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Guitar Concerto in D major, RV 93

September 25, 2016: Jason Vieaux, guitar; Escher String Quartet

Vivaldi’s greatness lay in his extraordinary mastery of eighteenth-century instrumental forms and orchestration. Though he composed numerous operas, he is best known for his close to 500 concertos, of which more than 230 were written for solo violin, some 120 for a variety of other solo instruments including winds, many for more than one soloist, and approximately 60 for string orchestra without solo instrument known as ripieno concertos.

Vivaldi’s own instrument was the violin, which he had studied with his father, a violinist at the famous St. Mark’s church in Venice. Nevertheless, his legendary interest in all instrumental families included his writing works for plucked string instruments. Vivaldi trained for the priesthood, taking his Holy Orders in 1703, the same year he became maestro di violino at the Pio Ospedale Pietà, an orphanage and renowned conservatory for girls in Venice. Though his later activities as a composer and impresario occasioned much travel, Vivaldi retained his association with the Pietà throughout his life and many of his instrumental works were designed for his students there.

Four of Vivaldi’s works involve lute—the Concerto in D major for two violins, lute, and basso continuo; the Concerto in D minor for viola d’amore, lute, and basso continuo; and two Trio Sonatas (C major and G minor) for lute, violin, and continuo. The first, third, and fourth of these were dedicated to Bohemian Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby (1669–1734), prompting speculation as to what kind of instrument Vivaldi had in mind, since there was a great difference in Austro-German and Italian lutes. It is natural that the lute works are now most often played on the guitar, not only because the guitar sounds similar to the lute and has overshadowed it in popularity, but also because Vivaldi himself frequently suggested such exchanges.

All three movements of the D major Concerto follow the “rounded” type of binary form, in which the opening music returns halfway through the second section, which had begun by introducing various keys and slight manipulations of the musical materials. The first movement is notable for its energetic three-note melodic elaborations and the propulsive repeated notes in the bass line. The lovely slow movement shows a completely different possibility for employing a singing line in dotted rhythms. Vivialdi creates a particularly poignant effect with a “halo” of upper string suspensions (harmonic tensions and relaxations), illuminated by the simple change to straight sixteenth notes from dotted sixteenths. The animated closing movement races along in the rhythm of a gigue, with only brief pauses for breath in the prevailing stream of eighth notes.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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