9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Vivaldi, Bach and their Concerto Slow Movements

Rebecca Kan

Precious little has been said about Vivaldi’s compositional techniques during the early part of his concerto writing career. This has impeded recognition of Vivaldi as the progenitor of the modern Adagio and has consequently obscured his compositional ability in the concerto slow movements. But a close examination of Vivaldi’s career up to the end of the first decade of the 18th century reveals a composer who was willing to overturn the traditions of his predecessors and create a concerto slow movement that was well in advance of its time. Vivaldi’s formal inventiveness in the concerto slow movements had an immediate impact upon Bach, whose keyboard transcriptions of Vivaldi’s concertos offer a glimpse of what the early Vivaldi could achieve, particularly at a time when the concerto had just emerged from its fledgling years. This paper suggests that the extent of Vivaldi’s influence on Bach’s concerto slow movements advances beyond the novelty of the embellished Adagio into other compositional dimensions that first instrumental concerto composers did not know. Examples taken from the earliest known concertos by Vivaldi attest to the maturity that the Venetian composer had reached by the time that Bach made his transcriptions. The application of the ritornello principle in not merely the fast but also the slow movements of Vivaldi’s concertos spills over into an examination and comparison of similar procedures in the concerto slow movements of Bach, suggesting how Vivaldi may have contributed to the fine art of Bach’s “musical thinking”.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita