If in a crossword puzzle one reads “Vivaldi’s city”, the correct answer is sure to be “Venice”. Indeed, Vivaldi and Venice were (and still are) inextricably intertwined with each other. The aesthetics of Vivaldi’s music corresponds so closely to the Italian city that they seem to mirror each other: just as the city of Venice, Vivaldi’s music is unashamedly flamboyant, unabashedly joyful, proudly full of life – while, at the same time, it can also be infinitely melancholic, touchingly unearthly, and, above all, always beautiful, in all weathers. Vivaldi is Venetian, and Venice is Vivaldian, as the numerous Vivaldi concerts taking place all over the city testify. Vivaldi’s operas would have been unthinkable outside the florid theatrical life of his city; his sacred works were mostly conceived for the young, brilliant and pure voices of le putte, the orphan girls who lived at the Ospedale della Pietà; and the plethora of his solo Concertos had those same girls as their primary recipients, performers and enthusiastic listeners.
At the same time, the city whose walls are made of water did not constitute an enclosed prison for the Red Priest, whose interests were larger than even the most beautiful of the cities, and whose career went beyond the web of its canals. He travelled, both close to home – especially for the performances of his operas – and comparatively far away, as in Bohemia; his name and music travelled even further afar, both in his lifetime and later; and Vivaldi himself was a keen and curious listener of music coming from remote regions of the Peninsula and of the entire Europe.
This Da Vinci Classics album bears witness to this wide latitude of musical interests, and to how Vivaldi managed to merge them all within his own personal style.
This time-travel and musical journey begins with one of Vivaldi’s best-known Sonatas, belonging to his first published opus. While the other works in op. 1 explore the genres of the Sonata da camera and Sonata da chiesa, attempting a rapprochement between the two poles of the instrumental sonata of the era, the last one is an exploration of a rather different kind. Following in the footsteps of the great Arcangelo Corelli, who embodied the splendours of the Roman violin school and who immensely enriched both the technique and the expressiveness of his instrument, Vivaldi accepted the challenge posed by one of the simplest and yet most intriguing musical themes of the Baroque era, the so-called Follia. Similar to many other musical topoi, La Follia is immediately recognizable, and tolerates infinite rewritings, variations, appropriations and modifications without losing its powerful and almost hypnotic silhouette. No wonder that countless musicians have tried their hand extemporizing or writing variations on this dance-scheme, continuing until present-day. After Corelli, however, it was impossible to tackle La Follia without referring, in one way or another, to the Roman maestro’s superb cycle of violin variations. Vivaldi clearly paid homage to his illustrious colleague, but at the same time was not crushed by awe: his twenty Variations are no less imaginative than Corelli’s, and their splendid formal organization bears witness to the seriousness with which Vivaldi undertook the task. Along with the brilliant, virtuoso variations, Vivaldi gave his best in the touching and lyrical moments; just as his city, his music could be enchanting both when it shone luminously and when it veiled itself in dusk.
The waters surrounding Venice could also be intimidating and stormy, revealing the city’s frailty when the elements decided to betray the alliance symbolically represented by the Doge’s wedding with the Sea. This furore, musically represented by Vivaldi in several aural depictions of the tempesta, becomes an icon for God’s righteous wrath in one of the two vocal works recorded here. Both are solo motets, which reveal Vivaldi’s extreme familiarity with the secrets of vocal writing, acquired in his long activity as an operatic composer. The lyrics for both motets, authored by anonymous poets, are typical for similar coeval sacred works: their Latin words are purposefully selected so as to be easily intelligible even by those Italian speakers who knew no Latin, and their poetry employs images and metaphors closely mirroring those of the operatic libretti. Thus, a skilled composer such as Vivaldi found exactly what he needed: euphonious verses, with carefully planned rhythm and metre; conventional topoi, which he could creatively reinterpret while also disposing of a rich palette of ready-made musical solutions; a great variety of situations and contrasting colours, which he could represent spectacularly with his music. Further, the relative unimportance of the lyrics’ actual content, which rarely ventured beyond rather superficial emotions and feelings, encouraged the composer to happily disregard the words’ need for continuity and articulation: it little mattered if words or sentences were mercilessly interrupted by long virtuoso embellishments and ornaments, since what interested singers and listeners alike was the dazzling beauty of music, and of music alone.
The same considerations, notwithstanding the different emotional setting, apply to the other motet recorded here: while the former efficaciously represents agitated atmospheres and menacing scenarios, causing the sinner’s repentance and plea for mercy, the latter lingers in quieter waters, depicting God’s heavenly peace as the true harbour of the human soul. Vivaldi’s musical fantasy is at its most creative particularly in the breath-taking Aria and final Alleluia, whose almost absurd virtuosity is as incongruous as St Mark’s decorations, and at the same time as impossibly beautiful as they are.
Framed by these vocal masterpieces are two of Vivaldi’s Concertos, the first of which is written for solo lute. Composed in the 1730s, it is one of the fruits of Vivaldi’s international tours, and represents almost a souvenir of Bohemia in music. The lute, employed mainly in its high register and with markedly melodic traits, demonstrates its potential as a singing instrument along with the richness of its harmonic and polyphonic textures; this Concerto, with its memorable, enthralling third movement, and its unforgettable second movement, is justly famous and has transcended the boundaries of “classical” music. Not only, in fact, it has become a favourite of classical guitarists, but it has also been appropriated by rock bands such as Yes. In turn, also Nulla in mundo pax sincera has reached an audience beyond that of Baroque music lovers, thanks to its adoption in the soundtrack of the film Shine, which enjoyed worldwide success in the late 90s.
