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Concerto for Bassoon

in D minor, RV 481


Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)




His long-held position as teacher and composer at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà—a home for orphaned girls in Venice—gave Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) the perfect laboratory for perfecting the concerto form in the early eighteenth century. In all, he wrote thirty-seven concerti for bassoon (or possibly for its precursor, the dulcian), second in number only to those for violin (coming in at over 230 violin concerti). Many of his concerti were meant to be played by his students at the Pietà, written in a way that showed off the skill of the soloist but allowed a wide variety of talents to participate in the orchestra—the soloist’s part was virtuosic, the orchestral accompaniment much simpler. It is unknown, however, whether Vivaldi’s bassoon concerti were intended to showcase students at the Pietà, or if they were written for another local bassoonist. What we do know is that Vivaldi’s focus on this instrument during this period was exceptional, as the bassoon had been largely neglected by Italian composers in the late seventeenth century. His skill at writing technical passages that were simultaneously virtuosic and yet comfortable on the instrument showcased the soloist through dazzling figurations and melodious stretches alike.

This D Minor concerto (RV 481; c. 1720s) is in the three-movement concerto structure that Albinoni introduced and that Vivaldi perfected, with fast first and third movements that exchange passages between the orchestra and the soloist, and a slow middle movement featuring eloquent, long-breathed melodies. Vivaldi employed the first movement of this concerto in his D Minor cello concerto (RV 406) as well, an unsurprising move (since a number of his concerti were related to each other in various ways), but one that emphasizes the ability of the bassoon and the cello alike to perform well in both the bass and tenor ranges. This concerto demonstrates the expressivity and dexterity of the bassoon and its player through Vivaldi’s exuberant but precise aesthetic.

Program notes by:
Dr. Jessica Getman

Assistant Professor of Musicology/Ethnomusicology
California State University, San Bernardino

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