Paul O’Dette (lute), The Parley of Instruments
In the last forty years Vivaldi’s music has suddenly become enormously popular. Recorded versions of Le Quattro Stagione (‘The Four Seasons’) now outnumber and outsell some of the most hackneyed items of the Romantic orchestral repertory. Yet Vivaldi’s rehabilitation has been achieved largely in isolation. With the partial exception of Albinoni, it has not been accompanied by a general revival of Vivaldi’s important Italian contemporaries. The works of composers like Durante, Astorga and Galuppi, as popular if not more popular than Vivaldi in their day, still linger on the library shelves in obscurity. Gratifying as it is to see the music of a Baroque composer enter the American pop charts, Vivaldi’s modern popularity does not make it easy for us to understand his music, since we are still unfamiliar with its context. Furthermore, his career as a teacher in a Venetian ospedale, and his strong links with northern Europe, seem to have produced a body of instrumental music that is exceptional for an Italian composer of the time. No one else in Italy wrote for instruments like the chalumeau, the clarinet, the bassoon, the horn and the viola d’amore. Vivaldi’s concertos and trios using plucked instruments are particularly difficult in this respect since we know so little about why or when they were written. In the case of the lute works we do not know for sure what type of instrument Vivaldi intended, and there is no body of comparable contemporary Italian lute music to help us make an educated guess.