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ClassicsOnline Home » VIVALDI: Violin Concertos Op. 8, Nos. 5-8 and 10-12
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 -1741)
Seven Concertos from
Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione Opus 8
Concerto No.5 in E flat major 'La tempestà di mare'
Concerto No.6 in C major 'Il piacere'
Concerto No.7 in D minor 'Pisendel'
Concerto No.8 in G minor
Concerto No.10 in B flat major 'La caccia' Allegro
Concerto No.11 in D major
Concerto No.12 in C major
Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation that
equals the international fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678,
the son of a barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in the
service of the great basilica of San Marco, which continued the traditions of
the Gabrielis and Monteverdi, he studied for the priesthood, and was ordained
in 1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist of remarkable
ability. A later visitor to Venice was to describe his playing in the
opera-house in 1715, his use of high positions so that his fingers almost
touched the bridge of the violin, leaving little room for the bow, and his
contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. The experience, the
observer added, was too artificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldi was
among the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composer
of music that won wide favour at home and abroad.
For much of his life Vivaldi was associated with the Ospedale della
Pietá, one of four foundations in Venice for the education of orphan,
illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained as
musicians. Venice attracted then, as now, many foreign tourists, and the Pieta
and its music long remained a centre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703 Vivaldi,
known as il prete rosso, the red priest, for the inherited colour of his hair,
was appointed violin-master to the pupils of the Pietá. The position was
subject to annual renewal by the board of governors, whose voting was not
invariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly as his reputation and consequent
obligations outside the orphanage increased. In 1709 he left the Pietá, to be
reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was removed briefly, to be given, a month later,
the title of Maestro de' Concerti, director of instrumental music. A year later
he left the Pietá for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestro di
Cappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German nobleman
appointed by the Emperor in Vienna as governor of the city.
In 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship with
the Pietá was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi was
commissioned to write two new concertos a month, and to rehearse and direct
some of them. The arrangement allowed him to travel, and he was to spend time
in Rome and indirectly to seek possible appointment in Paris through dedications
to Louis XV, which brought no practical result. Vienna seemed to offer more,
with the good will of Charles VI, whose inopportune death, when Vivaldi
attempted in old age to find employment there, must have proved a very
In 1730 there was a visit to Bohemia; in 1735 another appointment to
the Pietá as Maestro de' Concerti, and in 1738 an appearance in Amsterdam,
where he led the orchestra at the centenary of the Schouwburg Theatre. By 1740,
however, Venice had begun to grow tired of Vivaldi, and shortly after the
performance of concertos specially written as part of a serenata for the
entertainment of the young Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony in 1740, his
impending departure was announced to the governors of the Pietá, who were
asked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos.
In 1741 Vivaldi travelled to Vienna, where he arrived in June, and had
time to sell some of the scores he had brought with him, before succumbing to
some form of stomach inflammation. He died a month to the day after his arrival
and was buried the same day with as little expense as possible. As was remarked
in Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, but through his
extravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi's expenditure was presumably in the opera-house. He was
associated from 1714 with the management of the San Angelo theatre, a
second-rate house which nevertheless began to win a name for decent
performances, whatever its economies in quality and spectacle. Vivaldi is known
to have written some 46 operas, and possibly some 40 more than this; he was
also involved as composer and entrepreneur in their production in other opera-
houses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-house that led to Marcello's
satirical attack on him in 1720 in Il teatro alIa moda, on the frontispiece of
which Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen as an angel with a fiddle, wearing a
priest's hat, standing on the tiller, with one foot raised, as if to beat time.
It has been suggested that "on the fiddle" has similar connotations
in Italian as in English. Vivaldi had his enemies.
Among the various sets of concertos and sonatas published in Vivaldi's
life-time, Il cimento dell'armonia e
dell'inventione (the contest between harmony and invention or, as
Goethe later put it, between Nature and Art) enjoyed by far the widest
popularity. Published in Amsterdam in 1725 the collection included Le quattro stagioni, The Four Seasons, the
first four of the set, concertos which were to be transcribed for the most
improbable musical forces, including fifty years later a version of Spring for
solo flute by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Il
cimento was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a cousin of
Haydn's later patron, and the dedication makes it clear that some of the
concertos at least, and in particular The Four Seasons, had long been known to
The remaining concertos of Opus 8 have a less precise programmatic
content, or none at all. Concerto No.5, La
tempestà di mare, is one of four such, while Concerto No.6, Il piacere, has a title descriptive only
of its general mood. Concerto No.7 is inscribed Per Pisendel, written for the
well known German violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, who had spent the year 1716
in Venice as a pupil of Vivaldi, before returning to his leading position in
the musical life of Dresden. The concerto is one of six that Vivaldi dedicated
to Pisendel, in addition to some half dozen sonatas. Concerto No.10 makes use
of a common subject of musical imitation, the hunt, and the last of the set
also exists as an oboe concerto.
The Hungarian violinist Béla Bánfalvi was born in Budapest in 1954 and
studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest under József Szász. From 1979 until
1982 he was leader of the Hungarian State Orchestra and until 1985 a member of
the Bartók Quartet, before becoming leader of the Budapest Strings in 1986. He
has taught at the Liszt Academy since 1977. Bánfalvi's career has taken him to
a number of countries, with concerts throughout Europe, in Japan and in America.
His recordings include performances with the Bartók Quartet and as a soloist.
The Budapest Strings chamber orchestra was established in 1977 by
former students of the Budapest Liszt Academy of Music under the direction of
the distinguished cellist Karoly Botvay, who made his earlier career with the
Bart6k Quartet. The leader of the orchestra is Béla Bánfalvi, leader of the
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra from 1979 and a member of the Bartók Quartet
from 1982. The Budapest Strings is among the best of such ensembles in Hungary
and has performed at home and abroad with considerable success with a
wide-ranging repertoire that includes music written for the orchestra by
younger Hungarian composers.
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