Monday, July 02, 2007

Antonio Vivaldi and early music

Away for the weekend, to experience some Cotswolds rain for a change, and therefore away from the wilds of EEBO and the 17th century. So, as a musical interlude, something to make you feel happy for a hundred years, the Allegro Molto from Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto in C major for Diverse Instruments’, R.558:

This was originally scored for two violins ‘in tromba’, two recorders, two mandolins, 2 salmo√®, two theorbos, cello, strings and harpsichord. (I just love that general feeling you get with Vivaldi of ‘Right, who’ve we got this morning? OK, off I go…’, though actually this was a very special piece presented to Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony on his visit to Venice in 1740).

I’ve read Eleanor Selfridge-Field’s piece, ‘Vivaldi’s Esoteric Intruments’ (Early Music, 1978), which explains the ‘violini in tromba marina’, while the website below publishes a whole study of the instrument Vivaldi was somehow treating the violins to sound like (the ‘tromba marina’ was apparently a monochordal stringed instrument (usually), where the bridge for the string was not rigidly fixed, but was allowed to vibrate against the sounding board at one side, producing a trumpet-like blare of sound).

Selfridge-Field suggests that Vivaldi loved to explore all kinds of sonorities, and would utilize otherwise obsolete instruments for that purpose; she even suggests that Venice enjoyed an early music revival in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (after all, was there anywhere that had better early music?).

In this performance, the theorbos (or arch-lutes) have been swapped for harps, the salmo√® for bass oboe, recorders for flutes, while trumpets take the ‘tromba marina’ parts, with violin, cello, and harpsichord (that’s Leonard Bernstein at the harpsichord, no less, making it trill like an electric bell). Available in less hissy form (no doubt) on

My mp3 is called 'vivaldiloudversion' because is one of my stupid moments, I thought a lower setting might result in a smaller file size (D'Oh!). The image is by Hans Memling, of ‘angel musicians’. The Web Gallery of Art explains all the esoteric instruments, and a ‘tromba marina’ appears second left.

1 comment:

Decidedly Bookish said...

That kind of inventiveness with musical instruments reminds me of a Thomas Truax, who makes his own: I saw him at a gig last year - the instruments sound surprisingly good!