March 9, 10, & 11, 2018
Lisa Marie Lawson, violin and Music Director
Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo, Ondine Young, Naomi Rogers-Hefley, violins Mariéke Furneé, viola
Michael Lawson, cello and violone
Richard Webb, cello
David Wells, bassoon
Cameron Lawson, guitar and lute
Faythe Vollrath, harpsichord and organ
Venice in the 18th century was best known as a center for revelry and high living. Europeans traveled from afar to attend Venetian theater, opera, and concerts, and most certainly, the masked revelries of Carnival, which occurred at various times throughout the year. In the midst of this extravagance, Antonio Vivaldi made his fame as a violinist and composer of concertos, opera, chamber music, and church music.
Born the son of a violinist at the Basilica of San Marco, Vivaldi was educated to be a priest and a musician. He attained priesthood in 1703 but was unable to say mass due to a chronic bronchial ailment, soon thereafter taking a position as violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta, a school for orphaned girls. By the early 18th century, the school was regarded as the best music school in northern Italy. This was well-illustrated by the bronze plaque attached to the outside of the south wall which called down the threat of “fulmination” (being struck by lightening) on anyone who attempted to pass off his legitimate daughter as an illegitimate one in order to get her accepted into the music school. Noblemen paid for the privilege of sending their daughters to the school, which at one time had as many as 6,000 students.
Vivaldi held the position of violin teacher at the Pieta from 1703 to 1738, also taking on the post of “maestro de concerti.” In this position he wrote over 400 concertos to be performed by his students at weekly Sunday concerts. The girls played, screened by lattices, for the public who were not allowed to applaud but rather had to cough, hem and blow their noses to express admiration. By 1709, Vivaldi’s concertos were famous throughout Europe and the composer himself soon spent much of his time traveling.
In Venice Vivaldi was known for his violin performances in the opera interlude, when he would nearly frighten the audience with virtuostic displays. He applied this virtuosity to his concertos, which heavily influenced violin technique as well as the concerto form. Until this point concertos had relied heavily on counterpoint and polyphony. Vivaldi brought a dramatic simplicity to the form and created a structure that led to the classical concerto.
Vivaldi’s concertos usually follow a three-movement pattern, beginning with an Allegro, followed by a slow movement in the dominant key, ending with another Allegro. The fast movements follow ritornello form, in which the opening orchestral tutti alternates with episodic material played by the soloist. Simple techniques such as scale passages, arpeggios, and broken thirds achieve dramatic effects, with Vivaldi’s powerful rhythmic sense driving the music and continually surprising the audience. He was the first composer to give the slow movement, with its slow cantabile melody, importance equal to the faster movements.
Concerto for Violin and Cello in F major, RV 544, “Il Proteo o sia il mondo al rovescio”
Concerto in F major RV 544 “Il Proteo” is translated “Proteus, or the World Upside Down”. Proteus was a Greek sea god who was able to assume different guises. In this concerto, which follows the standard three-movement form, the solo parts for violin and cello are written in such a way that they are interchangeable. In the opening tutti section of the first movement the violin's and cello's themes reflect each other in shape, moving in opposite directions. The concerto was written in the early 1710s.
Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, RV 522
The Concerto in A minor Op. 3 No. 8 is part of a set of twelve concertos known as L'Estro Harmonico (the Harmonic Whim), published by Estienne Roger in 1711. These concertos were among the best-known instrumental works of the day. The first movement's descending dramatic scale theme leads into a lyrical second movement in which the two violins intertwine over a stalwart viola bass line. The third movement again features a descending scale theme interrupted by rippling streams of violin arpeggios over a cantabile melody in the other solo violin.
Concerto for Bassoon in G minor, RV 495
Vivaldi’s thirty-nine solo concerti for bassoon make up more than ten percent of his solo concerto output, and rank second only to violin in number. This dwarfs the solo bassoon output of all other major composers (of every era) combined. But the question that has vexed scholars since these concerti were rediscovered in the 1920s is: for whom did he write them? None were published during Vivaldi's lifetime, which suggests that he wrote them for the use of specific bassoonists. Yet only two of these concerti bear dedications: one to Count Wenzel von Morzin of Prague (whose orchestra included a virtuoso bassoonist named Anton Möser), and the other to a Venetian bassoonist named Giuseppe Biancardi. It has long been supposed that Vivaldi wrote some or all of the remaining concerti for the young women musicians at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà. But, frustratingly, there is only circumstantial evidence that this might have been the case, nothing concrete. Whoever the now-forgotten soloist who first played these works might have been, he or she was clearly a virtuosic player; the technical prowess that Vivaldi’s concerti demand outstrips anything previously written for the instrument. The Concerto in G minor, RV 495, is no exception, with ornate passagework for the bassoon in the outer movements. The middle movement forgoes the upper strings entirely; an insistent bass line is the only accompaniment to the plangent solo part.
Concerto for Violin RV 269, “Spring” from The Four Seasons
The Concerto in E major RV 269, La Primavera “Spring” was published in 1725. It had most certainly been played for years and was highly edited and polished. It is probably the most famous of Vivaldi’s programmatic concertos, in which the music was descriptive of nature and in fact was written to narrate an anonymous sonnet.
The sonnet is translated to read as follows:
(Mvt. 1) Spring has come, and birds greet it
Festively with a cheerful song;
And with the breath of gentle breezes
Springs trickle with a sweet murmur.
Lightning and thunder, elected to announce it,
Come and cover the air with a black cloak.
Once they are quiet, the birds Return to their enchanting song. (Mvt. 2) Then on the pleasant, flowered meadow
A goatherd, with his faithful dog at his side, Sleeps to the sweet murmur of fronds and plants.
(Mvt. 3) To the festive sound of a rustic bagpipe
Nymphs and shepherds dance under the beloved canopy At the brilliant appearance of spring.
The birds’ sweet chirping and the violent shakes and sweeps of thunder and lightning are easily identified in the first movement. In the slow movement the viola plays a startling sound of a barking dog. The third movement concludes with a rustic dance accompanied by the sound of bagpipes.
Trio Sonata La Follia, RV 63
Although Vivaldi is wildly popular today for his concertos, his first effort, Opus 1, was a book of trio sonatas dedicated to Annibale Gambara, a Veronese nobleman. These works, published in 1705, are most certainly a tribute to Corelli, whose five collections of sonatas, published from 1681 to 1700, defined the form. Vivaldi's works won the disapproval of conservatives such as English composer Charles Avison, who was to condemn Vivaldi’s works as “only a fit Amusement for Children; nor indeed for these, if ever they are intended to be led to a just Taste in Music.” Though less well-known than his hundreds of Concertos, his sonatas display an equal proficiency and charisma.
The Follia variations are written on a well-known tune, probably of Portuguese origin, dating from the early sixteenth century. The piece opens with a theme (adagio) followed by 19 variations of 16 bars each, all of them in the key of D minor, in both the slow and the fast movements. Vivaldi alternates beautifully lyrical variations with sets of energetic displays of virtuosity, shared equally between the two upper melody instruments and the basso.
Concerto for Strings in D minor, RV 127
We close tonight’s concert with the Concerto for Strings in D minor, RV 127. In this three-movement concerto, the outer movements feature the violins playing rapid 16th notes, framing a simple middle movement of cadential chords.
-Notes by Lisa Lawson and David Wells