The continuation of the introduction on the page V3 'Poetic imagery'


For violinists of my generation, it is difficult to imagine learning to play the violin without performing Vivaldi’s concertos. However, Vivaldi was (re)discovered by performers only after the second world war. Thus, paradoxically, the generation of my violin teachers did not grow up with The Four Seasons, but included it in their repertoire later on in their professional careers. In Section V3 'Poetic imagery', Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is the material for a case study which displays a wide spectrum of technical and expressive aspects of violin playing.

From the 1725 dedication to Count Morzinin in the printed edition of Vivaldi’s Op. 8 (a collection of 12 concertos entitled Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione) [1], we learn that it is not the first time the count was presented with the four concertos under the name Le Quattro Stagioni. There is an apologetic air in the dedication; Vivaldi assures the count that including four concertos which the count already possessed as a manuscript copy could be justified by their improvements: ‘…I have added to them, besides the sonnets, a very clear statement of all things that unfold in them, so I am sure that they will appear new to you’ (Vivaldi, 1725, in Everett, 1996, p. 11).

As the original autograph is lost, our only reference to the version predating the 1725 edition is the so called Manchester manuscript. Although this manuscript, not in Vivaldi’s hand, postdates the publication of Op. 8, it nevertheless ‘accurately transmits a text that is older than the retouched version as published’ (Everett, 1996, p. 11). The recent editions take full account of the Manchester manuscript, either in critical notes (Talbot & Everett, Ricordi 1996), or as a merging of the two versions into an amalgamated edited text (Selfridge-Field, 1995). Christopher Hogwood’s edition for Bärenreiter goes even further and treats the Manchester manuscript for the first time as a primary source, regarding it in many respects as superior to the Le Cène 1725 print. The critical response to the new edition was ambiguous. While praising a new reading of the text and its contribution to the performer’s community, the scholars concluded (just as Hogwood himself acknowledged), that the Manchester version will not necessarily supersede the more familiar text of the 1725 print; some scholars even disputed the authority which Hogwood accorded to the Manchester manuscript copy.

For a performer, the most relevant difference between the familiar 1725 printed edition and the earlier version of the manuscript copy is the inclusion of the short captions from the Sonnets (Il cane che grida; Languidezza per il caldo; Venti impetuosi; L’ubriaco che dorme) [2] directly into the music, thereby strengthening the impact of the programmatic content. In the manuscript copy, there are only cue-letters in the music, referring to the respective lines in the Sonnets. This means that the poetic imagery is implied but not immediately represented when reading the score in the act of performance.

If we follow a reversed time trajectory from the printed edition of 1725 (with both separate sonnets and captions) backwards to the earlier version represented in the Manchester manuscript (with only cue-letter references), we might consider an intriguing assumption that the actual musical composition in the 1720s preceded the inclusion of the sonnets. Could the poetic imagery of the music itself trigger the subsequent invention of the sonnets, in an attempt to specify and strengthen the implied poetic content? [3]

This line of enquiry has an important implication for Section V3 'Poetic imagery'. Like in Sections V1 and V2, where I construct the interpretation of the musical structure by assimilation of the external mimetic gestures and dance step-units, in V3 it is again my body movements that merge the poetic imagery of the Sonnets and the musical structure. The aspect of the instrumental technique brings forth a new feature in my body movement vocabulary – the efficiency of the sound producing movements. While exploring the gestural affordances in the poetic imagery, the virtuosic demands of the concertos require a continuous attention also to purely technical matters.

As a Gesturist, will I be able to maintain the quality of sound and dexterity of the virtuosic passages while constructing an interpretation through an assimilation of the poetic imagery into body movements? How will the application of the expressive movements contribute to the resulting sound?

A Soundist virtuoso will not willingly compromise the sound-production by adding external gestures. Rather, a Soundist will elaborate gestures from (and in) the sound, by manipulating the sonic properties. Any extended body movements triggered by the expressive content are based in, and triggered by, the sound production.

In the last section of this introduction, I explore some implications of the poetic imagery of the Sonnets in the musical structure and their possible manifestations in the violinist’s body movements. Rather than reviewing the concertos in chronological order, I here attempt to make a survey of gestural imagery in the Seasons in a systematic way, mapping the occurrences of gestural themes as they appear in the entire collection. This allows me to compare different gestural realizations of related poetic images throughout: i.e. dreaming goatherd vs. sleeping drunkards; the gentle arrival of spring vs. the revels of autumn; the dance of the nymphs and shepherds vs. tramping the feet in order to avoid the chill of winter.

The gestural survey provides fundamental material for the following video essays (V3a, -b, -c, -d). The analysis in the essays focuses on the Summer concerto and explores the Soundist & Gesturist dichotomy from the perspective of differing strategies of body movement, one directed towards technical virtuosity, the other towards the assimilation of poetic imagery in body movement. This also resonates with the title of Vivaldi’s collection Op. 8, Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione. The title implies a battle between objective rules and subjective invention (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention). In this section, at least in the case of a virtuosic Soundist and poetic Gesturist, it is my hope that the battle will be resolved in a constructive reconciliation.



Back to:

'Poetic imagery' V3



Back to:

'Poetic imagery' V3