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Music Notes—Vivaldi Re-Discovered

By David Hidson

 

Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is perhaps the most popular piece of classical music in the world.  But did you know that it was virtually unknown, as was all of Vivaldi’s music, until 1950?  And did you know that the famed American writer, Ezra Pound, played a large role in his re-discovery?

 

When Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741 in obscurity and poverty, his music was already forgotten.  During his life, he was a priest, virtuoso violinist, music director of La Pietà (a home for orphaned girls), and the toast of Emperors and Archbishops across Europe. His vast collection of choral music for the Church, keyboard and violin music, and operas, none of which were printed in his lifetime, vanished.

 

Then, in 1926, the National Library in Turin, Italy, received a letter from the monks of Monferrato offering to sell their music collection to pay for repairs to the Monastery.  A Professor Gentili from Turin University was dispatched to examine the works, and, realizing that he had stumbled on a treasure trove he immediately set about finding a benefactor, as the Library was short of funds.  He found one in Roberto Foà, a wealthy Turin banker, who purchased the collection and donated it to the Library.

 

As it turned out, they discovered that this was only half of the Vivaldi collection; the other half was still outstanding.  A massive search traced the other works to a Marquis Durazzo who was persuaded by his Jesuit Father Confessor to sell his collection to the Library and, by 1930, the collection was complete. 

 

At the same time, Olga Rudge, an American violinist and Ezra Pound’s long-time mistress, was Secretary of the Accademia Musicale in Siena.  Pound had founded the Concerti Tiguilliani, an annual music festival, at Rapallo, where he lived at that time.  Pound was captivated by Vivaldi’s music and he and Rudge organized at the 1936 festival a special performance of some of Vivaldi’s works. This was the first time they had been heard in over two hundred years!

 

Unfortunately, the increasing interest in Vivaldi’s music was interrupted by the Second World War, and only in the late 1940s were the first recordings made. Many of his operas have been heard for the first time as recently as 2006!  Motezuma, a story of the Conquest of Mexico, was only discovered in Kiev in 1999.

In his book Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque, H. Robbins Landon recounts his first encounter thus:

In 1950, I happened to be in New York when the famous Cetra recording of “ The Four Seasons” arrived at The Liberty Music Shop and a clerk put it on. The shoppers, myself included, stopped their own activities and started to listen, entranced, to this seductive music which had lain forgotten on library shelves for two hundred years…The Vivaldi renaissance had begun.

But Providence must have had her eye on Vivaldi, because when he died, although his pauper’s funeral could only afford the six pall-bearers and six choirboys, one of those choirboys was Franz Joseph Haydn, himself to become a giant in the world of music some years later. 

 

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Canadian War Museum Nov. 3, 7:30 pm

 

This November 11 marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of The Great War, 1914-1918. To commemorate this event the Friends of the Canadian War Museum will be presenting “The Eleventh Hour”, a new multi-media work by Canadian composer Andrew Ager. Using choral music, imagery, video, dancing, and spoken word, “The Eleventh Hour” will take the audience into the era when “the war to end all wars” ceased - when vets came home and society was never the same. Ager will be guest conducting the Cantata Singers of Ottawa for this event, which is also CSO’s first subscription concert of the season. Tickets are already going fast so get yours very soon at cantatasingersottawa.ca.

They were called “the lost generation” – the young men who came home and found everything had changed. The composer’s own grandfather was amongst this group. In the decades following the Armistice he plied the trades of singer, rum-runner, private investigator, and in WW2, prison guard for German POWS at Bowmanville. “The Eleventh Hour” portrays not only the end of hostilities in 1918, but also the loss of countless youth, the very uncertain path forward in the Great Depression, and the flourishing of the entertainment industry between the wars – driven by the energy and freedom of that generation of survivors.

Refreshments will be offered following the concert. The Canadian War Museum exhibit “The Last 100 Days” will be open to the public during this event.

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Ottawa chamber music summers have become quite famous and now attract throngs of music lovers to the shores of the Rideau River.  This musical activity dates back to 1994 when Julian Armour, an Ottawa cellist, founded the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival soon to become a major summer event.  By 2010 Armour started another festival, Music and Beyond, which was to present a wide range of concerts and events going “beyond traditional chamber music and trying to explore the links between classical music and other genres and art forms, such as the visual arts, theatre and dance”.

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