Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concertos for Oboe and Two Oboes and Continuo
Among Vivaldi’s vast number of compositions, the concertos for oboe, strings and basso continuo raise more doubts than certainties. The first perplexities relate to their number. The most up-to-date catalogue compiled by Ryom lists twenty of them, to which can be added three others for two oboes, two for violin and oboe, one for oboe and bassoon, and eight “Per molti Istromenti”, in which the oboe is part of the concertino, but at least two of these works are considered spurious. Other questions concern instead the date of composition and the musicians for whom they were written. In addition to the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà, Vivaldi seems to have composed these works for the virtuosi employed at the Saxon court, a theory suggested by the annotation “p[er] Sas[soni]a” which appears on the manuscript of the Concerto RV 455. Vivaldi was unquestionably won over by the rich and creamy timbre and the remarkable technical and expressive possibilities of the oboe, an instrument which was by then established in orchestras and whose function had developed from a mere support of the strings to an increasingly important role as a soloist. The first concertos for oboe were presumably written shortly after 1710, when Venice was still largely monopolized by music originating from countries north of the Alps. Profiting from the contribution of Tomaso Albinoni, whose concertos for oboe were the first collection by an Italian composer to be printed (in Venice, 1715), Vivaldi imposed a purely Italian style, based on unbridled vitality rich in virtuosic passages and fast movements, together with extended cantabile and unmistakably theatrical writing in the Andante sections. Another clearly Vivaldian trait lies in a musical language that is seemingly idiomatic to the violin, with extremely long phrases requiring the performers to execute interminable passages while practically holding their breath.