Bàrbara Duran Bordoy
Musicologist and writer
VIVALDI WOULD BE INTERESTED IN TODAY’S CONCERT
The reasons why 63-year-old Vivaldi (1678-1741) left Venice for Vienna are difficult to understand. Admittedly, a short time earlier, he had met Emperor Charles VI, an enthusiast of his music, who had invited him to go to the Austrian capital. However, there seem to be two key factors behind this departure: on the one hand, Vivaldi’s style was no longer appreciated by the music lovers; on the other hand, he clearly wanted to succeed in the operatic world. Vivaldi had not always performed well in this field in Venice, and perhaps he still had a thorn in his side, which was to succeed as an operatic composer and at the same time become one of the leading musicians in the Viennese court. He was unlucky, for shortly after his arrival in Vienna, Charles VI died, and within months he became ill and died there too on the night of 27-28 July 1741, in conditions that were indeed close to poverty.
Why was Vivaldi’s style no longer so appreciated? This may be due to fresh impetus appearing in the instrumental language, especially in the violin, towards the first third of the 18th century, following the mastery of Corelli and Vivaldi himself. The musical world began to worship new idols: Tartini, Locatelli, Sammartini, Pergolesi and others took over. They offered innovations and new ideas that seemed like isolated hints but gradually consolidated and became “fashionable.” Other creators, such as the Frenchman Jean-Marie Leclerc, took it all on board in the French context.
Today’s programme exhibits the continuation of this trend, a process of evolution from the genius of Vivaldi to contemporary techniques. A recontextualisation, variation and extension of all that the Venetian master contributed to the instrumental language. We can follow this process from the models of the solo concerto and the concerto grosso (tutti and concertante) —a hybrid format between the two previous ones that Vivaldi dominated (soloists in the concertante group), to the constructive and formal freedom of contemporary pieces.
The scheduled concertos exemplify Vivaldi’s mastery in this field. The Concerto for Strings RV 157 is remarkable for its lightness and fluidity despite a distinct tempo; the second movement is treated almost as a recitative which contrasts with the delightfully intense vitality of the third movement. Here, evidently, the string ensemble’s sonority is explored to the full.
In contrast, the Concerto in C major RV 191 for violin, strings and basso continuo begins with a tutti that gives way to the soloist, a concerto that clearly marks these two roles; a performer is needed to remedy the devilish airiness of the first half. The second half is a kind of monologue that draws a delicate filigree over a basso continuo, followed by a playful allegro.
The Concerto in E major RV 253 “La storia di mare” is one of the five concertos Vivaldi dedicated to a storm at sea, a truly genuine example of his programmatic music. The tumultuous waters are clearly heard, the violin like a small ship, shining and splendid, struggling against them, and the melody of the soloist floating away, facing the waves until the third movement, which is a sonorous image of the hardships of human life itself. A different approach is presented in the Concerto in E minor op. III n. 4 RV 550, which is rather one of the examples of the hybrid between a solo concerto and concerto grosso, as the four violins exchange imitations and short solos in the instrumental ensemble.
The last concerto by the Venetian master, in D major RV 208, “Il Grosso Mogul,” does not fail to demonstrate how demanding it is for a soloist who has to control the technical difficulties as it includes a cadenza written on an endless pedal note. But at the same time, control must be exercised over the affective and expressive registers that the composition develops.
The contemporary works inserted in the middle of this set of concertos present different approaches to the instrumental ensemble and the solo violin. Luca Francesconi’s Spiccato il Volo (1956) has an almost Vivaldian beginning, followed by a frantic movement for solo violin, where the Venetian master’s approach to disquisitions seems to find new melodic and tonal paths without leaving its energetic and rhythmic substratum. Virtuosity is taken to the contemporary, where the first violin formations are deconstructed to create new materials.
Simone Movio’s Incanto XXIII for violin and flute (1978) emphasises that the timbres of the violin and recorder have a similar sonorous precision, an incisive sound that can suddenly turn warm or harden like a stone. The exploration and expansion of the recorder and violin’s formal and timbral aspects seem to be the path Movio chooses for the Incanto series. An even bolder language is shown in Salvatore Sciarrino’s Capriccio no. 2 ca., although distant echoes of the birds of Vivaldi’s Primavera seem to hover amid the violin’s bowings, or perhaps that it is the high-pitched recorder resonances that lead to their reminiscence.
Estroso by Aureliano Cattaneo (1974) is an extension of the usual language, developed from small cells of material that rethink the classical thematic development. This piece shows how an ensemble of baroque music is also capable of generating new timbral and structural perspectives that do not hide a certain tension and mystery. Italian composer Marco Stroppa (1959), who excels in the field of composition for instruments and live electronics, performs Dilanio avvinto; Giovanni Sollima (1962) creates a work of intense beauty in Moghul, shaking one’s emotional world and leading to a dreamlike atmosphere where the strings’ sonority creates a unique soundscape.
Some of these new works were undoubtedly commissioned to illustrate the historical journey of the violin towards unexplored paths. Tonight, in any case, it is worth keeping an eye on the arches, aisles and seats of this cloister. It would not be surprising to catch a fleeting glimpse of a curious Vivaldi who listens attentively not to miss a note of what is in vogue almost three hundred years after his death.