9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Vivaldi's Harmony and the Paradox of Historical Recognition

Bella Brover-Lubovsky

A common trend in Vivaldi's research has been to portray him as a forerunner of future stylistic innovations, rather than to recognize the strength of his affinity with a tradition of the past. Indeed, certain properties of Vivaldi’s concerto style, such as its elevated dramatic pathos, crystallized structural idiom, virtuoso interpretation of instruments, and bold thematic and textural contrasts had been adopted and intensively developed by generations of musicians in the course of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, he had been unmercifully forgotten even during his life- time. Vivaldi's death in Vienna, the heart of the new emerging instrumental style, was almost entirely unnoticed by musical circles. What were the reasons for the decline of Vivaldi's popularity and such a flagrant oblivion of the once "famous Venetian"?

An analysis of Vivaldi's harmonic language could clarify this question to a considerable extent. In recent research it has been described as sheerly forward-looking and advanced. Leading Vivaldian scholars have noted “the strength of tonal feeling in the modern sense of major-minor” (M. Pincherle), and “novelty and unprecedented directness" of his harmony (M. Talbot).

On the other hand, Vivaldi’s younger contemporaries totally rejected his harmonic style because of its "wildness and irregularity" (J. Hawkins), "poor handling of basses" (C. Goldoni), " and the "extreme of unnatural modulations" (Ch. Avison).

Thus, Vivaldi's harmonic ideolect requires to be discussed in special terms. It combines and closely interweaves elements of the modern tonal concept with former modal pitch organization.

The paper will concentrate on the curious links between pretonal harmonic thinking and the major-minor tonality in the entire corpus of Vivaldi's concertos.

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Last updated on 3 April 2000 by Yo Tomita