Following on the last post, another well-known music joke concerns Vivaldi and goes like this: Vivaldi didn't really write five hundred concertos, he wrote the same concerto five hundred times! Bada-bing!
Antonio Vivaldi really is one of the most important Baroque composers. His career was fascinating. For thirty years his principal employment was as music instructor in the Conservatorio dell'Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, an orphanage supported by the state. Vivaldi taught violin and wrote music for both sacred and secular occasions. The boys had to leave the orphanage at 15, but the girls could stay and received a fine musical education. Under Vivaldi's instruction and performing his music the instrumental and choral ensembles became famous throughout Europe.
Yes, Vivaldi really did write more than 500 concertos for his students: 230 for violin, others being for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d'amore, recorder, lute, or mandolin. About 40 are for two instruments and strings, and about 30 are for three or more instruments and strings. I have played on a few occasions the Concerto in D major for mandolin, known most of all in its version for guitar.
Vivaldi was much-appreciated by Bach who copied and transcribed several of his concertos. Vivaldi brought to the table a rhythmic vivacity and harmonic clarity that Bach absorbed and added to the blend of French dance genres and ornamentation and German counterpoint in his summation of Baroque style. Without Vivaldi's influence, Bach's music might have much less impact than it does. Two pieces by Bach that show this particularly strongly are the Italian Concerto for harpsichord and the prelude to the Partita no. 3 in E major for violin. Here is the first movement of the Italian Concerto on harpsichord with a little introduction:
(I like the modesty that leads Elaine to tell us all about who built her harpsichord and all about Bach, but neglects to mention her last name!)
Here is the first movement of a violin concerto by Vivaldi from a particularly influential collection the L'estro Armonico of 1711.
There certainly are a lot of familiar sequences there. An harmonic sequence is one of the most useful and frequently used devices of the Baroque and Classical periods. The basic idea is to take a brief harmonic pattern and repeat it two or three more times at a different level. It provides both unity and impetus. Here is another first movement from L'estro Armonico.
Here is another concerto:
Well, it is obviously not true that he wrote the same concerto five hundred times. But the grain of truth in the joke is that he used much the same harmonic, rhythmic and melodic devices in all his concertos. Now let's hear one of Bach's violin concertos:
There is a lot more depth and interest to the harmony. Things are not nearly so predictable. The thing is that Bach does Vivaldi better than Vivaldi did.