Antonio Vivaldi, who refined Arcangelo Corelli’s concerto grosso with a palette of colours never before known to the “concerto con molti stromenti”, was already held in high esteem in Italy during his lifetime as a virtuoso, an experimental composer and a successful opera entrepreneur. An excellent opportunity to make his creative work known outside of the country came about in 1716, when Prince Elector Frederick August II of Saxony visited Venice together with several musicians from his Dresden court orchestra.
The orchestra was famous throughout Europe, and its concertmaster Johann Georg Pisendel became Vivaldi’s pupil and friend. He would later disseminate his music around the world via the Dresden “hub” – works like the Concerto for solo violin, solo violoncello, two oboes, two horns, bassoon, strings and basso continuo RV 569 and the Concerto in G minor for solo violin, solo oboe, two recorders, two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo RV 576, which originated exclusively for the Dresden ensemble of virtuosi.
That Vivaldi not only broke new ground with more fully scored solo concerti became known only at the end of the 1930’s when an extensive collection of vocal works was rediscovered that by that time had fallen into oblivion. The Gloria in D major was probably the most significant sacred choral work of the Venetian master – a brilliant composition with alto and soprano soli, composed for a performance at Vivaldi’s sphere of activity for many years, the Ospedale della Pietà.
With these concerts, the Berliner Philharmoniker prove yet again in this season that historically informed practice has long since found its way into modern symphony orchestras; for this, they have invited the Italian baroque specialist Andrea Marcon to conduct them.
Vivaldi’s Vibrant Venetian Art
A noble contest between competing convents took place with regularity in Venice in the past, as we learn from an English travelogue from the 1720s: “Every year on their feast days, the nuns of San Lorenzo and Santa Maria della Celestia organise splendid concerts in their churches. The nuns from both convents are ladies of noble birth, and they compete with each other for the privilege of presenting the best music. Whoever succeeds in engaging the most distinguished local musician forces the others to seek a musician of equal rank in Bologna or elsewhere.” The most distinguished local composer in those days – although by no means uncontroversial – was Antonio Vivaldi. At any rate, he received the commission for a “splendid concert” from the prestige-conscious nuns several times.
Virtuosic, Striking, Eccentric: Vivaldi’s Concerti con molti istromenti (Concertos for Multiple Instruments)
Vivaldi wrote the Concerto in D major per la Solennità di S. Lorenzo, RV 562, for a diverse ensemble of solo violin, two oboes, two horns, strings and basso continuo, presumably for the Feast of St. Lawrence on 10 August 1716. More than twenty years later, he composed a second version of this concerto (RV 562a), adding timpani in the outer movements, which gives it the confident air of a festive intrada. Furthermore, he replaced the original middle movement with a new Grave – a freely rambling, delicate and softly accompanied violin cantilena. This version of the concerto was commissioned for the centenary celebration of the Stadsschouwburg (municipal theatre) in Amsterdam, where it was performed on 7 January 1738, probably in Vivaldi’s absence.
Vivaldi composed works such as the Concerto in G minor, RV 576, which he expressly dedicated to “Sua Altezza Reale di Sassonia” (His Royal Highness of Saxony) “per l’orchestra di Dresda” – that is, for the legendary Dresden court orchestra, whose international reputation was established by August the Strong himself. In his instrumentation of the G minor concerto, for solo violin, solo oboe, two recorders, two oboes and bassoon, Vivaldi gave obvious priority to the violin, as primus inter pares. Nevertheless, in his score he took the utmost care to flatter the many prominent musicians employed in Dresden, who naturally did not hold subordinate positions and hence could under no circumstances simply disappear in the anonymity of the tutti.
