Our music for this week is the famous Concerto alla Rustica by Antonio Vivaldi.
Vivaldi’s composing career was actually a secondary pursuit to his performance and teaching commitments. Aside from making his wealth of compositions all the more amazing, this fact sheds light on the reason for his massive collection of concerti that were written for multiple violin soloists. Since he was writing a concerto every single week for his pupils at an all-girls music academy in Venice, he needed to make sure that as many students were involved as possible. As a violinist, he naturally would write violin concerti with two, three, or even four soloists with full orchestral accompaniment so that as many girls as possible could experience the spotlight. These multi-soloist concerti remain popular with students to this day, and I remember playing several of them with other students while learning the instrument myself.
This concerto, however, is one of the very few that do not include soloists. As you might imagine, it is also one of the few concerti that Vivaldi did not write for the students at his school but rather for a professional orchestra. Although the title implies a mild, rustic style, Concerto alla Rustica is a combination of speed and sophistication that seems to be forever on the brink of going just a little bit too fast.
Despite his intentions to make this concerto a completely orchestral affair, Vivaldi’s violinist tendencies were irrepressible and led him to add in a few solo lines for the first violinist in the few brief Adagio’s that intersperse the high-energy Allegro’s. Since, traditionally, the composer played the role of the first violinist, he most likely inserted these lines as a way to show off his prowess on the instrument. This fits with contemporary accounts of Vivaldi’s apparently quite unabashed boastfulness regarding his musical talents. As most musical compositions in that time period were written for royal or aristocratic families, and Vivaldi was reportedly closely tied to the wealthy Ottobini family in Venice, it is likely that this concerto was composed as a gift to them. Perhaps as a gesture to what was (at the time) considered a lesser instrument, or maybe as penance for his earlier virtuosic departures on the violin, Vivaldi graces the first cellist with a few solo lines in the final movement as well.