August COMPOSER: antonio vivaldi
flute concerto no.2 in G minor “La Notte”, 1729-30
The flute has been a recent attraction for me. Previously I had associated it with fluffy things like dancing, fairies and nymphs, all very Midsummer Nights Dream, but it has such a bigger range than this. I chose La Notte because it is an odd piece, but also an attractive one. It’s full of the unmistakeable Vivaldi violin as well. If Vivaldi has done one thing for me it’s move me away from solely listening to piano pieces. (It didn’t exist in his time, the closest to it was the harpsichord, which you can hear as part of the orchestra in many of his pieces.)
Flute Concerto No. 2 in G minor also called La Notte (The Night), is one of 16 concerto’s Vivaldi wrote for the flute. Most of them, like this one, are only 10 minutes long. It was reworked from an earlier concerto he wrote 20 years earlier and was published as part of a set (Opus 10) made up of 6 flute concertos. This 2nd concerto is a little different, it has 6 movements, not Vivaldi’s trademark 3, which alternate slow/fast etc. and it’s the only one in a minor key (probably why I was attracted to it). One of the movements is actually a transposition of part of Autumn from Four Seasons (you can’t miss it). Apparently all of these things make it difficult to play. But not I think difficult to listen to. It dips and soars and swerves, the contrasts of the short slow/fast movements form just as much of the light feeling of this piece as the dancing flute.
Watch Uliana Zhivitskaya soloist – aged 13 play. She’s a similar age to girls Vivaldi wrote this piece and many of his other for ( see below)
This piece is like a playground early in the morning on a summers day. Your footprints leave damp marks in the grass still wet with dew. You sit on a swing, slowly rocking back and forth, idly swinging your legs just enjoying the floating sensations. But then you start to pump them rigorously back and forth, and the swing climbs higher and faster and faster. There’s wind in your hair and a lightness of almost but not quite nausea in the bottom on your belly. Your face breaks a smile – you are a child again.
Joyous you leap off the swing and run to the merri-go-round, spinning it slowly trying to get your breath back, around and around you go until you gather speed and leap on while the world around you spins and that same wind in your face and lightness in your belly returns. You run from one to the other for a while recreating the thrill each time. Then at the end you climb the hill behind the playground, the tall stalky summer grass flicks against your shins. At the top you survey the world like an explorer, all of this too is your playground. You drop to the ground, and roll sideways through the long grass to the bottom of the hill in a ridiculous, fast fumble. A tireless giggle of a laugh rising up through that feeling in your belly and escaping from your lips.
I have mentioned a number of times how modern Vivaldi seems. One of the reasons I most took to him was that he spent 40 years on and off working at Ospedale della Pieta (Mercy Hospital) a conservatory/school for orphaned girls. He taught violin, conducted, became master of music and of course composed. Judging by Vivaldi’s compositions many of the girls were brilliant musicians. Women don’t feature much in the history of music, expect as muses, wives, mothers etc. But here are a number of talented, clever young women being given an opportunity to learn and to play some astonishing music. Most of Vivaldi’s famous pieces were written specifically for the school, either by commission or when he was working there directly, including this Flute Concerto and Four Seasons. It all seems incredibly progressive for an institution run by the church but there you have it. Talented, clever women haven’t just existed in contemporary world. What genius has the world missed out on due to social and political constraints and oppression.
As an interesting side point Vivaldi also wrote a lot of operas. His most controversial Arsilda, regina Ponto, features two women falling in love, albeit one of them was disguised as a man at the time (her twin brother no less – ah opera).
A great composer and by all accounts a great guy. I have found a friend in Vivaldi.
*images appear in order courtesy of Public Domain, Starry Night over the Rhone by Van Gogh via Public Domain, Luiz Carlos via CC, M&R Glasgow via CC, Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra via Public Domain