abOut thE prOgraM
ViValdi: ConCerto for mandolin in C major, rV 425
ViValdi: ConCerto in g minor, “Summer,” rV 315, from The Four SeaSonS
Vivaldi’s concerto for one mandolin is a different animal from the concerto for two mandolins heard before intermission. It seems more determined to show off the distinctively chimey sonority of the instrument than does the robust-textured double concerto. In many performances, the accompanying strings are played pizzicato throughout, which gives the concerto a delicate structure that the mandolin can dominate. This was not Vivaldi’s original intent, but seems to have come up in rehearsal, probably at the Ospedale: a note on the manuscript says it’s possible for the bowed strings to play the concerto without bows (“Si può ancor fare con tutti gli violini pizzicati”).
The concertos we call The Four Seasons were published in Vivaldi’s opus 8, a 1725 collection of twelve concertos (in which the title “Four Seasons” does not appear), but likely had been circulating in manuscript copies for years before that.
paiSiello: ConCerto for mandolin in e-flat major If Giovanni Paisiello composed the mandolin concerto attributed to him, it was an unusual foray into instrumental music for a composer who devoted his career to vocal music, and achieved stardom through it. Though he always considered himself a neapolitan and always returned to naples, the great demand for his music carried him as far as St. Petersburg, where he was Catherine the Great’s music director from 1776 to 1783. Years later, he held the distinction of being napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite composer. napoleon convinced him to come to Paris in 1801 to act in some official capacity, but no one seems to have worked out the details of what his job was. He did contribute a mass and a Te Deum for napoleon’s 1804 coronation as emperor before returning again to naples, where he soon found himself a royal employee of napoleon’s brother Joseph, who became king of naples and Sicily in 1806. Paisiello composed 89 operas, many of which became repertory standards. His 1782 opera Barber of Seville was so popular that an unruly Rome mob disrupted the February 1816 premiere of Rossini’s Barber because they thought it an affront to Paisiello (a sentiment shared by Paisiello, who died four months later). Paisiello was born eight years after Haydn, and his music normally inhabits the stylistic world that we now call the High Classical. The mandolin concerto in E-flat is elegant and tuneful, but has elements of Baroque construction. For example, it contains sequences of a phrase or motif repeated at progressively higher pitches, a hallmark of Italian Baroque style but rare in later music, including Paisiello’s. This may be a sign that the concerto is an early work by Paisiello. It may also be a sign that another composer wrote it.
The feature of The Four Seasons that drew the most positive and negative attention when they were new was the one aspect that was largely ignored when, after two centuries of obscurity, they started to get played again around 1960: their pictorial literalness. Vivaldi included a sonnet for each concerto explaining what was going on, supplying not just descriptions, but performance instructions. The sonnet verses are printed not only as prefaces to each concerto, but also in all the instrumental parts, amid the tempo and dynamic markings. This is something that can pass unnoticed by modern audience of listeners who aren’t looking at the notated music. But in Vivaldi’s day the audience for his publications consisted mostly of accomplished amateur players, who would have been keenly aware that the sounds they were making represented specific scenes. The Corellians did not care for it. Geminiani could only have been referring to The Four Seasons when he wrote, "Imitating the Cock, Cuckoo, Owl and other birds…and also sudden Shifts of the Hand from one extremity of the Finger-board to the other, accompanied with contortions of the Head and Body, and all other such Tricks rather belong to the Professors of Legerdemain and Posture-makers than to the art of Musick." In Summer, the opening bars represent the “merciless summer sun” and sweltering “man and flock.” In the first solo, the violin is an ornamented cuckoo—it’s the soloist’s task to make the bird’s call distinct in a barrage of 16th-notes. The second solo depicts the turtledove and goldfinch, and rustling of the gentle Zephyr breeze, which is then joined by the violent north wind in the full orchestra. The wind subsides long enough to let us hear how a shepherd weeps because he fears a coming storm, his agitated state depicted in a sequence of chromatically descending diminished chords—dissonances that lead to other dissonances instead of resolving. The second movement continues the mood of the first, in the same key, which is unusual in a Vivaldi concerto. The shepherd, though weary, cannot rest because the insects (represented by an accompaniment figure in the second violins and violas) give him no peace and the distant thunder makes him afraid. The third movement brings the long-awaited storm, with thunder, lightning and cropdestroying hail.