Introducing ‘Vivaldi — A Tale of Two Seasons’

As we head into the Christmas period, work is well underway in preparation for La Serenissima’s next major project.  In line with recent years, Vivaldi — A Tale of Two Seasons continues to present the works of Il Prete Rosso in a new and interesting light, this time focusing on the operatic seasons of 1717 and 1733 when he was working at the Teatro S. Angelo in Venice.  The programme neatly splits into two halves which enables the listener to experience the difference in style between the energetic younger man and the older, wily composer who had adapted his music to that of the fashionable Neapolitan style.  This is not the work of a composer who composed the same concerto 400 times!

Penelope la casta was the first opera to be shown at the S. Angelo theatre in 1717 but ran into serious trouble when the composer,  Fortunato Chelleri, walked out over a pay dispute, taking his score with him; performances were suspended and payments to the singers and musicians were stopped.  Such was the ensuing furore that an attempt was even made on Chelleri’s life.  In an attempt to save the day, Vivaldi’s Arsilda, which had achieved great success during the autumn of 1716, was hastily revised.  The details were recorded in Satira, a satirical poem by an anonymous author.  Vivaldi’s role was described as follows:

The Red Priest is preparing himself with the third opera, but I don’t know whether he has made enough money to earn his dinner.
But he is a great player and does wonders with his bow, which means in a few hours he can teach them all a lesson.
Now they are quickly returning to the previously-performed first opera, but who knows whether this may not become a reheated soup?

Evidently the combined success of Arsilda followed by Vivaldi’s newly composed L’Incoronazione di Dario saved the everyone’s bacon.  There was also the added attraction of hearing Vivaldi (and on occasion his pupil the Saxon virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel) play a customary entr’acte concerto .  It was probably for theatrical purposes that Vivaldi composed his great violin concerto (Il) Grosso Mogul.  Michael Talbot presents a convincing hypothesis that this was written for Giovanni Porta’s setting of Domenico Lalli’s libretto Il Gran Mogol which was performed at the Teatro S. Cassiano, one of the two largest theatres in Venice in the autumn of 1717.  It is quite possible, indeed likely, that Vivaldi himself played the solo part due to its monstrous technical demands.

Johann Georg Pisendel (1687 — 1755)

The second half of the programme is centred around a concerto in B flat for violin, strings and continuo (RV 367).  This work survives in two autograph sources both housed in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin: a score which is contained in the volume Foà 31 and a set of parts in the volume Giordano 34; there are subtle differences between the two versions.  Both sources are interesting: Foà 31 has leaves which are inserted containing Vivaldi’s corrections for which he used old operatic first violin parts, one aria from Semiramide and one from Motezuma whilst Giordano 34 contains part of the solo part to the slow movement of the concerto in C (RV 191) which is crossed out immediately prior to the existing slow movement.  Whilst it is extremely difficult to date Vivaldi’s concertos, the presence of the arias gives us a possible terminus ante quem for the composition of the B flat concerto.  Semiramide was premiered on or after 26 December 1731 at the Teatro Arciducale in Mantua whilst Motezuma’s premiere took place on 14 November, 1733 at the Teatro S. Angelo; 1733 is therefore a probable date for the composition of the the B flat concerto and possibly also for the concerto in C.  That both were intended for the theatre is likely due to the presence in both works of the remark senza cembali, directing the harpsichords to fall silent in certain passages; the presence of more than one harpsichord was most unusual for non-operatic orchestras.

In order to keep the music in the second half of the programme to one (possible) year, we have discarded the aria from Semiramide in favour of two from Motezuma.  

La Serenissima’s first performance of Vivaldi — A Tale of Two Seasons takes place on 12 March at the Turner Sims Hall, University of Southampton.  The programme will then be recorded later in the same month and released on Avie Records in June 2013.  

Published on November 23rd, 2012 • Back to all articles

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