sinfonia
Harpsichord after Blanchet (c. 1750) by David Rubio.
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