Sunday, August 11, 2013

Covering Vivaldi

We were just talking about Vivaldi in this post and the comments. Now I have another clip for you, this time Vivaldi performed by Tina S., age 14, filmed by her teacher Renaud Louis-Servais who is a well-known fusion guitarist from France:


Tina appears to be remarkably talented. Here she is doing everything that Eddie van Halen is famous for:


Which brings some interesting thoughts: this kind of guitar playing is usually associated with teenage (and later) males showing off their musical virility. When a 14 year old girl does it, it kind of calls all those theories into question. Remember that the "Red Priest", Antonio Vivaldi, taught for thirty years at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage. Most of Vivaldi's music was written for the orchestra and choir there which was composed of girls as the boys had to leave the institution at age 15, while the girls could remain. Apart from many cantatas and other sacred vocal music, Vivaldi wrote some 500 concertos for his ensemble at the Ospedale! They were famous throughout Europe for their virtuosity and musicality--all under the training of Vivaldi.

Here is a setting of the Gloria by Vivaldi with choir and played on original instruments which might give a bit of an idea of what those kids at the Ospedale might have sounded like:


Here is a fine violin concerto in D minor by Vivaldi, to give a bit more perspective:


The thing about Vivaldi, and Haydn and Mozart for that matter, is that he composed music with an ease and facility that few could match. He composed music the way the rest of us walk down the street or breathe! Five hundred concertos! Just think about that for a moment.

Until Beethoven came along and problematized composition at the same time he revolutionized it, a composer could simply write music. But Beethoven did something: he opened up depths that later composers found it difficult to ignore and so composition became something fraught, something difficult, a struggle.

But not for Vivaldi. And we should not make the mistake of assuming that because Vivaldi composed with ease and grace that the music is facile and trivial. Plainly it is not. Vivaldi demonstrates sprezzatura in composition. Something I wrote about in this post.

4 comments:

Rickard Dahl said...

I've read your post about sprezzatura but what does this mean? "It is also one where the timbre reveals many things that on the piano, are filtered out by the key mechanism."

I think sprezzatura can be achieved in piano playing. The basics of it I guess is playing relaxed and with control of the dynamics, articulations, tone color, good balance and interaction between the different lines and so on.

Bryan Townsend said...

The context of that remark was that I was explaining why I chose my examples from guitarists:

"I have stuck to guitarists here because sprezzatura can be a subtle thing and the classical guitar is the instrument I know best. It is also one where the timbre reveals many things that on the piano, are filtered out by the key mechanism."

Of course there are examples on all instruments, but with the guitar any kind of tension or struggle affects the sound. With the piano, the mechanism intervenes, so it does not come through, at least to my ear, so strongly. Perhaps a piano player could give us some examples of players with and without sprezzatura?

Rickard Dahl said...

I see. One of the most important things in piano playing (and probably with most other instruments) is playing relaxed. In the case of piano it's about letting gravity pull your hand down (feeling the weight of your arm) instead of using extra force, being tense and obviously not relaxed. Pianos are designed to take advantage of gravity, you don't that much extra force to play (unless it's fortissimo or so and in that case letting the force come from the arms and shoulders rather than trying to break your fingers). Most of those kind of technique things are described in The Fundamentals of Piano Practice (for example an idea of a basic keystroke: http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/1.III.1.1.1 which in summary is to use arm weight/gravity to play (playing quickly to overcome the friction and then sensing with your finger how much is needed to play a certain dynamic), relaxing once a key is played (not pushing down extra to hold the key), holding down the key correctly and lifting the finger quickly once done).

Anyways, about piano players with and without sprezzatura: I think most professional pianists play with sprezzatura, maybe in some cases with difficult or very difficult pieces there are noticable differences but I haven't really thought about it before.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Rickard.

If you look at the clips I put up as examples, I'm sure you can see and hear the difference between those guitarists who just work too hard and those who play with sprezzatura. The lack of sprezzatura is pretty common on guitar. I suspect that piano pedagogy is more consistently advanced in this regard, so it is probably less common. But it would be really interesting to see a couple of examples.