The Concerto in F major, RV 569, for the no less unusual combination of principal violin, two oboes, two horns, bassoon, cello, strings and basso continuo, was also part of the repertoire of the Dresden orchestra. Unlike later periods of brilliant virtuosity, during the Baroque it was not the dominance of a single soloist over an anonymous collective that was the basis of a concerto but rather the principle of competition and dialogue. In Vivaldi’s F major Concerto, the concept of Baroque concertante style can be observed – seen and heard – in its pure form: the “mixing” and “alternation of the concertante instruments” (Johann Joachim Quantz), the “emotions” (Johann Mattheson) of the competing protagonists, contradiction and duet, but also agreement to the point of unanimity – lively cooperation and opposition.
Musical Insomnia: the Flute Concerto in G minor, RV 439, La notte
Vivaldi was a master of the concerto for multiple instruments. He composed the lion’s share of his imaginative, lyrical and provocative concertos for the Pio Ospedale della Pietà in Venice – even though he later offered them “exclusively” to foreign courts. The Pietà was a charitable institution which in the course of its history had gradually become a conservatory for girls. Vivaldi taught violin there as maestro di violino, but teachers were also employed for voice, oboe, bassoon, viola, cello, organ and harpsichord. The musically talented orphans were named after the instruments they played: Cattarina dal Cornetto, Luciana Organista, Lucieta dalla Viola, Pelegrina dall’Oboè. The flute – the transverse flute, to be precise – was introduced into the curriculum of the Venetian ospedale only later, however. Not until 1728 did a maestro di flauto traverso begin teaching at the Pietà, a former oboist who had seen which way the wind was blowing and changed instruments. The transverse flute was a thing of the future, whereas the recorder, which had been more popular until then, rapidly fell out of favour and eventually was even ridiculed for its soft, less agile character.
Then things began happening in quick succession. In 1727, for the first time in musical history, three concertos for the transverse flute appeared in print, in 1728 the above-mentioned flute master took up his teaching post at the Pietà and, finally, in 1729 the Amsterdam music publisher Michel-Charles Le Cène brought out the VI Concerti / a Flauto Traverso / Violino Primo e Secondo Alto Viola / Organo e Violoncello / Di / D. Antonio Vivaldi – Vivaldi’s Six Concertos for the transverse flute, op. 10. Only one of the concertos was actually a new composition, however; the other five were drawn from older works, mostly chamber concertos “without orchestra”, which he adapted as flute concertos “with orchestra”, for example, the Concerto in G minor for flute, strings and basso continuo, RV 439 (op. 10, no. 2), with the programmatic title La notte. Its six movements alternate three times between slow tempos conducive to sleep and rousing fast episodes in which ghosts and other nocturnal nuisances play their tricks and cause bad dreams. Vivaldi explicitly called the first Presto Fantasmi (phantoms), and the penultimate Largo is entitled Il sonno (sleep), but sleep is not peaceful for long – there is no rest for energetic Italian artists!
Vivaldi’s Gloria in D major, RV 589
Vivaldi probably composed the Gloria in D major, RV 589, between 1713 and 1715 for the worship services at the Pietà. The locals and their astonished guests attended them quite unashamedly as concert attractions, however. Around 1700 a tourist reported from the lagoon city: “In Venice there are convents where the women play the organ and other instruments and sing so wonderfully that nowhere else in the world could one find such sweet and harmonious song. Therefore people come to Venice from all parts with the wish to refresh themselves with these angelic songs.” Vivaldi’s pupils at the ospedale not only played all the instrumental parts in the orchestra, as figlie di coro the girls also sang all the parts in the choir, even those intended for men’s voices – an incredible fact, at least from a historical distance, which is nevertheless documented by the names of the singers, such as Paulina dal Tenor or Anneta dal Basso, and confirmed by amazed contemporary witnesses. Special training and accomplished vocal technique apparently enabled the young women to reach the low octaves.
Vivaldi never composed a complete setting of the five sections of the Ordinary of the Mass – liturgical practice in Italy at that time prescribed only the missa brevis, or “short mass”. In its formal structure, the Gloria follows the pattern of a cantata mass, dividing the sacred text of the ancient hymn into twelve separate movements – choruses, duets, arias – until the close, the hymn of praise to the triune God, which Vivaldi, in keeping with tradition, set as a double fugue. He adapted its theme from a setting of the Gloria composed by his Italian contemporary, Giovanni Maria Ruggieri. Thus, we see that authors’ rights have been disregarded throughout history, although no one would dream of accusing Vivaldi, of all people, of a lack of originality.
