Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in A minor, RV522 (Op. 3, No. 8)

With the Op. 3 collection titled L' estro armonico (The Harmonic Imagination) and published around 1710-11, we find Vivaldi's first pub­lished concertos, but it is most likely that performances of some of them took place well before the scores were issued in print. Op. 3 was pub­lished in Amsterdam by Estienne Roger, one of the most esteemed printers of music in all of Europe, and its appearance brought Vivaldi fame all over the continent. It also attracted a number of musicians to come to Venice for the purpose of studying violin technique and performance practice.

By this time in Vivaldi's career, he was well ensconced at the Ospedale della Pieta, the famous Venetian home for wayward and abandoned young girls where he taught violin and where he devel­oped an instrumental ensemble that became renowned for its spirited and professional playing. In 1709 he had become Maestro del Concerti, which meant that he was the official composer for the Ospedale "with the duty of teaching the girls the art of composing and performing concer­tos." This position allowed Vivaldi to engage in a great deal of experi­mentation in terms of his composi­tions, since he had an orchestra on hand to tryout new works.

Composed of twelve concerti for one, two, or four violins and strings, L' estro armonico is a brilliant tribute to Vivaldi's unlimited creative talents and his ability to write concertos that are refreshingly diverse; in all twelve compositions the variety and subtlety of the myriad moods he creates is quite astounding.

The Concerto in A minor for Two Violins is one of four in the set that feature two soloists. The first Allegro begins with the tutti ensemble stating a grand almost haughty theme that cascades down an A minor scale and that will be the primary motive used by the strings. In between the tutti sections, the two soloists engage in no less energetic but more introspective conversation between themselves. The movement is quite lively, but somehow there is dramatic tension in the music rather than joy.

The Largo-Larghetto moves even further into a state of inward reflec­tion. The tutti forces begin with a lengthy and solemn unison state­ment of a theme that is constructed, as the theme of the Allegro, of descending motives. After the poignant violin duet begins, the unison melody or its unique rhythm lingers in one of the instruments almost as if the sorrow of the opening cannot be shed.

Complete relief from the gentle anguish of the rest of the concerto does not even materialize in the concluding Allegro. The quick tempo alleviates some of the emotional weight, but the predominance of minor tonalities keeps the music from bursting into a happy ending, even though the solo violins do their best to transform the atmos­phere through their virtuoso playing.

Perhaps in some way, this concerto dramatizes Vivaldi's impressions of the man to whom he dedicated L'estro armonico, Ferdi­nand III, Grand Prince of Tuscany, a man whom conductor Claudio Scimone described by saying that the Prince was "regarded by his friends as well as his enemies as the champion of debauchery, dissipa­tion, and intemperance."

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