Fabio Biondi Plays Veracini

  Italian Baroque composers such as Corelli, Tartini, and Vivaldi have long been associated with the early development of the violin as a virtuoso instrument. Less well known, now, is Francesco Maria Veracini. Born in Florence in 1690, Veracini traveled throughout Europe, dazzling audiences with his violin sonatas and concertos. The English composer and music historian Charles Burney (1726-1814) described Veracini’s playing in 1745: He led the band…in such a bold and …

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La Folia’s Endless Possibilities

Good composers borrow. Great ones steal. -Igor Stravinsky La Folia, the ancient theme/chord progression which originated in Portuguese dance music as early as 1577, was borrowed (and stolen) by composers throughout the Baroque era. Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Handel, and Jean-Baptiste Lully were among the composers who took advantage of the theme’s endlessly rich musical possibilities. Later composers also paid homage to La Folia. It surfaces briefly at this moment in the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Franz Liszt included it …

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Recomposing Vivaldi’s "Winter"

As we await today’s meteorological prediction from the groundhog, let’s enjoy the icy sonic chill of “Winter” from The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s collection of violin concertos composed around 1720. This piece can sound radically different from one performance to another, depending on choices of tempi and style. The concerto’s programatic elements remain: the orchestra’s frigid opening ponticello (a raspy sound created by playing as close to the bridge as possible), flying spiccato bowing suggesting …

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Even Better Than the Real Thing

In 1984, a bold, new skyscraper emerged on the Manhattan skyline, which captured everyone’s attention and became the subject of intense controversy. The Chippendale-inspired broken pediment crown of architect Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building shocked the architectural establishment because it so profoundly violated the ruling aesthetic of the day. This bizarre new icon seemed to be cheerfully thumbing its nose at the solemn, modernist glass boxes which surrounded it. Postmodernism was born. Modernism, …

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Stravinsky Goes Back to the Future

What do you do when you drive around a sharp curve and suddenly see the road coming to a dead end in front of you? The obvious answer is to turn around and find another route forward. Around 1920, Igor Stravinsky and other composers confronted a similar challenge. Romanticism had hit a wall. The colonialist expansion of nineteenth century Europe was disintegrating in the post-battlefield daze of an apocalyptic World War. In …

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Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor, Op. 3, No. 6 is well known to all Suzuki violin students. Vivaldi (1678-1741) contributed to the development of the violin as a solo instrument, dazzling audiences throughout Europe with shocking new sounds. He wrote over 500 concertos. For many years Vivaldi also directed the female music ensemble at Ospedale della Pietà, a school for orphaned girls in Venice. Let’s compare two excellent but contrasting performances. The first is a …

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Julia Fischer Plays “Autumn”

The vibrant Fall colors outside my window are a great excuse to listen to Vivaldi’s third concerto, “Autumn” from “The Four Seasons. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was writing and playing this music at a time when the violin was developing as a virtuosic instrument. There’s a youthful joy in this music, as if he’s saying, “Look what the violin can do!” The key to playing this music well is to make the technical passages sound effortless …

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