If these appropriations demonstrate the modernity of Vivaldi’s music, which continues to inspire artists in the musical field and beyond, Vivaldi himself was capable of appreciating the music of the past while foreseeing that of the future: his Concerto madrigalesco demonstrates his knowledge of the serious style associated with the music of the past. Drawing on musical material excerpted from some sacred works by the composer (such as the Kyrie RV 587 or the Magnificaat RV 610), this extremely original composition demonstrates how a musical personality such as Vivaldi’s could bridge the musical eras and styles, and put the past into dialogue with the future.
In fact, this album showed the geographical extent of Vivaldi’s interests – ranging from Corelli’s Rome to Bohemia – and the historical scope of his music – drawing from the models of the past, symbolized by the “madrigals” evoked in the Concerto madrigalesco’s title, but also projecting itself forward to the twentieth and twenty-first century, from the Ospedale della Pietà to the stages of rock music concerts. It should be mentioned, moreover, that both geographically and historically the music of Vivaldi is also linked to Piedmont, the Italian region from which the Ensemble Gli Invaghiti originates. In fact, the largest collection of Vivaldi’s autograph scores is found in the University Library of Turin, Piedmont’s capital city; this treasure arrived to the city thanks to the efforts of intelligent and patient librarians, as well as to the generosity of two local families who had lost two young children, and who decided to honour their sons’ memory by creating this impressive archive.
It can be said, therefore, that Vivaldi and his music do represent the city of Venice, to which they are so strictly connected and with which they are almost exclusively identified; yet, at the same time, they embody the Baroque dissemination of culture, the dialogue of traditions and styles, the curiosity of the travellers who brought knowledge and beauty from country to country, from city to city, and the composer’s own open-mindedness, with his desire to engage with models from the past and from far away.
It is probably due to this openness to time and space that Vivaldi’s music has been able to transcend both, and to continue fascinating its listeners, throughout time and space.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Ensemble Gli Invaghiti
Established in 2008 by will and under the direction of Fabio Furnari, together with the association bearing the same name, the vocal and instrumental Ensemble Gli Invaghiti promotes the spread of Early Music and historical reconstructions that involve the repertoires of the immense musical heritage of Europe and the Mediterranean Area. More than 40 programs and 200 concerts performed in Italy and abroad, under the direction of famous and deep connoisseurs of the various repertoires offered, with a view of great dynamism and philological approach. This is the choice that motivates Gli Invaghiti to rediscover ancient and unique pages, combining them with historical and historical-artistic reconstructions, to recover important episodes of history. The sound, the word and the context are brought to light, in order to give the possibility, to those who benefit from it, to perceive, through the music, the intimate dialogue in which all the elements that make up the Art dialogue with one another. The same name of Gli Invaghiti refers to the concept of philanthropic centre where man produces and emanates culture as it was originally conceived and forged in the Renaissance Mantua of the Gonzaga dukes. Byzantium, the Greek and Latin world, Italic and Flemish music, the Renaissance and the Baroque acquire a new listening perspective through the vision proposed by Gli Invaghiti. A line-up that can range from the small vocal and instrumental ensemble up to the maximum, consisting of soloists, chorus and baroque orchestra, able to take on even the most powerful pages in the history of music. A serious scientific and musical approachth the taste and knowledge of the humble workshop craftsman who, every day, works and perceives, through his skin and senvity, the energy of the material he is working.
Fabio Furnari: Tenor who specializes in early music performance practice under the guidance of Alan Curtis and Pedro Memelsdorff, studying in parallel classical guitar with Elena Casoli, singing with Ulrike Wurdack and Marco Farinella and Classics with an archaeological address at the University of Turin. He has participated in the most renowned World Concert Festivals. He has collaborated with Claudio Abbado, Jordi Savall, Sigiswald Kuijken and Cecilia Bartoli and made over 160 recordings with the most important record labels, obtaining the best acknowledgments of international critics. He was invited for the celebrations of Matera as "European Capital of Culture" for the 2019 Edition. For several years engaged in the enhancement and study of Piedmont history, from the Roman Age to the Baroque Era, he conducts specific studies on Roman and Byzantine history and on Mesopotamian archeology. He is founder of the Cultural Association "Gli Invaghiti", which, since 2008, deals with the recovery of the ancient artistic and musical heritage of Piedmont. He collaborates with the Superintendence for Architectural Heritage of Piedmont since 2009 and with the Piedmont Museum Complex since 2017. In addition to music production and historical-archaeological research, he also participated in the Venice Biennale (2008) as a leading actor, together with Toni Servillo, in the film "Un canto lontano" directed by Alberto Momo and the collaboration with the “Banda Osiris”.
Antonio Vivaldi: (b Venice, 4 March 1678; d Vienna, 27/8 July 1741). Italian composer. The most original and influential Italian composer of his generation, he laid the foundations for the mature Baroque concerto. His contributions to musical style, violin technique and the practice of orchestration were substantial, and he was a pioneer of orchestral programme music.