About this Recording
8.553742 - VIVALDI: Concertos for Strings

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 -1741) String Concerti

Concerto in C major, RV114
Concerto in A minor, RV161
Concerto in F major, RV138
Concerto in G minor, RV157
Concerto in B flat major, RV167
Concerto in G minor, RV153
Concerto in G major, Alla rustica, RV151
Concerto in G minor, RV156
Concerto in C major, RV113
Concerto in D minor, RV127

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 Gabrielis and Monteverdi at the 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 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 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 possibly some forty 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.

Dating the concertos of Vivaldi presents obvious difficulties, except in the cases where concertos were published, thereby providing a date post quem non. At least 44 of the concertos are designed for four-part string orchestra. some of these have the alternative title of Sinfonia, while other works for string orchestra without soloists appear under the alternative title of Sinfonia. The distinction between the two is not clear, although the latter are generally homophonic in texture, the former allowing a marginally greater element of counterpoint. As with the solo concertos, these are in three movements, two faster outer movements framing a central Adagio.

The Concerto in C major, RV114, opens with a ritornello theme based on the dotted notes of the arpeggio, a formula that Vivaldi uses with infinite variety. There is a very short slow movement, leading to a Chaconne, a Baroque dance-variation form that here owes something to France. The Concerto in A minor, RV161, has a strongly marked opening theme of an ascending and descending five-note figure. The following Largo is a mere ten bars in length and leads to a final Allegro which makes use of a wide range in its ritornello material.

The Concerto in F major, RV138, one of eight in this key, bases its opening theme on the arpeggio, leading to a chromatic slow movement and a triple rhythm final Allegro, its ritornello theme based on the ascending scale and descending arpeggio. The Concerto in G minor, RV157, has a syncopated opening theme, while dotted rhythms mark the Largo and syncopation is provided in the final quadruple-time Allegro by the use of tied notes.

The Concerto in B flat major, RV167, has a strong opening theme, with octave leaps used to stress the tonic key. There are off-beat rhythms in the central Andante and rhythmic variety in the triple-time final movement. A further G minor Concerto, the Concerto in G minor, RV153, uses the arpeggio and descending scale in its opening, simple material from which Vivaldi creates music of the greatest subtlety and variety. Dotted rhythms mark the central Andante and the concerto ends in a rapid gigue-like movement.

The Concerto alla rustica in G major, RV151, has a lilting 9/8 first movement, ending ominously in the minor, leading to the sixteen-bar slow movement, capped by a final 2/4 Allegro, its opening figure based on the descending scale. A third Concerto in G minor, RV156, suggests the interval of an augmented second in its opening theme, with its tied notes and consequent syncopation, material derived from an earlier work. The thirteen-bar slow movement leads to a final Allegro of rapid semiquavers.

The Concerto in C major, RV113, has an emphatic opening, with a slow movement in the style of a sarabande and a final triple-time Allegro with an opening figure derived from the ascending notes of the triad. The final concerto recorded here, the Concerto in D minor, RV127, has an opening pattern of repeated semiquavers. A solemn Largo is followed by the four-square rhythm of the last movement.

Accademia dei Filarmonici


Alberto Martini (Leader),
Gianluca Freddi, Luca Mares, Elena Telo, Alberto Ambrosini & Elisa Citterio
Violas: Luigi Azzolini & Paolo Pasoli
Cellos: Lorenzo Corbolini & Andrea Bergamelli
Double-bass: Giuseppe Carraro
Harpsichord: Francesco Baroni

The Accademia dei Filarmonici was established with the purpose of creating a chamber orchestra in Italy of international reputation. Its players include many well known Italian musicians who occupy principal positions in many of the better known Italian orchestras, as well as teachers from a number of important Conservatories and Academies. The orchestra plays generally without a conductor and has performed successfully in many important cities in Italy and throughout Europe. Recordings and broadcasts, with television appearances, have demonstrated the refined sound quality and virtuosity of the Accademia dei Filarmonici. The orchestra has recorded for Tactus and began its association with Naxos in 1995.

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