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Vivaldi’s Concerto in D, RV 93, for lute, two violins and continuo, became one of his biggest hits in the 20th century when guitarists appropriated it, the dreamlike slow movement becoming a particular radio favorite. On the mandolin it has to be played an octave higher than it would sound on a lute, so that the solo part is often in unison with the first violin part. Oddly enough, there was a time (mostly the 1980s) when cutting-edge lute scholarship held that playing the solo part in the upper octave pitch was precisely what Vivaldi intended, and indeed the visual evidence of the music on the page suggested a solo instrument sounding at violin pitch. Opinion changed quickly with the rediscovery of a tradition of writing concerted music in which the lute often doubled the violin part an octave down in tutti passages. When Italian composers wanted a violinsized plucked instrument, they would specify mandolin. benedetto marCello: Sinfonia in g major for StringS and baSSo Continuo Benedetto Marcello was a Venetian aristocrat who held a number of prominent government jobs, including governor of a Venetian district that is now part of Croatia. Composing in his spare time, he managed to produce a sizable body of music, including hundreds of solo cantatas for which he also wrote the words. In 1720, he published Il Teatro all Moda, a satirical volume in which he lampooned the Venetian opera establishment, and in particular its most prominent composer/impresario, Vivaldi. It made fun of many of Vivaldi’s signature devices, such as orchestral accompaniments in unison or without bass. Marcello, who was eight years Vivaldi’s junior, wrote music that occasionally sounds like Vivaldi’s, but he also shows all sorts of other influences. Marcello did not rely on his music for his livelihood, so he didn’t need to worry about appealing to local taste, and didn’t have to stick with whatever style brought him success. ViValdi: double ConCerto for mandolin and reCorder in g major, rV 532 In Vivaldi’s day, mandolino referred to two different types of instruments: one was a small lute with six pairs of gut strings; like a lute, it was tuned in fourths and had gut frets tied around the neck. The stringing lent itself to being played with the right-hand fingers, as the lute was played. It went by a variety of other names—including mandora, mandola, and mandore—that also referred to other instruments, which has caused no end of confusion to modern musicians and musicologists. There was also a newer mandolino napoletano, named for its origin in naples, which had four pairs of metal strings tuned in fifths (to exactly the
pitches of the violin’s four strings), with metal frets set into the fingerboard like those of a modern guitar. It was normally played with a plectrum. (This is the instrument Avi Avital usually plays.) There is less difference in the sound of the two instruments than there is between, say, a classical guitar and a steel-string folk guitar. Vivaldi used the mandolin as a soloist in four concertos, and almost nothing is known about when or why he composed them. They were likely intended for performance at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, a sort of state-supported combination girls’ orphanage, school and conservatory. Musical training was the greater part of the education there, and it became famous throughout Europe for the quality of its concerts. From 1703 until his death 38 years later, Vivaldi was associated with the Ospedale on and off, as violin teacher, as music director, and eventually as composer sending two concertos a month back to the Ospedale from wherever he happened to be in the world. The earlier the mandolin concertos were composed, the more likely that he intended a gut-strung instrument. But at a distance of two centuries, we can’t tell for sure which of the two instruments he meant by mandolino, and odds are that he would not have cared much about it. The Concerto for two mandolins, RV 532, follows the typical Vivaldian model for double concertos, with the two soloists first answering each other, then joining in parallel harmonies. In tonight’s performance, the second mandolin part is transcribed for recorder.
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ViValdi: ConCerto for lute in d major, rV 93
geminiani: ConCerto groSSo for StringS in d minor, “la follia” (after Corelli op. 5, no.12) Francesco Geminiani was nine years younger than Vivaldi, but embodies an older tradition. In the first half of the 18th century, what we now call the late Baroque, Archangelo Corelli (who died in 1704) and Vivaldi were regarded as representatives of opposing aesthetics: Corelli the well-grounded, mature creator of classic, solidly constructed sonatas and concertos; and Vivaldi the dynamic, showy, brilliant representative of the avant garde. The division might be compared to the 19th-century split between the followers of Schumann and Mendelssohn on one side and the “new German school” of Liszt and Wagner on the other. Geminiani was a student of Corelli who became the leading keeper of the Corellian flame in lands north of the Alps. He settled in London in 1715, about the same time Handel did. He is best known for his own concerto grosso sets, and for his influential and informative 1751 treatise on playing violin. The “concerto” on this program is his reworking of the final solo violin sonata of Corelli’s opus 5, a set of variations on the popular “La Follia.” Geminiani created a genuine concerto grosso by adding a viola part and an active second violin part to Corelli’s violin-and-bass texture. 3