Translation: Phyllis Anderson
Andrea Marcon, an Italian organist, harpsichordist and conductor, has made a name for himself as a specialist in early music. Born in Treviso, he studied organ and harpsichord with Jean-Claude Zehnder at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. In 1986 he won first prize at the Organ Competition Innsbruck and, in 1991, first prize at the Harpsichord Competition in Bologna. In 1997, Andrea Marcon founded the Venice Baroque Orchestra, which is now one of the leading ensembles in the field of Baroque music. His productions as an opera conductor include Francesco Cavalli’s Orione (1998), Handel’s Siroe (2000) and the Olimpiade settings by Domenico Cimarosa (2001) and Baldassare Galuppi (2006). In addition to Baroque music, Andrea Marcon’s repertoire now also includes works from the Classical and early Romantic periods. The artist regularly appears at Oper Frankfurt and has performed with such orchestras as the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, NDR Sinfonieorchester, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Camerata Salzburg. In 2007, Andrea Marcon made his debut at the Salzburg Festival with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. This will be his first appearance on the rostrum of the Berliner Philharmoniker. Since the winter semester of 2010/2011, Andrea Marcon has been professor of organ and harpsichord at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.
Andreas Buschatz was six when he received his first violin instruction. In 1992, as a young student, he joined Wolfgang Rausch’s class at the Detmold Hochschule für Musik, and between 1999 and 2003 he was a pupil of Thomas Brandis at the Berlin Hochschule der Künste. Following that, until 2005, he was engaged as deputy Konzertmeister of Berlin’s Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. He joined the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2005 and became one of the orchestra’s Konzertmeister in autumn 2010. He holds the same position with Berlin’s Deutsche Kammervirtuosen. The recipient of a grant from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (German People’s Study Foundation), he has appeared as soloist with ensembles including the Westphalian Symphony Orchestra, Bremen State Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Mainz State Theatre. Since 2007 Andreas Buschatz has been an active chamber player as leader of the Amarcord Quartet and a member of the Ensemble Berlin.
Albrecht Mayer initially received piano, recorder and singing lessons before taking up the oboe at the age of ten. His teachers were Gerhard Scheuer, Georg Meerwein, Maurice Bourgue and Ingo Goritzki. Even in his youth, he was invited to perform with various orchestras, including the European Community Youth Orchestra. A winner of many prizes and scholarships, Albrecht Mayer became principal oboist with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in 1990. Two years later, he took on the same position with the Berliner Philharmoniker. He regularly performs all over the world as a concert soloist. As a chamber musician, his partners have included, among others, Nigel Kennedy und Hélène Grimaud. He also teaches at major international festivals. He has already been awarded the ECHO Klassik Prize on more than one occasion, and in December 2006, he received the E.T.A.-Hoffmann Prize from his home town of Bamberg. In the search for his personal ideal sound, Albrecht Mayer founded his own ensemble, New Seasons.
Emmanuel Pahud, born in Geneva, received his first flute lessons as a six-year-old in Rome. Later he studied in Brussels, then in Paris with Michel Debost as well as in Basle with Aurèle Nicolet. Pahud won first prizes at several international competitions. He gained orchestral experience playing with the Basle Radio Symphony Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic before joining the Berliner Philharmoniker as a principal flute in 1993. Following a period of teaching at the Geneva Conservatoire, Emmanuel Pahud returned to the Philharmonic in April 2002. As a soloist he performs with the leading orchestras of the world – with the Berliner Philharmoniker his most recent solo appearance was in September 2012 in Jörg Widmann‘s Flûte en suite – as well as in duos and larger chamber ensembles. He has won major prizes for his numerous recordings. Only a few days ago, he was made »Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres« by the French Ministry of Culture.
Highlights from the concert can be seen in our trailer.