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The Consort

Simon McVeigh

Summer 2023

Antonio Vivaldi:
Six Concertos for Anna Maria
Volume 1 (RV 771, 772, 818)
Edition HH, 2021
ISBN 978 1 9141 3701 3
ISMN 979 0 7081 8533 8

Volume 2 (RV 774, 775, 808)
Edition HH, 2021
ISBN 978 1 9141 3702 0
ISMN 979 0 7081 8534 5


The name Anna Maria (1695–1782) will be well known to many readers, since she was the most famous violinist at the Pietà during the period of Vivaldi’s connection with the Venice ospedale. Already the principal soloist in the celebrated ensemble there, she was appointed to the position of figlia privilegiata in 1721 and lauded by foreign visitors and in verse (‘she plays the violin in such a way that anyone hearing her is transported to Paradise’). But in 1737, after she was elevated to maestra di coro, her virtuoso career came to an abrupt end.

Vivaldi undoubtedly wrote many demanding concertos specifically for his gifted student, and she must have played a major role in the musical laboratory where Vivaldi experimented with the richly varied possibilities of the newly developing ritornello form. This is amply borne out by the single part-book surviving in the library of the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello in Venice, elegantly bound and spectacularly inscribed with her name in gold lettering. The concertos included here represent the high summer both of Anna Maria’s career and of Vivaldi’s concerto output: and they surely point to his commitment to provide the Pietà with two concertos a month, beginning in July 1723, and to rehearse them when he was in Venice. The compilation reflects Anna Maria’s own repertoire as it developed between 1723 and 1726.

But sadly the accompanying orchestral parts are missing. The contents of the volume were thoroughly documented by Michael Talbot in a seminal chapter published in 2004. Of the thirty-one concertos, twenty-five are by Vivaldi – of which all but six are known from other sources. Those six are the content of this welcome new edition, and they have also been beautifully recorded by the editor with Modo Antiquo on the Glossa label. On the face of it, the reconstruction of the missing parts requires a major leap of faith, not least as the three concertos in the second volume are scored for violin and organ (an unusual, though not unique, combination in Vivaldi’s output). But as the editor points out, in the latter case the task is made much easier by Vivaldi’s patchwork technique, tossing melodies and fragments between the two soloists in the manner of a double violin concerto (indeed these could form valuable additions to that repertoire too).

Elsewhere a certain amount of composition has been required, but much less than might be imagined, since the editor is able to draw on extensive scholarship on concordant or parallel sources (including his own). The collection forms a compendium of the multiple ways in which Vivaldi imaginatively reworks material, from whole movements to intermediate sections to piquant motto themes. The web of references, as well as the order of composition, would provide a complex study in itself: but that is hardly the issue here, since any authentic Vivaldi material must be fair game for the present purpose.

One strategy is displayed in RV 771, which revisits three movements of the violin sonata RV 5. The way Vivaldi interpolates orchestral ritornelli demonstrates clearly how a sonata movement can align with ritornello form (well before Mozart experimented in this way with J.C. Bach’s keyboard sonatas). Here then, the editorial contribution is largely limited to harmonising the tutti sections. The central Grave requires even less, since it simply reproduces the sonata movement – though with Vivaldi’s refined ornamentation provided for the repeats.

Indeed none of the slow movements provide a major challenge, since a bass part is given in the source. But elsewhere the editorial contribution is necessarily more substantial, depending on the extent of correspondence with existing sources. RV 772 makes particularly interesting reference to another D major concerto, RV 205, sharing a certain amount of material in the outer movements – and adding to an already brilliant showpiece a demanding cadenza at the end. (It is witness to Anna Maria’s expressive and sensitive style that it dissolves into slower minore pathos before a summary conclusion.)

Still more complex is the relationship between RV 775 and two concertos: RV 285 and RV 284 (better known as Op. 4 No. 9). Both start very similarly, but diverge after the second ritornello in different ways. Yet the double-concerto patchwork renders the reconstruction quite straightforward – only in one place in the finale is there a gap for an organ solo that cannot be so readily filled, and the editor has had recourse to a passage from another Op. 4 concerto, which fits the need remarkably well.

The only other substantial section that is unambiguously concordant lies in the finale of RV 808, a Ciaconna movement that shares its bass line with the string concerto RV 114. The upper material is largely different, but both versions include a remarkable minore passage where the intertwining upper parts muse on C minor arpeggios over a chromatic descending bass.

All of these concordances are referenced in the introduction to the edition, but it is not easy to identify how far they have infiltrated into the works under discussion. The edition itself certainly looks like a modern scholarly publication, with detailed textual commentary. But the opportunity is missed to explain exactly how the authentic Vivaldi sources have been used. The brief listing of concordant works in the introduction does not clarify the extent of the shared material, even so far as I have attempted to do above.

Not that this is intended as deception in any sense, for the editorial additions are broadly indicated by large brackets in the score. But there is no way, for example, that the user can divine that a striking chromatic interruption near the beginning of RV 772 reproduces a passage from RV 205. Indeed the implication of the listing is that the whole of this ritornello is taken directly from RV 214, which is not the case. It would have been simple enough to indicate in the textual commentary where unmistakeable concordances were extensively drawn upon, and where less specific allusions provided inspiration. In this particular case, it seems that similar material in the violin part led to a transfer of martial rhythms from RV 214 into the accompaniment; and it is a very effective solution. But we could easily have been told.

This ambiguity of documentation is really my only reservation about the edition. It would be hard to gainsay the opinion of Michael Talbot quoted in the introduction, that if new sources were to turn up, they would very likely ‘not differ in any important way’ from what is offered here. There are still so many fine Vivaldi concertos waiting to be appreciated, especially those from his later period, that it might seem superfluous to laud six more. But that these were selected for preservation in this important manuscript, probably by Anna Maria herself, lends them a special significance. And we gain further insight into the playing and personality of one of the outstanding violinists of the age.

We are grateful to the The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.
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