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The Vivaldi Numbers Game

Marc Pincherle’s thematic inventory of Vivaldi’s instrumental works was published in 1948. But in 1945, in Rome, Mario Rinaldo had already brought out a “Catalogo tematico,” in which each work is identified by an “M.R.” number. The Malipiero scores were marked “Tomo,” 1 through 535, though Ricordi, who published them, listed the music in the sequence of the company’s general catalogue (“P.R.,” for Partiture Ricordi). Finally, in 1968, Fanna’s Institute issued still another thematic index (“F.”) of the “complete” orchestral works dividing them into sixteen categories according to instrumentation: concertos for strings, for “complessi vari,” etc. This attempt to introduce some order was laudable but limited, providing no subdivision beyond an inadequate grouping by key. Thus the entries occur in the sequence C major, C minor, D major, D minor, and so on up the scale to B minor; but since Vivaldi wrote thirty-three solo violin concertos in D major, the classification should have been broken down a step further. Fanna’s appendices supply the corresponding numbers between “F.” and “P.,” and between “Tomo” and “P.R.,” but no concordance for all four, while “M.R.” is excluded altogether.

The Fanna catalogue gives the sources, in fifteen European libraries, of the manuscripts used for the thematic incipits of all of the movements of 401 instrumental works that Vivaldi did not publish, but omits fragmentary and unfinished pieces, and those of uncertain attribution, helpful as these might have been in providing clues to the authorship of other music. Nor does Fanna describe the differences between one manuscript version and another, beyond such vague statements as “The orchestra in the Naples mss. requires fewer instruments,” “This manuscript contains an additional Adagio,” “The second movement is different in this version.” But what are the changes in instrumentation in the Naples copy? Why, in a so-called complete edition, was this extra Adagio not included? And in what ways do the two versions of that second movement differ? Moreover, since approximately a hundred works exist in two or more versions, these should have been cross-indexed, and the movements that Vivaldi adapted from operas noted.

While Fanna’s guide was being prepared for the press, Peter Ryom, a Danish musicologist working in Poland and Scandinavia, found fourteen previously unknown instrumental works (as well as eighteen copies of known ones),1 and, of course, compiled his own catalogue, assigning a number from 1 to 768 (and the abbreviation “R.V.,” Ryom Verzeichnis)2 to each composition, whether single movement or full-length length opera. His first findings are included at the end of the Fanna volume, thereby exposing a weakness in the systems of both: that newly discovered works can be assimilated only as addenda and not in their proper order.

Still another complication is that Vivaldi himself numbered the collections of concertos, 129 works in all, that he chose for publication, and, since these include the best known, record companies and concert organizations have preferred to use the composer’s opus numbers and programmatic titles. Mario Rinaldo attempted to follow Vivaldi’s example in this, but could not do so for the reason that “opus” implies chronology, which could only rarely be ascertained from dedications, notices of special performances at the Ospedale, production data about operas (such as the three given in Rome in 1723-1724), the composer’s correspondence, and the sudden output of a quantity of music for a particular instrument traceable to the visit of a performer, such as that in 1726 of the flutist—and most informative writer on music of his time—J.J. Quantz.

The confusion in numbering is disastrous. To illustrate, anyone wishing to find the score for a new recording of R.V. 114 would somehow have to learn—Ryom, as the latest arrival, is the least widely known—that this concerto is F. XI 44, P.27,P.R.1168, and Tomo 493, this last being the number on the only edition of the music. The Schwann catalogue has generally adopted P., less frequently F., but many albums are still marked according to the defunct M.R., or by nothing at all. A record collector with a large library, who reads about and decides to purchase a new release of “Ten Vivaldi Concertos,” should consider himself fortunate if this package contains even one piece that he does not already own, nor is this information always obtainable from the cover. And the concert-goer who wishes to follow the score of one of those D-major violin concertos must take a small suitcase—unless the preliminary advertisements for the program include two or three catalogue numbers. The present article, which is intended for musicians as well as general readers, identifies the concertos by their sobriquets, and, where none exists, by Tomo and opus.

—RC

  1. 1

    Ryom’s total discoveries have increased since then.

  2. 2

    Peter Ryom: Verzeichnis der Werke Antonio Vivaldi (Deutsche Verlag für Musik, Leipzig, 1974).

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