Evviva Vivaldi! A Consumer’s Report for the Tercentenary

In a hospital delivery room the obstetrician could not move the baby until [Dr.] Clements played Vivaldi. The baby then danced free and was born normally….

The Sunday Times (London)
December 11, 1977

In recent years the music of Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 1741) has inundated concert programs and FM stations, outnumbered listings of Handel in record catalogues, and so vastly expanded the repertory of chamber orchestras that new ensembles have been formed to play it. This ubiquity contrasts with the two centuries of eclipse1 following the death of the “red-headed priest.”2 Though a comparatively large portion of his music was published during his lifetime and remained accessible in libraries, not until the nineteenth-century Bach revival and the unearthing of a “Concerto del Sigre Ant. Vivaldi accomodato per l’Organo…del Sigre Giovanni Sebastiano Bach” and of twelve other concertos “elaborati” by Bach did the Venetian’s name arouse any curiosity. But even this endorsement did not lead to reprintings of his music or to its presentation before a wide audience.

The principal event in the annals of Vivaldi’s posthumous works is the Turin National Library’s acquisition in 1927 and 1930 of the manuscripts of some 300 compositions whose existence had not been suspected, a discovery as momentous for lovers of Baroque music as that of the Dead Sea Scrolls for students of religion. The story of this retrieval must be reviewed, if only to understand the difficulties for anyone wishing to explore Vivaldi’s instrumental music beyond the popular concerto cycles, L’Estro armonico, La Stravaganza, Il Cimento and La Cetra.

In 1926 the Fathers of a Collegio San Carlo in Piedmont asked Luigi Torri of the Turin Library to appraise a large number of “old volumes” and advise about their sale. He consulted Turin University’s Dr. Alberto Gentili, who found that they contained a prodigious number of autograph Vivaldi manuscripts of vocal works sacred and secular that he was not known to have composed, as well as of operas and instrumental pieces. The matter was kept secret until, on February 15, 1927, a sponsor, Roberto Foa, purchased the music for the Library.

Meanwhile, Gentili had noticed that the scores were haphazardly bound and that in some cases the last pages were missing, which seemed to indicate that the collection was part of a larger one. He learned from the Collegio that its volumes were the bequest of the widow of Marcello Durazzo of Genoa, and, from this well-known family, that the original owner had been Count Giacomo Durazzo (1717-1794), Gluck’s patron and a one-time Austrian ambassador to Venice. His heirs had been responsible for the division, and Marcello’s nephew still possessed the complementary half.

How the ambassador acquired the music is not known. One theory suggests that he bought it directly from Vivaldi, another that it came from the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice,3 the convent, foundling home, and conservatory4 on the Riva degli Schiavone where the composer had been a teacher and…

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