This performance is dedicated to James Arkatov, LACO’s artistic founder and its first principal cellist. Jim researched and suggested the core of tonight’s program, Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10 played in its original form and the Bach transcription of the same work for four harpsichords. Music director Jeffrey Kahane designed this evening’s program with that connection in mind, adding Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D minor and Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto.”
The program opens with Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10. Vivaldi composed hundreds of concertos, many of them written for his music students. As a violin virtuoso, he favored the violin as a solo instrument, but he also wrote concertos for viola, cello, lute, mandolin, flute, oboe and bassoon. In 1711, Vivaldi published his Op. 3 collection, a set of 12 concertos for one, two or four violins entitled “L’Estro Armonico” to Ferdinand, Grand Prince of Tuscany, these concertos display Vivaldi’s energetic Italian style, and were incredibly popular and influential in Germany. Bach adapted six concertos from the Op. 3 for different instruments. Nos. 3, 9 and 12 were transcribed for solo keyboard, while Nos. 8 and 11 were reworked as solo organ concertos. The tenth concerto in Vivaldi’s set became Bach’s Concerto for Four Harpsichords.
We don’t know many details about the life of Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni, but we think he might have been a violinist at the court of Charles IV, Duke of Mantua. During the High Baroque era, Albinoni’s greatest fame came as an opera composer, writing operas in Venice, Bologna, Naples and other Italian cities. Unfortunately many of his works never reached publication and as a consequence, were lost. Some of his instrumental music survived, though, including a few concertos for oboe. This is especially notable because he was one of the first Italians to use the oboe as a solo instrument. He must have been enamored of the timbre of the instrument and its ability to create both long phrases and punctuated short gestures. The Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op. 9, No. 2, is Albinoni’s most famous work in this genre.
Arcangelo Corelli was a noted violinist who traveled around Europe impressing many patrons with his virtuosic playing. Due to his extensive touring, he was not as prolific as the other composers featured tonight, but he did manage to write a good number of trio sonatas and concertos. His piece on the program, the Concerto Grosso in G minor, O 8, “Christmas Concerto,” was composed for a commission from Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. It was the eighth concerto in a set of 12, a collection published posthumously in 1714. Its actual composition date was much earlier though, probably around 1690.
The “Christmas Concerto,” scored for two solo violins, string orchestra, and continuo, has six movements, an unusual number. Corelli’s concerto is technically a concerto da chiesa, a designation that marks the work as meant for performance in a church, although not for liturgical use. A typical concerto da chiesa would have four movements, with a slow opening movement, an imitative second movement, and dance-inspired third and fourth movements. Eight of the 12 concertos in Corelli’s Op. 6 are classified as concertos da chiesa. The variety of tempos found in the “Christmas Concerto” is apparent throughout the six movements. Movement 1 begins with a brief Vivace, but then transitions to a longer Grave section. The second movement is an Allegro, while the third provides contrast with an Adagio-Allegro-Adagio tempo. The fourth movement brings back vibrant energy with a Vivace, and the fifth movement returns to Allegro. The sixth movement is a beautiful and serene Pastorale in a lilting meter. This is the section that gives the “Christmas Concerto” its name; the pastorale suggests the shepherds who visited the manger in Bethlehem on the first Christmas.
Our concert closes with Bach’s Concerto in A minor for Four Harpsichords. When Bach was learning about counterpoint, and becoming the master we know today, he spent a lot of time studying the works of the great composers who had come before him. One of his greatest influences was Antonio Vivaldi. In transcribing some of Vivaldi’s concertos for harpsichord or organ, Bach studied the nuances and counterpoint of Vivaldi, searching to discover the secrets therein. But Bach’s transcriptions aren’t mere copies; some have even argued that they are enhancements. The Concerto in A minor for Four Harpsichords utilizes the harmonic capability of the keyboard instruments, as the original solo instruments do not have the ability to play full chords. Bach’s Concerto adds richness and counterpoint to Vivaldi’s original. The result is a rare and utterly charming example of the Baroque concerto grosso.