August COMPOSER: antonio vivaldi
mandolin concerto in C, 1725
The mandolin is not an instrument I previously associated with classical music. That’s one of the main reasons I chose this Mandolin Concerto, the other is that it’s a striking, snappy and emotive piece of music. Vivaldi only wrote 2 works that included a mandolin; this is the only one where it features solo. It was written in a period of great productivity for the composer, the period when he also produced the Four Seasons. It’s one of the most famous mandolin works and its not hard to see why.
Mandolin Concerto in C is a 10 minute piece – the classic 3 movement concerto that he founded: fast – slow – fast. It’s full of the interplay between orchestra and solo instrument, (one of the defining features of a concerto).Something about the sounds of the plucked strings is reminiscent of the guitar and for people like me who grew up on guitar driven pop music I think this could be where the familiarity and therefore the attraction lies. It’s a fun happy piece of music, albeit not always fast.The first movement is quick and joyous and reminds me immediately of a contemporary playful ukulele orchestra. But the second movement shows the depth of the instrument – it’s slow and thoughtful and almost poignant, it acts as an important buffer, or a bridge between the two faster happier movements. The third movement is like a swaying dance, long red dresses swishing around a dance floor.
Watch Avi Avital play the full piece
It is a dance on hard-packed dirt floor, women in bouncy red, gold and green dresses swirling and swaying, into one mass of bright colours. A brief respite to catch their breaths the colours slow and separate from their blur, mist forms where the hot breath hits the cool night air, hearts pound, chests heave, smiles not far from the corners of mouths.
Eyes lock onto each other, showing something else, something each of them needs and wants from the music, and then the beat gets faster, rises up through the floor and into their veins, bodies move again, feet hitting the floor in unison, the beat gets louder, the colours swirl endless around each other like a kaleidoscope.
Vivaldi was apparently known as the red priest, due to his red hair. (He’s wearing a wig in that picture at the top). Red-haired Italians don’t easily spring to mind, but its interesting in an unusual kind of way, the same way as, say a mandolin concerto. He never worked as a priest, Vivaldi, something which gets blamed on a variety of reasons — his chronic asthmatic symptoms being one. But it’s not clear how much he wanted to be a priest in the first place. He never seemed to stop playing and composing, and perhaps the priesthood was for him, something many artists have today — a backup plan. He remained ordained throughout his lifetime and because of that never married. Although it’s thought he had some friends that were closer than others. Who knows, perhaps he wasn’t that romantically interested in women – the priesthood being a great place to hide those reasons.
Vivaldi as I felt in the Four Seasons seems remarkably modern man. I feel more understanding of him than I do of many other composers who lived closer to my lifetime. Which is not something I expected of a man born in the 1600s, the time of Shakespeare and neck ruffs. His ‘once famous, died without a penny’ story is not so far away from many of todays musical stars. For me anyway, it makes Vivaldi’s music all the more alluring and present.