Virtuoso Vivaldi

Sunday, October 19, 3:00 pm • First Unitarian Church, Worcester
Saturday, October 25, 8:00 pm • Faneuil Hall, Boston

Sinfonia in G Major for traverso, strings, and continuo      Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
  Allegro • Largo • Presto  

Concerto in D Minor for strings and continuo     Vivaldi
  Allegro non molto • Largo • Allegro   

Concerto in F Major for traverso, violin, cello, and continuo, RV100     Vivaldi
  Allegro • Largo • Allegro

Trio Sonata in D Minor for two violins and continuo, La Follia, RV63     Vivaldi


Concerto in F Major for violin, cello, strings, and continuo         Vivaldi
    Il Proteo, o sia Il mondo al rovescio, RV544   
  Allegro • Largo • Allegro

Sonata al Santo Sepolcro, RV130       Vivaldi
  Largo molto • Allegro ma poco

Concerto in G Minor for traverso, strings, and continuo, RV439       Vivaldi
  Largo • Fantasmi: Presto • Largo • Presto • Il Sonno: Largo • Allegro   

Suzanne Stumpf, traverso
Julia McKenzie and Lisa Brooke, violins
Marcia Cassidy, viola
Daniel Ryan and Shannon Snapp, cellos
Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes

The sheer abundance of Antonio Vivaldi’s musical output is truly impressive. In the genre most associated with him, the concerto, there survive over 500 works. Vivaldi composed prolifically in many other genres as well, including solo and chamber sonatas, sinfonias, operas, cantatas, masses, and other liturgical works. He has at times been accused of composing formulaically, however, a close inspection of the individuality of treatment of his chosen thematic material within each work easily dispels that assessment.

Although Vivaldi’s concertos had the widest dissemination and influence on contemporary composers across Europe, it was as a violinist and as a composer of sonatas that Vivaldi first made his mark. His initial appointment at the Ospedale della Pietà in 1703 was as a violin teacher, and his first two opuses consisted of trio sonatas and solo sonatas for violin.

Vivaldi’s op. 1 set of twelve trio sonatas was published in 1705. The straightforward, concise construction of these works show similarities to those of his Venetian contemporaries Caldara, Gentili, and Albinoni. These sonatas are largely organized as dance suites. The great exception to this general scheme is the single movement La Follia sonata, which consists of variations on a recurring chord progression. Possibly of Spanish origin, its theme, known as La Follia, was used as a basis for works by many composers including Corelli, whose opus 5 sonata of the same name may have served as a model. Vivaldi’s variations demonstrate the inventive prowess and exuberance that was to be a hallmark of his style. There is much variety of interaction among the three parts in the succession of variations, including some lively motivic “sparring” between the violins, and energetic passagework in the continuo. While not composed as a dance suite, this sonata contains variations that resemble dance movements, including a sarabande, siciliano, and gigue.

Despite Vivaldi’s sizeable output of over sixty sinfonias for four-part strings, they have received little attention from performers. These works are nearly all in three movement form and resemble opera sinfonias. In these brief works Vivaldi showed great care in their part-writing, composing in four real parts, unlike many of the concertos where the viola mostly doubles the continuo. Imitative writing abounds in the D Minor Sinfonia, where in all three movements the thematic interaction propels the musical arguments forward. Vivaldi’s skill as a contrapuntist is also amply shown in the austere and expressive Sonata Al Santo Sepolcro, RV130.

The Concerto in F Major is one of Vivaldi’s several small chamber concertos. Originally scored for flute, violin, bassoon, and continuo, Vivaldi retains much of the concerto format of regularly recurring ritornellos, but the contrasts between solo and tutti sections are more fluid due to the nature of the instrumentation. Contrast is achieved by duo and solo groups alternating with the full ensemble in complimentary thematic material. In the second movement the forces are reduced by half with a charming duet between flute and solo bass instrument parts.

Vivaldi subtitled his Concerto for Violin and Cello Proteus, or the World Upside Down, a reference to the interchangeability between solo violin and cello. In fact, Vivaldi notated each solo part in the clef and pitch of the other. This concerto clearly shows Vivaldi’s classic use of concerto form. In the outer fast movements, the recurring ritornellos of the orchestral tuttis use distinctive material not taken up by the soloists, and reappear in truncated form throughout the course of the movement. The mostly arpeggiated motifs used in these tuttis provide an energetic foil to the brilliant scalar motion of the soloists.

La Notte is taken from Vivaldi’s op. 10 flute concertos, some of the earliest Italian concertos to be published for the instrument. This 1728/29 edition of the piece, along with most of the others from the op. 10 collection, is adapted from an earlier composition. In this concerto, Vivaldi deserts his standard three-movement form to create a dramatic, through-composed structure comprised of six tempo areas. That the first presto is titled “Dreams” and the final largo “Sleep” encourages one to reach for a programmatic interpretation. The ominous and mysterious qualities of the opening Largo in combination with the sometimes impetuous, sometimes relentless, and often surprising action in the faster sections gives the impression that whoever is experiencing this Night is not having an especially restful time!

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf