Pedagogy for Vivaldi

July 17, 2020, 6:24 AM · Usually these threads involve Bach and legato and détaché.
e.g. https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/18564/

But in Vivaldi urtexts we're even less likely to see legato, aren't we? And to judge from editions, added legato is random.

Is there any Vivaldi pedagogy?

Replies (19)

Edited: July 17, 2020, 5:09 PM · I'm a little confused by the question, but it is certainly not true that baroque music can not be played legato. Vivaldi would not have written the word 'Legato' in his scores, but legato articulation is very much the default for scalic passages. As for detache, this is a stroke born out of the French Revolution violin school of playing (think Kreutzer and Rode) and is not so much applicable to Vivaldi and Bach.
July 17, 2020, 10:00 AM · "legato is very much the default articulation for scalic passages."
Well, since my détaché speed is not very high at the moment, it would be nice if what you say were true, but I do get the impression that some people's motto is "détaché or death!"
July 17, 2020, 11:22 AM · The French word [Detache'] is almost a false cognate. Like the English [Detached}, it has the second dictionary meaning of [Indifferent]. So for me, the violin jargon word [Detache'] is ordinary, "plain vanilla" back and forth bowing, without intentional stops or gaps between the notes. With Baroque era string music, we have a lot freedom to add small slurs, and do unequal timing on the down and up bows. I suspect that composers like Vivaldi wrote so much, so fast, that they would just trust the musicians to finalize the bowing in rehearsal.
July 17, 2020, 1:54 PM · "Pedagogy" carries implications of currentness. For baroque music in the modern idiom this is shifting ground and varied opinion, as different people are paying more and less attention to accounting for the old conventions in modern performances. Which is to say that I don't think you'll find one "mainstream" approach to interpreting baroque music.

To my comments in the other thread I would add Geminiani's tutor as a potential source of insight as to some conventions in Italy in Vivaldi's time.

Edited: July 17, 2020, 2:23 PM · At the point and mainly with the wrist it is very well possible, and the standard for baroque playing as well as classical, to play fast passages in 16th notes. See Leopold Mozart. I disagree that playing these slurred would be the default, although I do agree that adding slurs here and there for convenience or musical emphasis is perfectly fine.
July 18, 2020, 5:28 AM · Some people think that if it's not marked clearly on the original, then it shouldn't be done. Over the centuries we have lost what would have been common knowledge at the time which composers would not have bothered to write down since everybody would have known it. Sparse dynamics without gradations have lead people to think that things were either loud or soft without any shadings or gradual transitions between. People often think that all those runs of Baroque 16th notes (or 8th notes in alla breve) would have been played detache since there were no legato indications. But that was most likely not the case in actual performance practice of the time the music was composed in.

So it's impossible to say either way, and I bet Vivaldi (and the other great composers of the Baroque) didn't care all that much. They marked what they thought was important and figured that everybody knew the common sound of the time and left it up to the individual how best to play the music.

Sort of like now, when concertmasters change bowing indications from what the composer indicated in the printed score in order to suit their concept of sound and bowings. And change from what previous concertmasters in the same orchestra had indicated.

And editors of the older Baroque works issue conflicting editions, just proving that there is never one correct way to play anything.

July 18, 2020, 5:59 AM · David, have you seen Leopold Mozart's book? A very large part of it consists of precise instructions of how to bow various passages. It goes on for tens and tens of pages.
July 18, 2020, 7:41 AM · I just checked the first edition of the sonatas op. 2 on IMSLP. One finds numerous slurs in it*. I'd say they give a pretty detailed impression of how Vivaldi himself would've played them. There are also dynamic markings BTW. We should not assume that baroque composers left everything to the players; they clearly are not all the same in this regard. Bach as an extreme case almost always wrote down slurs and ornaments in detail**--if they are not there in Bach I assume he did not want any. Problems arise then of course in all the works where his own manuscript has been lost.

*The slurs in the first edition of op. 2 match quite closely the ones in the Schott edition which I own.

**Maybe he did not trust the musicians he had to work with. But the harpsichord concertos must have been written for himself to perform and yet their slow movements contain rich carefully composed and notated ornaments.

July 18, 2020, 12:33 PM · Be careful, L. Mozart's Versuch (1756) is a whole generation (or two) after Vivaldi. Mozart's German tastes were definitely note the same as Vivaldi's in northern Italy.

David is right about composers like Bach or Vivaldi's attitude on slurs. They cared about slurs and articulations, but they are secondary to the composition. They were thinking about the rhetoric, contrapuntal possibilities of the inventios, etc, while we in the 21st century are still obsessed over the superficial stuff.

Take Bach's 6 violin solos for example. The other copies (e.g. Kellner) have radically different slurs, likely copied from earlier versions. If we think of slurs as conventions and reflections of time periods, we would be better off, rather than searching for holy grail composer's "Urtext"

Baroque vs. modern bow is also an issue. Leopold didn't write with a modern bow in mind (even though it's still very useful for a modern player).

July 18, 2020, 1:39 PM · I see what you want to say Dorian, but hmm, Leopold finished his book around the time Wolfgang was born, so around 1755. Vivaldi died 15 years earlier. So I think Leopold was well aware of the Italian conventions around Vivaldi's time, indeed, he often quotes passages "from an Italian master" probably Tartini (Leopold was friends with Nardini a student of Tartini).
July 19, 2020, 12:33 AM · But Vivaldi's music was old-fashion by his last years — he died in poverty in 1741.

I'm not aware of any reference of Vivaldi in the Mozart's Versuch, that they ever met, and the young/teenage Leopold Mozart (b. 1719) would had exposed to other more a la mode music I would speculate.

I think if we're gonna go down the HIP-route and use treatises, we can do better by looking at sources and clues before and during Vivaldi's youth, e.g. maybe look at what Vivaldi's father, his teacher, was doing at S Marco in Venice.

L. Mozart has great info in general for the period, but I wonder if we might need to be very diligent with sorting out the anachronistic things for Vivaldi. Also, if we want to cite later treatises, why not Geminiani's Art of Playing the Violin? Closer to Vivaldi in space and time, (but also stylistically completely different).

I wonder perhaps modern slurs actually work wonderfully for the modern bow. It's a 20th-century, maybe "steam-roller" aesthetic, but just a different taste, neither better nor worse.

July 19, 2020, 2:53 AM · Probably the best source for this is Geminiani's treatise (as Andres pointed out earlier)

Worth having a look at Exemplo 20:
https://imslp.simssa.ca/files/imglnks/usimg/4/42/IMSLP05501-Geminiani_art-of-playing.pdf

This covers articulation in some detail, though you have to refer to the notes at the beginning to know what sign means what, and you have to known that "Ottimo" > "Buono" > "Meglio" > "Cattivo" > "Pessimo" and that "Particulare" means 'sometimes'.

It's noticeable that Geminiani loaths plain 'detache' (all the notes long and flat) and often dislikes 'sautille' (all the notes articulated by springing from the string), but is happy to use either mixed with slurs or dotting.

Geminiani was 9 years younger than Vivaldi, but published his work on playing the violin late in life - 1751, when he was 64. So his views on style were probably formed around the same time as Vivaldi's. Whether they differed, it's hard to know, but Geminiani was a pupil of Corelli who was the most influential violinist in Italy, so his views were probably fairly 'mainstream'.

July 19, 2020, 9:43 AM · Of course Vivaldi could trust his musicians to play his works tastefully. The violinists of his day likewise trusted him not to make things gratuitously difficult.
July 19, 2020, 3:50 PM · Thanks Dorian, Chris for educating me!
July 20, 2020, 6:54 AM · "The violinists of his day likewise trusted him not to make things gratuitously difficult."

You'll have to explain what you are alluding to here, Paul. Vivaldi was a violin virtuoso (among other things, see below). He wrote violin concertos. The solo parts in concertos are deliberately difficult, this difficulty is the raison d'être for almost all concertos in the repertoire. Define "deliberate" vs. "gratuitous". The same BTW is true for arias in operas, they are an opportunity for singers to show off. Vivaldi composed many of those also.

"Of course Vivaldi could trust his musicians to play his works tastefully." This one is quite true. Vivaldi had for many years a job as teacher/mestro di cappella/house composer etc. at an "ospedale". An ospedale was a home and school for orphans. For reasons I don't remember they had ambitious music programs. Vivaldi's ospedale was girls only (I don't suppose they had gender mixed schools in 18th century Venice). The orchestras of some of those institutions were famous for the quality of their playing far beyond Venice. So unlike Bach, Vivaldi had almost ideal conditions to perform his works.

July 20, 2020, 3:17 PM · The Ospedale prepared the girls for marriage material.

Vivaldi wrote things that sounds dazzling for the girls to play, but also idiomatic (as oppose to Schoenberg writing a violin concerto that Heifetz or whomever joked it requires 5 fingers, which seems to me "gratuitously difficult").

See this:

"Scholars are almost certain that he had begun producing compositions for the Pietà orchestra and for individual performers before this time. As evidence we have the Dresden autograph of the Sonata for Violin, Oboe, Obbligato Organ, and Salmoè ad lib. (RV 779). This manuscript was inscribed in Vivaldi’s hand with the names of four players, all of whom were at the Pietà in 1707, suggesting either the work was written for them or they first performed it." (53)

"In August 1704 his annual salary was raised from sixty to one hundred ducats because, to quote the governors’ resolution of 17 August, “Don Antonio Vivaldi is highly successful at teaching the violin to the girls and shows enthusiasm at teaching the viola all’inglese”. The raise was intended to “encourage him in his efforts and therefore allow him to be of greater help to the girls”." (52)

Heller, Karl. Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice. Amadeus, 2003.

Edited: July 21, 2020, 9:18 AM · @Chris
"It's noticeable that Geminiani loathes plain 'detache' (all the notes long and flat)"

This is an interpretation, but is it the only possible one?

Geminiani contrasts "swelled" notes with what we are calling "détaché"? Is he really complaining about détaché per se or just "plain" playing? Is his beef about musical vs mechanical?

Curious that his Adagio measure 13 looks like a complaint about arhythmia, whereas the Allegro measures 10 and 11 favour this "arhythmia" over spiccato!

We must be wary of ancient pedagogues, as they were sometimes very poor at explaining themselves. (I speak as someone who has met the problem of learning Greek and Latin pronunciation from Greek and Roman writers on the subject)

July 21, 2020, 8:41 PM · Gordon has a great point. That's why I also mentioned Geminiani is very different than Vivaldi we should be weary of applying Geminiani to any other composer, esp. those not in the Corelli school.

We study Geminiani because he left behind tons of treatises, but he's also someone who was at one point demoted from concertmaster to the viola section because the orchestra could not follow. All these writers of treatises have a strong sense of what is good taste to them, but we also don't know the "good tastes" of those who didn't leave writings behind.

We can get some kind of vague composite picture from all these writers (Geminiani, L. Mozart, Quantz, CPE Bach, and many more), and we should study them, but we'll never know for sure. But that's where the fun is, right?

Edited: July 22, 2020, 7:19 AM · "We can get some kind of vague composite picture from all these writers (Geminiani, L. Mozart, Quantz, CPE Bach, and many more), and we should study them, but we'll never know for sure. But that's where the fun is, right?"

True, but the older I get, the more impatient I get, and the lower my reading speed gets, lol!

Luckily for me, all I really want to know about for the moment is legato, and that, fortunately, is hard for the old pedagogues to be confusing about, assuming they notate. Geminiani isn't too bad here.


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