Friday, October 19, 2018

Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione

No. 293 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This week’s Blog and Podcast are dedicated to eight concertos by Antonio Vivaldi that are part of his opus 8 “The Contest between Harmony and Invention”.

James Mannheim writes in that it was common in Vivaldi's time to gather up a set of six or 12 works in similar form and for the same forces and publish them under an umbrella title. The collective title of the opus 8 set does suggest something of the particular tension between form and fantasy in his works in general and in these concertos in particular.

This set contains the most famous of all Baroque solo concertos, the ubiquitous Four Seasons, "Spring," "Summer," "Fall," and "Winter." These are not featured in today’s podcast, as I wanted to showcase the remaining eight concerti; several of the other concertos in the set are like the Four Seasons programmatic in nature, which might have suggested to Vivaldi or another compiler that the works belonged together. Anyone who enjoys the Four Seasons will find the "La caccia" (The Hunt) or "La tempesta di mare" (The Storm at Sea) concertos to be cut from the same cloth, equally rewarding, and much less familiar.

The American violinist Louis Kaufman was undoubtedly among the most recorded violinists of the 20th century. In a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he made over 150 major recordings of his classical repertoire, and was heard as concertmaster in over five hundred movie soundtracks between 1934 and 1948, including Gone With The Wind (1939), Show Boat (1936), Modern Times (1936),, Wuthering Heights (1939) and The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).

Kaufman’s mid-century, première recording of The Four Seasons, singlehandedly re-kindled interest in the music of Vivaldi. Those of you who have been following this blog since our earliest days will remember that in a set of four season-themes posts in 2011-12, I featured Kaufman’s performances either in the podcast or as a YouTube addition. Kaufman recorded the balance of Opus 8 for Concert Hall Records in Switzerland in 1950. Some of these are featured in today’s podcast. The recordings show their age and limitations in technology, yet the clear violin lines and interpretation (albeit tinged with romanticism that may make baroque purists cringe), stand the test of time and are testimonies of Kaufman’s artistry.

For the HIP crowd, I chose to complete the set with performances by a period ensemble and soloist of renown. In my personal collection, Simon Standage’s performance of The Four Seasons remains my favourite. It should be no surprise that I chose to complete Il Cimento with his concerto renditions, accompanied as always by the English Concert and Trevor Pinnock.

I think you will love this music too

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