The sonata and five concertos for chamber ensemble recorded here all bear handsome witness to how fascinating music history can be — in particular when the attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of lost music could inspire the instincts of a criminal investigator. The rediscovery of Vivaldi commenced with the Sonata per Oboe Solo, RV. 53: The Catholic Hofkirche in Dresden was the location of a music cabinet which had gone unnoticed for more than 100 years. In 1860 the Royal Saxon Orchestra’s archival holdings of orchestral music were discovered in the neglected cabinet by the orchestra’s Instrument Inspector, Julius Rühmann. Among the findings were 83 unknown violin concertos by the “almost entirely forgotten Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.” Also discovered were chamber works such as the Oboe Sonata in C minor, RV. 53. From then on Vivaldi was recognized not merely as a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel but also, if at first only grudgingly, as an original and creative composer in his own right. It was to be yet another century before musicologists would unanimously deem Vivaldi a rare genius, while not of the same domain, nevertheless worthy of comparison to Bach. The sensational discovery of the Vivaldi autograph scores in Turin in the fall of 1926 was proclaimed the “most successful event” (K. Heller) in the Vivaldi Renaissance. The Piedmontese Salesian Order of San Carlo requested that the National Library in Turin carry out an appraisal of its monastery’s music collection. The result: 14 previously unknown works of Vivaldi, either as copied scores but also in the composer’s hand, were identified among the 97 volumes examined. This was but the beginning of what was to become one of this centuries most exciting musicological searches. For, as it turned out, the monastery possessed only one-half of what had been a larger holding. Where were the missing scores? The trail pointed to Genoa, where a descendant of one of the monastery’s earlier owners, Count Durazzo (1717-1794) had lived. The tenth of October 1930 marked the conclusion of this episode. That was
when the Turin National Library could disclose its newest acquisitions. The library was able to present an outpouring of several hundred concertos among the priceless works secured, including the five ensemble concertos of this release. But that was not to be all in the way of unusual developments. Alfredo Casella, perennial advocate of Italian New Music, organized a Vivaldi Week in 1939 to, as he put it, “document all aspects of the towering musical figure dubbed prete rosso.” (Vivaldi was given this name due to his red hair and original calling to the priesthood.) These audacious plans were struck down by the advent of the Second World War. It was for this reason that a genuine Vivaldi Renaissance did not regain momentum until 1950. At this time the first volumes of Vivaldi’s complete works were being published. This edition was overseen by no-one less than the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero who himself devoted his efforts to the vast body of concertos.
The 22 ensemble concertos attributed to Vivaldi make up but a small portion of the immense collection of concertos. Most recent studies have placed the date of composition around 1720 for performance in the Ospedale della Pietà, the very girl’s orphanage where Vivaldi made his start as “maestro di violino”. It is also tenable that these concertos were composed for virtuoso members of the court orchestra at Mantua. Vivaldi had been the chamber orchestra’s Kapellmeister there from 1718 to 1720. The 22 concertos do play a decisive role in the evolution of the “concerto da camera”. They serve as rare and highly interesting examples of a formal progenitor to classical chamber music, with all instruments sharing in the solo parts. As a consequence all instruments share in the solo “concertino” as well as “ripieno” parts. Four movements had generally been the norm in works such as Vivaldi’s C minor Oboe Sonata, RV. 53, in the order slow-fast-slow-fast. The five concertos depart from this formal arrangement and are three-movement works, following a fast-slow-fast plan. The alto recorder in F, called the “flauto” at that time, is used prominently by Vivaldi. Oboe, violin, and bassoon join the recorder to round off the ensemble with the continuo and harpsichord providing harmonic support. Only the D major Trio, RV. 92 is scored without continuo. As a rule, Vivaldi devised every conceivable combination of instruments at his disposal. It can very well be surmised that the extremely wide range of sound possibilities captured his imagination. The varying importance of each instrument can also be discerned from concerto to concerto. In some cases Vivaldi strikes a balance with no single solo instrument predominating. This leads to a very fluid chamber music sound which can be heard in the exemplary G minor Concerto, RV. 107. Dialogs are carried on else where – one example being the A minor Concerto, RV. 108, where paired solo violins play for the most part in thirds alongside the solo recorder. In still other concertos one or two instruments come to the fore, as can be heard in the case of the recorder and violin in the D major Concerto, RV. 92. The melodic line is entrusted to the recorder alone in the largo movement of the F major Concerto, RV. 99, while the harpsichord is even made to fall silent. The oboe, violin and bassoon slip into the role of the harpsichord and subordinate themselves to strict “accompagnato”. A further step in this direction can be seen in the G minor Concerto, RV 105, where the slow movement only involves the recorder and bassoon.
Vivaldi takes a completely new course in the basic features and formal structure of the individual movements. His tried and true experiences with concertino and ripieno exchanges in the solo and ensemble concertos give way to ensemble playing of far more freedom and astonishing diversity – freeing a path for chamber music both of clear delineation and abundant contrast.
Translation: Matthew Harris
Our recordings of the Chamber Concertos by Antonio Vivaldi (RV. 87-108) do not include the Concerto in D major, RV. 89, RV. 102, because we consider them spurious works not attributable to the hand of the “prete rosso” (“redheaded priest”). Leaving musical and stylistic observations aside – the concertos in question cannot match the other concerti da camera in quality and are set inconsistently – these works are not preserved in an autograph score bearing Vivaldi’s name. All the other concertos exist either in autograph or, when this is not the case, can safely be attributed to Vivaldi (Tempesta di Mare, RV. 98, the Concerto in G major, RV. 101, also published in the Le Cene Edition, ca. 1728, and the Concerto in F major, RV. 99).
P. Ryom, who cannot find evidence to support the authenticity of the three concertos in his Verzeichnis der Werke Antonio Vivaldis shares our view, as does Reinhard Goebel, who in his notes to Musica Antigua Koeln’s recording of the Chamber Concertos by Antonio Vivaldi (Deutsche Grammophon) attributes the Concertos, RV. 98 and RV. 102 to a cotemporary of Vivaldi composing in a similar vain.
We have consequently interspersed the chamber concertos with the Follia Trio Sonata, RV. 63 (CD 2), the Sonata for Recorder, Bassoon and Basso Continuo, RV. 86 (CD 3) and the Sonata for Oboe and Basso Continuo, RV. 53 (CD 4) – all chamber works of high virtuosity in a concertante manner – so as to maintain a balanced program on each disc and thus provide the utmost in listening pleasure.
(1992) Giovanni Antonini
Translation: Matthew Harris