March 04, 2005

Gratuitous Pre-Hiatus Musickal Posting (TM)

(Image courtesy of the Probert Encyclopaedia)

Today is the birthday of Antonio Vivaldi, born this day in 1678.

While I enjoy listening to Vivaldi's music, what I had not fully appreciated until quite recently was another debt of gratitude that we all owe to the man. Allow me to explain in a quote:

According to the Obituary, Bach became a strong fugue writer at an early age "through his own applied reflection" on models by Buxtehude, Reinken, and others. And the evidence in both instrumental and vocal examples from well before the Weimar period overwhelmingly supports this view. [Late 18th Century biographer] Forkel's key insight into Bach, however, addresses a more fundamental aspect of musical composition: he writes that Vivaldi's works "taught him how to think musically." Bach transcribed Italian concertos during the mid-Weimar years of 1713-14, exactly when his experimental tendencies were leading him toward forming a genuinely personal style. The fact that Forkel links only Vivaldi's name to the concerto transcriptions suggests the latter's preeminent role for Bach. Further evidence lies in the relatively large number of Vivaldi transcriptions - nine, of which five are based on Vivaldi's concerto collection L'Estro armonico, Op. 3, published in 1711. It is likely, therefore, that Bach himself passed on to his students and family the impression that his experience with Vivaldi's compositions above all "taught him how to think musically." Forkel elaborates on the idea of musical thinking by emphasizing that "order, coherence and proportion" - or better, order/organization, coherence/connection/continuity, and proportion/relation/correlation (the original German terms Ordnung, Zusammenhang and Verhaltins are not easily rendered by single words) - must be brought to bear on musical ideas. Bach, then, recognized in Vivaldi's concertos a concrete compositional system based on musical thinking in terms of order, coherence and proportion - an illuminating though abstract historical definition of Vivaldi's art as exemplified in his concertos.

- Cristoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, pp. 170-171.

As it happens, I have Bach's transcriptions of Vivaldi's concertos (as well as those of some other composers) and often play them. But I had not realized before just how critical they were to the development of Bach's own style. Thanks, Tony! And Happy Birthday!

Posted by Robert at March 4, 2005 01:08 PM
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