Monday, January 16, 2012

Vivaldi - Concerto For Sopranino Recorder

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) was an Italian violinist, priest and composer.  He was born in Venice and was afflicted with what is thought to have been asthma his whole life.  Because of this, he did not learn to play any wind instruments but he did become a virtuoso violinist.

His works were very well known in the Baroque era. Bach knew of him and his works and transcribed some of the violin concertos for keyboard.  His reputation and fame stems from his time working at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy), one of four homes for abandoned and orphaned children in Venice.  He was responsible for teaching the orphaned girls the basics of music and an instrument. The orphaned boys were trained in a craft and had to leave when they were fifteen, but the girls who became proficient on an instrument or their voice could stay and become part of the orchestra.

Shortly after Vivaldi began his work there, the all-girl orchestra became renown in Europe for their excellence of performance. The majority of Vivaldi's 500 concertos were written for this orchestra and players. Naturally enough for a virtuoso violinist composer, over 200 of the concertos are for solo violin and strings. But there are also concertos for bassoon, cello, oboe,  mandolin, lute, flute, recorder, and other instruments plus concertos written for two or more instruments.  These concertos attest to  the variety of the orchestra present and the quality of musicians Vivaldi produced.  Besides the concertos, Vivaldi also composed over 40 operas, almost a hundred sonatas and various religious choral works.

The recorder is a fipple flute. It is a different instrument altogether from the transverse flute, although sometimes in Baroque music the two can be interchanged. A fipple flute has a whistle mouthpiece attached to a straight body with finger holes. The tone of the recorder is softer, and thus is not a good instrument to use in a full orchestra as it would be drowned out. But for the Baroque ensemble which more often than not was what we would recognize as a chamber ensemble, it works very well. There are many sizes of recorder, from the Contra Bass that is over six feet long to the tiny Garklein only 6 inches long. The sopranino recorder is between a soprano and garklein in size at about 9 inches.  Its tone can be somewhat shrill due to the high pitch, but as the following recording attests, in the hands of a master player can run with the best of them.

Vivaldi's concertos are show pieces for his soloist. Many of the accompaniments are basic, although he does manage to keep a lot of interest between soloist and the other strings. The sopranino concerto is in the typical three movements of the time, with the opening movement being a rather fast Allegro. The second movement is a gently rocking Adagio that shows Vivaldi was quite capable of writing a beautiful tune. The last movement is an Allegro molto that has the recorder and strings playing to a rousing close.

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