November 9 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
November 10 – Friday at 8:00 p.m.
November 11 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Violin Concerto (“Il Favorito”)
in E minor, Opus 11 No. 2
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
composed circa 1720-1727
At a Glance
Vivaldi completed or compiled a set of six concertos for violin in 1729. This set, along with an additional group of six published as Opus 12, were among the last of his concertos to be published during his lifetime. Opus 11, No. 2, nicknamed “Il Favorito,” had already been included in a set of concertos presented privately to King Charles VI in 1728. The exact chronology of when each of these various concertos was written — or first performed — is uncertain.
This concerto runs 15 minutes in performance. Vivaldi scored it for a string orchestra and figured bass or basso continuo (from the written score an improvised accompaniment would be derived in performance, often played on harpsichord), plus the solo violin.
The Cleveland Orchestra is performing this concerto for the first time with this weekend’s concerts.
About the Music
Vivaldi’s musical style is well known throughout the world today — even to many well outside the classical music realm. From concert hall performances to less than subliminal soundtracks underlying broadcast commercials for luxury automobiles, computers, and perfume, this composer’s readily recognizable Baroque sound world is firmly ingrained as part of our tonal consciousness.
Even though Vivaldi’s reputation as the preeminent Italian composer of his generation is indisputable, it has not always been so. His descent into obscurity — and eventual return to popularity — began during the last years of his life as the usual consequence of ever-changing tastes. His best work was overtaken by new ideas and new trends among younger contemporaries, abetted by his own general failure at writing operas that caught fire with the public.
Vivaldi spent much of his career teaching students at Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà, an institution that served as an oddly thriving orphanage, poorhouse, convent, and music school. There he had a ready talent pool for trying out new musical ideas with the student musicians. After three decades, however, he was forced out during the late 1730s. He left town in search of new patrons and commissions.
Vivaldi’s death in Vienna in 1741 passed virtually unnoticed. The French classical scholar and historian Charles de Brosses stated that Vivaldi’s music had fallen from fashion as early as 1739: “To my great astonishment I discovered that he is not as highly regarded as he deserves to be in this country (Italy), where everything has to be up-to-the-minute, where his works have been heard for too long, and where last year’s music no longer brings in money.”
With few exceptions, the posthumous reception of Vivaldi’s work was a continuation of the same slow loss of interest that plagued his final years. His music all but disappeared from concert halls and intellectual circles, his scores were relegated to the mothballed seclusion of monasteries and libraries.
The resulting silence, as they say, was deafening.
RENEWED INTEREST IN VIVALDI
Curiously enough, the first gasps of resuscitation of Vivaldi’s music came about during the mid-19th century, through work done by German scholars on performance editions of J.S. Bach’s scores. In Forkel’s 1802 biography of Bach, it was stated that Johann Sebastian’s musical thinking had been influenced by Vivaldi. Early in Bach’s career, during his mid-Weimar years (1713-14), he made transcriptions of several Vivaldi concertos — chiefly from the set of twelve published in 1711 as Opus 3, L’Estro armonico [“Harmonic Inspiration”] — in order to gain greater understanding of musical “logic.” In Forkel’s words, Bach felt that “there must be order, connection and proportion in the thoughts, and that to attain such objectives, some kind of guide was necessary. Vivaldi’s Concertos for the violin, which were just then published, served as a guide. . . . He conceived the happy idea of arranging them all for his clavier. He studied the chain of ideas, their relation to each other, the variation of the modulations, and many other particulars.”
From this point forward, Vivaldi’s music, being connected with Bach (whose own renaissance was taking place), was given new recognition. Scholarly focus followed, with a new look at Italian music in general, especially in the mid-1920s when a huge collection of Vivaldi’s works came to light, culminating in a “Vivaldi Week” of performances in Siena in 1939.
The Vivaldi reawakening had begun.
A galant style, a favorite concerto
Which brings us to Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Opus 11 No. 2, nicknamed “Il Favorito” and cataloged as RV277. Two sets of concertos (six in each set), designated as Opus 11 and 12, were published in 1729. They were the last of his concertos printed during his lifetime.
By 1729, Vivaldi’s star was no longer in the ascendant, he had reached and surpassed his zenith as a composer of opera, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to keep up with and write in the ever-changing musical fashions of the time. His influence, once substantial, was waning. He was quite aware of and increasingly influenced by younger composers, including Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), whose instrumental music was stylistically and formally representative of a new galant instrumental style derived from new trends in operatic writing.
This galant style incorporated new simplicity — built on melody and rhythms — quite different from the spinning out and complex development of a single subject so characteristic of much earlier Baroque music. The new style was most notable for giving birth to an easing of formal structure, of presenting fresh and simplified textures and clear, simple melodies.
Vivaldi’s “Il Favorito” concerto displays some of these new trends. It features a cantabile [“song-like”] melody, less-dense contrapuntal textures underlying the solo sections, and harmonic moments of “commentary.” The solo violin enjoys flights of fancy, supported by the orchestra, with tonal diversions and subtle thematic interplay. The movements follow the general fast-slow-fast pattern.
The Allegro third movement begins with a minor version of an opening theme from the third movement of Vivaldi’s “Autumn” concerto from The Four Seasons. As is typical of a concerto finale, this one is filled with soloistic virtuosity. Included, too, are greater swings of mood and interplay between treble and bass instruments.
As for the nickname? It is speculated that the concerto acquired it in 1728, when Vivaldi included it in a manuscript set of twelve concertos to present to Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. Of these, it was (perhaps) Charles’s favorite. —Steve LaCoste © 2017
Steve LaCoste has served as archivist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in addition to writing program notes for a variety of institutions.