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8.554310 - VIVALDI: Dresden Concertos, Vol. 4

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Dresden Concerti Volume 4
Concerto in D minor, RV240; Concerto in B minor, RV388
Concerto in E flat major, RV260; Concerto in A major, RV344
Concerto in D major, RV224; Concerto in D major, RV219
Concerto in D major, RV213

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 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 Pietá, 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 Pietá 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 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 briefly left the Pietá, 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 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 to govern the city. By 1720 Vivaldi 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 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 Pietá 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 Pietá, 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 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.

In April 1716 four musicians, the young organist and later performer on the fashionable pantaleon Johann Christoph Richter, the organist and composer Christian Pezold, the composer Jan Dismas Zelenka and the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel came to Venice, as part of the entourage of Frederick Augustus, future Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Pisendel, born in Cadolzburg in 1687, had joined the Dresden court musical establishment in 1712. He had earlier served as a chorister at Anspach and had studied with the Kapellmeister of the Margrave of Brandenburg there, Francesco Pistocchi, and with Giuseppe Torelli. In Venice he delighted his patron by outwitting Italian musicians in the performance of a concerto by Vivaldi. The Italians decided to play the last movement molto accelerando, but Pisendel seemingly brought them to order by stamping out the beat. He established a friendly relationship with Vivaldi, who on one occasion saved him from threatened interrogation by the secret police, who had mistaken him for a suspect foreigner. This friendship is reflected in dedications of concertos to Pisendel and in the concertos of Vivaldi found in autograph in the Dresden library. Pisendel studied with Vivaldi between April and December and returned to Italy the following year, when he visited Naples, Rome and Florence. His career continued, largely in Dresden, and he remained, reputedly, the most distinguished German violinist of his day. His pupils included Franz Benda.

Vivaldi's connection with Dresden and the royal house of Saxony continued in 1740 with the visit to Venice of Frederick Christian, son of the Elector, an event celebrated by the Pietá with a set of new works by Vivaldi.

The present violin concertos survive in manuscript in the Dresden Saxony Landesbibliothek and represent part of the repertoire of the distinguished orchestra employed at the court.

The Concerto in D minor, RV 240, starts with the customary opening ripieno, a descending scale figuration in the violas and cellos. The first solo entry is over a sustained tonic, with syncopation giving way to broken chord patterns in the solo part. The ritornello appears again, now in A minor, followed by a second solo entry, leading in turn to the ritornello now in F major, after which the solo violin introduces anew pattern. The ritornello is heard again, now in G minor, followed by a passage involving solo double-stopping, before a brief reference to the material of the first solo entry and the final ritornello. The slow movement is introduced by the whole ensemble, leading to a solo aria in triplet rhythm. The concerto ends with a triple-metre Allegro, introduced by the violins together, with violas and the bass line in thirds. The first solo entry allows the cello to echo the violin and the succeeding modulations take the ritornello and solo entries through the keys of A minor, B flat major and G minor, before the tonic key is restored, after a passage of solo double-stopping in thirds, followed by running semiquavers.

The Concerto in B minor, RV 388, follows a similar form. The opening ritornello is based on an arpeggio pattern, with the second violins answering the first, in imitation. The first solo entry introduces varied rhythms and after a ritornello in D major the soloist offers a passage of double-stopping against a sustained note. The following appearances of the ritornello and corresponding solo sections are in E minor, in G major and again in B minor, as the movement comes to an end. The slow movement offers an aria for the solo violin, now accompanied only by violins and violas, followed by a final triple-metre Allegro, starting with a ritornello which will frame four succeeding solo entries.

Broken chord figuration, against an energetic figure in the violas and cellos, starts the Concerto in E flat major, RV 260. More elaborate solo entries demand double and treble stopping and the use of the higher register of the solo violin, ascending to a high B flat, a suggestion of the technical prowess of the composer described by the Frankfurt architect Johann Friedrich Armand von Uffenbach in 1715. The slow movement is an extended aria in C minor and the work ends with a triple-metre Allegro, starting with a characteristic melodic and rhythmic pattern in a ritornello that frames a series of demanding solo entries.

The Concerto in A major, RV 344, is introduced by the soloist in a series of ascending arpeggios, each one echoed softly by the orchestra. There are modulations through C sharp minor, E major and F sharp minor, before the movement comes to an end with the final appearance of the ritornello, after a display of wide-spaced arpeggios from the soloist. There is a dotted accompaniment to the triplet-rhythm solo aria of the slow movement and this is capped by an energetic final movement, its solo passages replete with arpeggio figuration and the use of the higher register of the violin.

After the opening ritornello of the Concerto in D major, RV 224, the soloist enters with a passage using sequential patterns and exploring the higher register of the violin. The ritornello appears in A major, followed by virtuoso arpeggio figuration for the soloist, who returns, after a ripieno B minor, in a series of double-­stops. The Largo offers an A major aria for the soloist and continuo, leading to a final movement with further elements of solo display, between the recurrent appearances of an emphatic ritornello.

In the Concerto in D major, RV 219, the soloist leads with the high-register notes of the broken tonic chord. The following solo entries call for a rapid alternation of the open A string with the higher notes of the E string, displays of arpeggiation and modulations that pass through the relative minor and dominant keys. The slow movement is again for solo violin and continuo, allowing the ripieno to return to open the final Allegro, followed by a solo episode in double­-stopped thirds and a further exploration of the higher register of the instrument.

The Concerto in D major, RV 213, opens with a pattern of repeated notes for the violins, allowing the soloist to continue a similar figuration. An appearance of the ritornello in A major is followed by an element of bariolage in the solo part, involving a rapid alternation of a fingered E and the open E string. The opening ripieno figuration in B minor introduces the slow movement and punctuates the appearances of the soloist, with a final movement that includes a Fantasia, a free fantasy or cadenza, such as Vivaldi himself would have improvised in performance.

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