Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concertos for oboe, strings and continuo
Among the numerous compositions by Antonio Vivaldi, the concertos for oboe, strings and basso continuo still raise many doubts. First of all, how many did he write? The most recent edition of Ryom’s catalogue lists twenty – with another three for two oboes, two for violin and oboe, one for oboe and bassoon and eight “For many Instruments” where the oboe takes the part of the concertino – but for these last, at least a couple are regarded as spurious. Other doubts arise concerning the dates of their composition and the patrons for whom they were composed, among which were the orphan girls at the Ospedale della Pietà as well as the court of Saxony, as we may suppose from the note “p[er] Sas[soni]a” written on the manuscript of Concerto RV. 455. But we may be certain that Vivaldi was greatly inpressed by the rich, mellow sound and remarkable technical and expressive possibilities the oboe offered. The instrument had already earned its rightful place in the orchestra, and, from its early use in simple unison with the strings, was employed increasingly as a solo instrument. The first oboe concertos were probably composed after 1710 in Venice, in a musical environment still monopolised by northern European influences. Following close in the footsteps of Tomaso Albinoni, who was the first Italian composer to publish a group of oboe concertos, in Venice in 1715, Vivaldi opted for an authentic Italian style, based on impetuous vitality enhanced with virtuoso passages in the fast movements and a dreamy melodious atmosphere of operatic intensity in the Andante movements. Another typical Vivaldi characteristic, a style of composition with the violin in mind, gives us long phrases that even today oblige oboe players to get through interminable passages practically without ever taking a breath.