Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.
You’re popular when people start asking for your music, and you’re a hit when they begin to just take it. Historical evidence indicates that Vivaldi’s Opus 6 was printed and distributed by his Amsterdam publisher without the composer’s involvement or possibly even his permission. That’s unfortunate, since a little artistic input might have gone a long way.
Opus 6 never made the popular or historical splash of Vivaldi’s previous two collections of concertos, and the first work in the set may explain why. Its French-style dotted rhythms proceed with academic stiffness rather than Gaulish grace:
Devices such as the dark key and drum-like accompaniment had been put to more kinetic or introspective ends by Vivaldi in dozens of other concertos, yet here they just seem to lecture. The soloist jettisons the rigid orchestral motif but its repeated phrases quickly turn from clever to predictable. The bottom shelf Vivaldi (as well as the dearth of independent performing editions and wealth of typos in the publication) inspire images of Vivaldi’s publisher picking scraps off of their client’s cutting room floor.
Some Italian soul returns in the second and third movements, with the Grave’s solo cello seconding one of Vivaldi’s most lonesome melodies [starting at 3:50] and the sudden double time explosions of the bouncing final movement [at 6:53]. Yet overall this concerto feels like a modest opener to a collection everyone seemed to want, except its author. Vivaldi may not have appreciated his works being sold under his nose, but there was money to be made with his name and music. With Opus 6, the violinist, composer, educator and impresario could now add “cash cow” to his resume.