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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S. / VIVALDI: Violin Concertos
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041
Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042
Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1043
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione Opus 8
Concerto No.5 in E flat major 'La tempesta di mare'
Concerto No.6 in C major 'Il piacere'
Concerto No.10 in B flat major 'La caccia'
Johann Sebastian Bach was born at Eisenach in 1685, the youngest son of a town and court musician and member of a family with long musical traditions. An orphan by the age of ten, he moved to Ohrdruf, where his elder brother was organist, embarking, in 1703, on a professional career as a musician. Employment as organist at Arnstadt and later at Mühlhausen was followed by a period of eight years as court organist at Weimar, and a further period from 1717 to 1723 as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, the social summit of his career. Bach left the Prince's service in 1723 to take up the position of Cantor at the Choir School of St. Thomas in Leipzig, where he was responsible for the music of the major city churches, and later directed the university Collegium Musicum established there by Telemann in 1702. He remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life.
Bach was a prolific composer, his compositions corresponding very largely with his current responsibilities. Many of his works for organ were written in earlier years, while his primarily secular responsibilities at Cöthen, where the prevailing Pietism at court excluded elaborate musical activity in church, elicited a number of instrumental compositions. Initially at Leipzig he worked to meet the demand for church cantatas, later turning his attention to the repertoire of the Collegium Musicum and to the collection and publication of many of his earlier works.
The three violin concertos that survive in their original form, the Concerto in A minor, the Concerto in E major and the Double Concerto in D minor, scored for strings and basso continuo, were all written during Bach's period of employment as Kapellmeister at Ctithen, where the young prince Leopold, a keen amateur, showed a great interest in music that was only curtailed by his marriage at the end of 1721 to a woman that Bach was later to describe as "amusa", lacking in any musical inclinations. It was this marriage, nine months after his own second marriage to Anna Magdalena, that caused his application to Leipzig and his departure. The three concertos also exist in transcriptions for harpsichord made by the composer in Leipzig, with other concertos that survive only in such transcription.
The Concerto in A minor opens with a characteristic figure, which forms a repeated element in the movement. There is a fine-spun melody over a repeated bass figure in the slow movement and a final gigue movement which includes brief moments of technical display by the soloist. The rather more complex Concerto in E major opens with a movement in which the first figure assumes considerable importance in what is to all intents and purposes a da capo aria. There is a slow movement of sustained beauty over a repeated bass figure, and a lively final rondo.
The Double Concerto in D minor opens energetically in the form of a fugal exposition, one solo violin following the other in emulation. There is a dialogue of remarkable beauty in the slow movement and a final movement in which the second violin follows the first in excitingly close juxtaposition.
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 Pietà, 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 Pietà 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 Pietà. 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 Pietà, 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 Pietà 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 Pietà 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 considerable disappointment.
In 1730 there was a visit to Bohemia; in 1735 another appointment to the Pietà 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 Pietà, 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 alla 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 Count.
The remaining concertos of Opus 8 have a less precise programmatic content, or none at all Concerto No 5, La tempesta di mare, is one of four such, while Concerto No 6, Il piacere, has a title descriptive only of its general mood 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
Takako Nishizaki is one of Japan's finest violinists After studying with her father, Shinji Nishizaki, she became the first student of Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the famous Suzuki Method of violin teaching for children Subsequently she went to Japan's famous Toho School of Music, and to the Juilliard School in the United States, where she studied with Joseph Fuchs
Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded violinists in the world today She has recorded ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many contemporary Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Mingxin, dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos, among them concertos by Spohr, Heriot, Cui, Respighi, Rubinstein and Joachim For Naxos she has recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Violin Concertos, Sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven and the Bach, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bruch and Brahms Concertos.
The Hungarian violinist Béla Bánfalvi was born in Budapest in 1954 and on completing his studies at the Liszt Academy there joined the teaching staff. He spent three years, from 1979, as leader of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and was invited in 1982 to join the Bartók String Quartet. In 1985 he left the quartet in order to lead the Budapest Strings, a chamber orchestra with which he has made a number of tours. As a soloist, chamber music player and leader of a chamber orchestra, he has given over 700 concerts, appearing throughout Europe, in Japan and in America, with a number of recordings for various companies. He teaches at the Budapest Academy and in 1985 was awarded the Bartók-Pasztory Prize.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.
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 Károly Botvay, who made his earlier career with the Bartók 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.
Oliver Dohnányi was born in 1955 and studied the violin, composition and conducting at the Bratislava Conservatory, in the Slovakian capital, pursuing further studies in Prague under Vaclav Neumann and others, and in Vienna under Otmar Suitner. He graduated in 1980 but had already established himself as artistic director of the Charles University Art Ensemble and the Canticorum Iubilo chamber ensemble in Prague. He has won distinction in various competitions, including the Respighi Competition in Italy and international competitions in Budapest and Prague. From 1979 to 1986 Oliver Dohnanyi was conductor of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava and has appeared with major orchestras there, in Prague and in Hungary, as well as with the West Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and since 1986 has been principal conductor of the opera of the Slovak National Theatre. In addition to work with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, he has appeared as a guest conductor in the concert hall and in opera in France, Italy, Austria, the USSR, Cuba, East Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland and elsewhere.
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BACH, J.S. / VIVALDI: Violin Concertos