Vivaldi and the Good Bad Guys
You know how it is when you’re reading something and you begin to feel as though the author is playing mind games with you? You start to get confused and begin to re-examine all sorts of things you had thought to be true – or to consider some things you never had thought about before.
That’s how I felt recently when I finished reading the booklet enclosed with a new CD of music for the recorder by Antonio Vivaldi. No, that wasn’t the author’s intention at all. It’s not a work of fiction, but it certainly makes you wonder if the story being told can really be true. It’s an overview of Vivaldi the composer and of the challenges of locating some of his works. It’s written by Federico Maria Sardelli, who is a musicologist, flutist, composer, conductor and a member of the Italian Vivaldi Institute. It turns out that he’s the one who’s in charge of the catelog of Vivaldi’s works, with the numbers assigned by the Danish musicologist Peter Ryom. The Ryom catelog number - in German, Ryom Verzeichnis or simply RV number - is the one you see next to the titles of Vivaldi works (sometimes even when you see opus numbers, F numbers and other numbers at the same time. But that’s another baffling tale). Sardelli writes with confidence and seems to know every Vivaldi RV on his lot, so to speak. At the outset, he reminds us that Vivaldi wrote sonatas, concertos, sacred works and stage works using every instrument of his time – and even instruments from before his time. Now, just as you begin to get excited about that and perhaps bring to mind tunes from the Four Seasons or other familiar concertos, Sardelli tells us that few of Vivaldi’s works exist in manuscript form. Suddenly, the names of other composers and performers are introduced, presumably the “bad guys,” since they lifted material from Vivaldi. Then comes the revelation that some of what exists in the Vivaldi catelogue is actually the music of the “bad guys.” Yet now, they’re “good guys,” because their compositions may well contain some Vivaldi music – which othewise is lost. So, for the time being, that music is better than no Vivaldi at all....I can’t tell you what happens in the end, because it sounds as if this is going to go on for a long, long time. The more I think about it, I’m reminded that one of the only reasons Vivaldi and his music became known after his time was because of 4 “letters of recommendation,” you could say: B-A-C-H. Yes, Johann Sebastian Bach’s copying of works by Vivaldi – his keyboard versions of some of the concertos - led scholars to the music of Vivaldi. Not only can we admire works that have withstood the test of time, but we have to be amazed at how some have survived over time. All that from a few pages of a little booklet. By the way, I introduced Sardelli’s comments on a recent Classic Morning Prelude. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve enjoyed a few selections from the new CD of Vivaldi Recorder Sonatas (Arcana 366) which accompanies the notes by Sardelli. The CD features Lorenzo Cavasanti, who performs each of the sonatas on the CD with a different instrument. There’s even one sonata performed on a bass recorder. Cavasanti is joined by harpsichordist/organist Sergio Ciomei & cellist Caroline Boersma.)
It was a simple thought: to have a little fun on the Classic Morning Prelude of February 7th, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ invasion, by presenting a few selections by some who have tried to make that invasion retroactive – i.e. extend it back to the Baroque and Romantic periods of classical music. I played a snippet from one of the Beatles Concerti Grossi by Peter Breiner, which plugs Beatles tunes (She Loves You, for example) into generic Handel and Bach settings. Then, I played a version of I Want to Hold Your Hand with the German lyrics that made it a hit in Germany – Komm, gib mir deine Hand . It’s in the style of Franz Schubert and performed by a vocal ensemble from Germany known as Die Singphoniker with piano accompaniment, as Schubert songs or “Lieder” generally are. I concluded with the finale of a Canadian Brass version of Penny Lane that has a little fun with the brass part of the original hit and ends with a clever reference to the finale of Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto. After I had prepared all of that for the Classic Morning Prelude, I just happened to wonder who the trumpet player was on the original. It turns out to be David Mason, an English trumpeter who became the principal trumpet of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Paul McCartney had heard him play the piccolo trumpet in a performance of Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto on television and invited him and his piccolo trumpet to be a part of the song. That added to the enjoyment of the Canadian Brass arrangement – not to mention the original song. The entire experience reminded me of something I have mentioned to audiences over the years – and probably moreso during fund drives. Listener support has made it possible to keep classical music on the radio in Central Illinois. Listener support makes that music available for anybody in our communities to hear – and who knows where it will go from there? This turned out to be just one of the high profile examples of where that music might go. (Rest assured, Beethoven – “and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”)
In celebrating the centennial of the birth of American harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler (1914-2001), it should have been a treat just to hear harmonica renderings of some classical music selections. But when I read a number of articles about him, I came across some classic one-liners, a few of which I shared on the February 10th Classic Morning Prelude. Adler worked with so many stars, from Gerorge Gershwin to Fred Astaire to Duke Ellington to Sting and Sir Elton John that he thought about calling his autobiography Name-Drops Keep Falling On My Head after somebody once said : “Can’t you even tell the time without dragging in Sammy Davis, Jr.?” He ended up calling the autobiography It Ain’t Necessarily So.
What do you get when you cross Valentine’s Day with the Winter Olympics? Well, one possibility is Vivaldi’s opera L’olimpiade. It’s about a love contest that takes place at the Olympics. We listnened to the opening sinfonia from the opera at the outset of the Valentine’s Day program. Among other things that day included a celebration for someone who has had quite a February - singing the national anthem for a reported 111 million viewers of the Super Bowl and the title role in Antonín Dvořák’s opera Russalka at the Met, which was broadcast by some 350 radio stations in the United States and around the world as well as movie theatres across the country. On top of all that, Renée Fleming celebrated her birthday on Valentine’s Day. She’s a tough act to follow, and probably one of the few classical music peformers who can get any attention at all these days given the focus on the Olympics. I suggested at the outset of a recent Classic Morning Prelude that a classical musician may have to be a hockey player to get attention – and indeed we enjoyed a selection from a new recording of Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos featuring a one time hockey player – soccer too, Denis Matsuev. The story is told that he broke 2 arms in his younger days, but went on to win the gold medal – at the 1998 Tchaikovsky International Competition. On the new recording, his team members are the Mariinsky Orchestra (formerly known as the Kirov Orchestra) led by Valery Gergiev. (Mariinsky 0548)
Those are just a few thoughts prompted by Classic Mornings and the Classic Morning Preludes of the past couple of weeks or so. I hope you were tuned it for some or all of them. Classic Mornings is heard Monday-Friday from 9am to noon on FM 90.9 and online. The Classic Morning Prelude, a jump-start of sorts for Classic Mornings, is heard at 8:50am. Remember that it’s your support that continues to make Classic Mornings and the classical music on WILL-FM possible. Please take a moment to call in your support (217-244-9455) or make an online gift (willpledge.org). Your support makes everything possible, from the CDs in the Friends of WILL Library to everything that it takes to bring the programs from the studio to your radio or computer or smartphone. I want to thank everybody who has contributed. I appreciate it – and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share Classic Mornings with you!