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8.550160 - VIVALDI: Estro Armonico (L'), Op. 3
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
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, which continued the traditions of the Gabrielis and Monteverdi, 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 was to describe 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.
For much of his life Vivaldi was associated with the Ospedale della Pietá, one of four 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 Pietá and its music long remained a centre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703 Vivaldi, known as il prete rosso, the red priest, for the inherited colour of his heir, was appointed violin-master to the pupils of the Pietá. 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 left the Pietá, to be reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was removed briefly, to be given, a month later, the title of Maestro de' Concerti, director of instrumental music. A year later he had left the Pietá 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 as governor of the city.
In 1720 he was again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship with the Pietá was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi was commissioned to write two new concertos a month, and to rehearse and direct some of them. The arrangement allowed him to travel, and he was to spend time in Rome and indirectly to seek possible appointment in Paris through dedications to Louis XV, which brought 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 there was a visit to Bohemia; in 1735 another appointment to the Pietá as Maestro de' Concerti, and in 1738 an appearance in Amsterdam, where he led the orchestra at the centenary of the Schouwberg 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 in 1740, his impending departure was announced to the governors of the Pietá, who were asked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos.
In 1741 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 opera- houses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-house that led 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" has similar connotations in Italian as in English. Vivaldi had his enemies.
The twelve concertos for strings and basso continuo published in Amsterdam in 1711 under the title L'estro armonico were to exert a wide influence over musical taste. Vivaldi dedicated the collection to Ferdinand of Tuscany, heir to the Grand Duke Cosimo III and patron of Handel and the Scarlattis among others. The choice of the Amsterdam publisher Etienne Roger ensured sales in northern Europe, as well as in Italy, where Vivaldi's style was less of a novelty, and provided players with a clear text, more legible than the sonatas of Opus I and Opus II that had been first brought out in Venice.
Concerto No.1 in D major makes use of four solo violins, and a solo cello in the first movement, with divided violas. The energetic and thoroughly characteristic first movement is followed by a slow movement that opens with a grandiose unison before two solo violins, accompanied by the viola, appear in alternating episodes. The final movement, in the customary compound metre, contrasts solo instruments with the rest of the orchestra.
Concerto No.2 in G minor is scored for two solo violins and a solo cello, with divided violas, and opens with a slow introductory section, leading to a lively Allegro opened by the whole orchestra but later alternating with the solo instruments. The moving Larghetto leads to a final Allegro with the mood and metre of a gigue.
Concerto No.4 in E minor opens in the manner of an overture, moving on to an Allegro. There is the briefest of Adagios linking this to the final Allegro.
Concerto No.7 in F major is for four solo violins and solo cello. The central movement is an Allegro, started by the first two solo violins, and the work ends with a minuet rather than a gigue.
Concerto No.8 in A minor, a concerto grosso with a solo group of two violins, opens in emphatic style before passages of contrasting texture with the alternation of solo violins and the full orchestra. The solo violins enter in imitation in the slow movement and there is a final movement in which, as before, much is made of the descending scale. The concerto was transcribed by Bach for organ.
Concerto No.10 in B minor is again for four solo violins and cello and formed the basis of an A minor concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach for four harpsichords. The slow movement includes an interesting contrast of bowings and rhythms between the solo violins and is followed by a last movement in which there is considerable variety of texture.
Two solo violins introduce Concerto No.11 in D minor, entering in close imitation. The concerto was transcribed by Bach for the organ. A short slow section leads the way into a fugal Allegro, the subject announced by the cello and answered by the viola. The slow movement has the rhythm and mood of a Siciliana and leads without a break to the imitative entries of the solo instruments in the final movement.
Academia Istropolitana, the historic university established in the Slovak and one-time Hungarian capital by Matthias Corvinus, the orchestra works principally in the recording studio. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.
The Soloists, Quido Holbling, Anna Holblingova, Marta Petrlikova, Zdenek Petrlik, Alexander Jablokov, Peter Hamar, Robert Marecek, Ludovit Kanta, Jozef Podhoransky and Peter Baran are members of Capella Istropolitana.
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