Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vivaldi - A Rough Guide

"Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), nicknamed il Prete Rosso ("The Red Priest")
because of his auburn hair, was an Italian Baroque composer, priest, and
virtuoso violinist, born in Venice.  Vivaldi is recognized as one of the
greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was
widespread over Europe.  Vivaldi is known mainly for composing instru-
mental concertos, especially for the violin, as well as sacred choral
works and over 40 operas.  His best known work is a series of violin
concertos known as The Four Seasons."

See Wikipedia for more on the life and music of Vivaldi:

The links in the guide below are to YouTube movies.  For brevity, I've
only included one movement for each of the pieces.  Apologies in
advance for any annoying ads :(  Ad-blocking options are available for
most browsers ;)

If the links are blocked, you can try listening to the pieces via
Wikipedia or elsewhere, e.g.

The "rough guide" ...

1. Lute Concerto in D, RV 93: II. Largo
This arrangement for guitar, performed by Eduardo Fernandez with the
English Chamber Orchestra, is the first version of RV 93 I heard.  I
couldn't believe this was composed by Vivaldi, almost 300 years ago!
I know this is a rearrangement rather than the original lute, and the
tempo is slower, but the underlying melody is sublime and timeless.  It
got me started chasing up more compositions for lute and mandolin by
Vivaldi, some of which will feature later in this guide.  BTW the handy
Splicd service is used to specify an end time for the clip, so only one
movement plays.

2. Violin Concerto in E, RV 269, "La primavera" (Spring): I. Allegro
The Four Seasons ("Le quattro stagioni") is a set of four violin
concertos. As you can probably guess, each season has a concerto, with
three movements per concerto.  An interesting exercise is to listen to
each "season" and try to associate the music to the time of year.  A
set of sonnets accompany the concertos, so if you want to cheat, visit:
Spring kicks off the Seasons, with its upbeat, festive first movement.
The conductor of this performance is Riccardo Muti.

3. Violin Concerto in G Minor, RV 315, "L'estate" (Summer): III. Presto
Often nicknamed "The Storm", the sonnet for this dynamic third movement
of "Summer" is: "The Heavens thunders and roar and majestically.  Cuts
the head off the wheat and damages the grain."  Unfortunately there are
no details on the performers in this clip.  At least the visuals are

4. Violin Concerto in F, RV 293, "L'autunno" (Autumn): I. Allegro
With the late summer storm is over, it's time to celebrate the harvest.
This version of the first movement of "Autumn" features "unconventional"
violinist, Nigel Kennedy.

5. Violin Concerto in F Minor, RV 297, "L'inverno" (Winter): II. Largo
The beautiful second movement of "Winter" is accompanied by the sonnet:
"Spending quiet contented days by the fire while the rain outside
drenches people by the hundreds."  This performance is by Itzhak Perlman
with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

6. Trio Sonata in C, RV 82: III. Allegro
The popularity of the lute was declining when Vivaldi started composing,
but fortunately he did produce a handful of pieces for this predecessor
to the guitar.  Performed by Rolf Lislevand with the Kapsberger

7. Trio Sonata G Minor, RV 85: I. Andante molto
Another early piece featuring the lute, also performed by Rolf Lislevand
with the Kapsberger Ensemble.

8. Mandolin Concerto in C, RV 425: I. Allegro
Towards the middle of his career, Vivaldi wrote a few more pieces for
the mandolin, another precursor to the guitar.  This performance is by
Detlef Tewes on mandolin with the orchestra of Ettlingen.

9. Concerto for Two Mandolins in G, RV 532: II. Andante
A modern, slower arrangement for two guitars, performed by Duo La Barre
with a string quartet.
For comparison, here's a closer-to-the-original arrangement for two
lutes and orchestra, performed by Fabio Biondi with Europa Galante.

10. Violin Concerto in E, RV 271, "L'amoroso": I. Allegro
Vivaldi was primarily a violinist, so I should include at least one more
violin concerto.  Here's a favourite, with a clip that features some
historical paintings and more recent photos of Venice.  I can't verify
the performers, but this sounds like the version I have by i Musici.

11. Concerto per l'Orchestra di Dresda in G Minor, RV 577: III. Allegro
This is a piece for multiple instruments, performed by the Taverner
Players conducted by Andrew Parrott.

12. Bassoon Concerto in B-Flat, RV 502: II. Largo
Another Vivaldi highlight.  Performed by the London Chamber Orchestra,
lead by Christopher Warren-Green.

Vivaldi began writing operas late in his career.  Since I'm not an opera
fan, I'll leave it to you to follow up if you're interested.  He also
wrote several religious pieces: only fitting since he was also a priest.

Encore: Lute Concerto in D, RV 93: I to III
To finish up, I want to return to probably my favourite Vivaldi
composition, all three movements presented in full.  This version was
recorded at the Royal Alcazar Palace, Seville in Spain, featuring
Australian-born classical guitarist John Williams.