Despite an impressive track record of Italian violin music, one that covers major figures like Corelli, Veracini and Tartini, Enrico Gatti has only recently turned to the question of recording Vivaldi.
This Umbrian is a keen defender of Italian cultural values and their modern representation aided by active research. So he has somewhat been repelled by recent ‘fast and furious’ trends in the playing of Vivaldi – his booklet essay for this new Glossa recording gives further vent to his feelings on this subject – and it is only now that he as broken a 20 year recording ‘silence’ on the subject of the Red Priest.
His first offering reflects the younger Vivaldi from his Venetian years in a selection of Sonatas from the Op 2 printed collection. If Vivaldi was to be later known as the ‘father of the violin concerto’ in his Mantuan years (even if, as Gatti says, he was imitating Giuseppe Valentini initially and that Valentini’s concertos were published before Vivaldi’s Op 3), these Sonatas are fruits of his time in Venice.
To make this new recording Gatti has been able to use a Nicola Amati violin from 1652 (an instrument that was more than 50 years old when the music was printed), believing that it provided a suitable bright sound for these Venetian Sonatas.
More Vivaldi is anticipated from Enrico Gatti on Glossa as he has recently been considering and setting down his views on the Op 1 Trio Sonatas.
Whilst not working on his solo violin activities, Enrico Gatti directs his own Ensemble Aurora in vocal and instrumental music from the Italian Baroque – a recording of Alessandro Stradella’s La Susanna has already appeared on Glossa. He is also to be heard performing with other ensembles such as Guido Morini’s Accordone and the Ricercar Consort.
In many of your previous recordings you have given substantial attention to the various Italian violin schools across the 17th and 18th centuries. What continues to attract you to this musical world?
Although I feel close to the music of composers from other countries – for example, when Bach writes Italianate sonatas or when Couperin writes in a French style, but with Corelli’s architecture – playing Italian music for me is like coming back home. I feel that this music is completely related to my language and I feel that playing the violin is like pronouncing the words, syllables, phrases and speech in my language. I can feel the same consonance, the same sound and colours. Similarly I am interested in looking for those same colours in the paintings that I love from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Given your interest in such Italian music isn’t it strange that you have not tackled Vivaldi until now?
I find very often that the Vivaldi of the early works such as the Op 2 Violin Sonatas, who is proposed in modern interpretations, is very fast and very dry, whereas I think that it should sound very humid! This was, after all, the Vivaldi of Venice not of Mantua. In terms of tempi it seems to me that these days we prefer speed, everything needs to be fast – very quickly produced and consumed and forgotten! Of course, it could also be a question of personal bio-rhythms and maybe mine are slower... But I think that these days if you want to produce something modern you have to study many more things than in the past. And then we, the performers, have to produce an effortless creativity! Vivaldi on period instruments has become too much part of a spectacle, the composer becoming a sort of vehicle for personal success. Some of Vivaldi’s music is very easy to listen to and to manipulate: you can put many, many things into to it and it can be made to become very extreme – and ‘extreme’ is something peculiar to our times. Maybe there has been a process of representing this music on period instruments in as modern a way as possible as a sort of reaction to all that came before. I certainly believe that there has been a strong contribution to this from some Italian ensembles. But I have had a problem in relating this new Vivaldi sound to the Venetian culture of the 18th century. For some time I was simply disgusted – there was too much Vivaldi, too many Four Seasons. I didn’t want to play Vivaldi any more and so I stopped playing it for 20 years! As a consequence I have waited for the right moment to return to the composer.
What has interested you in recording both the early sets of Sonatas for violin by Vivaldi?
I think that the Opp 1 and 2 pieces are very elegant and full of information about the composer and his culture and his formation. Maybe a little academic sometimes, but there are some really beautiful little jewels in there and I find it a pity not to know them. In some ways the Op 2 Sonatas can be considered as the work of a young composer even if Vivaldi was almost 30 years old at this time – and that was not a youthful age in the 18th century. I haven’t recorded all the Sonatas from Op 2, preferring instead only the best and most interesting pieces. To be honest, there are many compositions by Vivaldi that I would never perform. They say that sometimes he was much faster in writing music than the copyist was in copying it! There is a lot of inspiration in both the Opp 1 and 2 Sonatas which derives from Corelli’s style and I am trying to show the two sides in these works, the Vivaldi and the Corelli. In terms of ornamentation, however, I have set out to provide diminutions typical of Vivaldi. There aren’t many relevant sources for this but having studied the ones that exist I realized that I had to seek a completely different diminution style compared to when playing the music of Corelli. He dedicated the music to King Frederik IV of Denmark and Norway, who was visiting the city of Venice in 1709. At that time Vivaldi was the maestro di concerti in the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. Probably when Vivaldi discovered that this king was visiting Venice he immediately proposed to him the music in order to get some money. He was very good at that. I imagine that all the composers were trying to look for good financial opportunities when such people were visiting.
Other than you return to Vivaldi, what else has been inspiring you of late?
Other than Vivaldi, I feel that there are some Italian composers that I need to defend like Corelli, Tartini and Alessandro Stradella. For me Stradella was a real genius, somebody who was writing some 20 years in advance in comparison with his contemporaries. He was born in 1639 and died in 1682 and he was so inventive – he invented the recitativo accompagnato, the concertino and the concerto grosso. The way he uses the polychoral writing is amazing. In his oratorio San Giovanni Battista, written in 1675, there are some passages modulating as far as A flat minor! Alas, although he composed a lot of music unluckily a lot of it is still unpublished. If we do not publish this music, the music cannot be performed or recorded, so that’s why I am part of a committee for the edition of the complete works of Stradella. Even Vivaldi was once forgotten: in the 19th century there is never a word about him. Nobody knew him. But as soon as his music was published they started to perform him. So perhaps in 40 years time Stradella will be much better known and many people will appreciate his style – refined but easy to listen to. I am also doing a lot of teaching, which goes together well with performing and researching. When I started to do research on the baroque violin we had a lot to do, we had to search through the libraries, make contacts with the appropriate people and to learn things on the sources, and going directly to those sources. Now in the internet era people just sit at their computers and try to do research via the internet; which is not possible for early music. I feel responsible in front of all these young musicians in order to transmit the knowledge about Italian music, which is often treated like a rubbish bin – where all the forbidden things that you cannot do in other repertoire are allowed. It is very difficult fighting against this tendency, trying to explain what the Italian style from the 17th and 18th centuries was. I feel responsible for Italian culture!
by Mark Wiggins© 2006 Glossa Music / MusiContact