It is in Venice that the first consequences of the Red Priest’s innovations are to be sought. Perhaps it is there that they are hardest to measure with any precision, because there above all, beginning with the most interesting instance, that of Albinoni, is posed the problem of priority, to which I have just alluded.
The first of Albinoni’s publications arc earlier than those of Vivaldi. His Sinfonie e Concern a cinque, Opus 2, appeared in 1700, and the themes of their tuttis already show the incisive vigor that is to enliven those of L’Estro arrnonico, just as their virtuoso passage work prefigures its instrumental dispositions and harmonic modulations. But the whole has a more skimpy form and a more cautious tessitura; there is a hardly perceptible differentiation of the tuttis and solos. The adagios, in Opus 2 at least, are conceived in the old way, simply as bridges between two fast movements.
Opus 5 (ca. 1707) gives more importance to the adagio. It is possible that as early as this, several years before their publication, Vivaldi’s concertos were being circulated, and that Albinoni, through following their example, may have turned into the imitator of a younger man to whom he had once been a model. He would never match Vivaldi in either breadth or formal freedom and variety, but more than one detail in his last works indicates an effort to attain them—the use of the aria with a motto, of tuttis in unison, and of the superposition of rhythm (the presentation of ternary rhythm within the frame of quaternary time), as we have observed them in many of Vivaldi’s works.
The great influence that Vivaldi had over his fellow citizens at the height of his fame after around 1720 can scarcely be doubted. Nevertheless, Albinoni had some difficulty following him in the domain of formal construction; he uses the opposition of tutti and solo, such a fertile area for expressive resources, in a much less adroit way. There was even regression in this regard from his Opus 2 (1700) to his Opus 5 (1707). In the first of these collections relatively well-developed solos are found; whereas in the second they seem to be reabsorbed.
The impress of Vivaldi’s style is likewise pronounced in the instrumental compositions of other Venetians—the Marcello brothers, Alberto Gallo, and Giovanni Plata, who transferred these characteristics to keyboard music. Also in the harpsichord works of Baldassare Galuppi, who was a pure, Burano-born Venetian, themes and developments abound that are inspired by violin writing, particularly Vivaldi’s. To limit myself to an easily accessible example, I refer the reader to the beginning of the first two repeated sections in the Seconda Sonata per Cembalo, published by Ricordi (No. 537). Not only are we familiar with the theme and its recapitulation, the descending scales, and the arpeggios that follow; but as the themes are spun out, rhythms come in that descend in a direct line from La Stravaganza.
Be it said in passing that other harpsichordists outside Venice follow the same path, beginning with Domenico Scarlatti. In his works, samples of the so-called Lombard rhythm and of the unison Oitti are to be found, contrasting with highly-wrought solos and sequential developments inspired by the concertos of Vivaldi.
But nearly all the symphonists of that time, in particular those of the Milan school, foremost among them Giovanni Battista Sammartini, are indebted to Vivaldi’s concertos for their over-all plans. Many of them, including Sammartini, found useful suggestions in the matter of rhythm and in thematic elements such as those concise motives—the tonic triad, the hammering of octaves, the persistent repetition of a short ornamental formula— on which they built whole movements.
To return to the violinist-composers, there were few indeed among them whose personalities were strong enough to prevent them from being, if not wholly absorbed, at least altered, by so inspiriting a talent. Of this group perhaps Bonporti, that misunderstood composer, preserved his integrity with the most complete success. He made use of the concerto form, but with such originality and with a melodic, harmonic, and expressive style so persona] that he scarcely seems to have had an inkling of the art whose home was a short distance from Trent and whose fame radiated so far.
Vivaldi’s most famous contemporaries—Geminiani, Veracini, Locatelli, and Tartini—are not all equally in the Red Priest’s debt; but all knew and heard him, and at the very least adopted the over-all economy of his concertos.
This was true of Geminiani. He was rather Corellian as a rule, but he framed most of his concerti grossi in three movements, fast-slow-fast; and, beginning with his Opus 2, gave a clear predominance to a solo violin. That he esteemed Vivaldi is known at least by the episode of his meeting with the Irish harpist Turlogh O’Carolan; on the spur of the moment he performed the fifth concerto of L’Estro armonico for the harpist, whereupon, to his great surprise, O’Carolan took up his harp and immediately played it over again from beginning to end.
Veracini, as we have seen, met Vivaldi at Venice in 1716. To him he owes more than rhythm and melody. In his Sonate accaderniche some bird song imitations recall the nightingales of The Seasons. But the similarity does not go very far. His concertos published in 1717 (Le Cene No . 448, which contains works by several composers) indicate, from the formal viewpoint, a retreat rather than an advance; the tuttis and solos lose their specific characteristics, which impairs the concerto feeling.
In Locatelli’s works, it is the rhythm that shows most clearly the results of his rather long stay in Venice, where he was a guest at patrician homes (see the dedication of his Opus 3 to Girolamo Michiellini). Some syncopated patterns of La Stravaganza (finale of No. 2) pass almost unchanged into his Opus 6 (allegro of the twelfth sonata). The whole of one tutti in his Introduttioni teatrali, Opus 4, refers back to the same source, not only with regard to its thematic elements, but with regard to its over-all structure as well. This is also true for the tutti of the 3/8 finale in the same concerto, and, again among many others, for the tutti that opens the concerto Opus 3, No. 12.
Tartini’s concertos, although their distribution of movements is that which Vivaldi had just been asserting, are presided over by a more modern ideal. The earliest of them preserve certain points of similarity with Vivaldi’s work in their conception of an opening tutti (a section made up of several motives, one of which may produce the solo theme), and in their conception of a slow movement (a cantilena of beautiful lines supported by a sober accompaniment in long time values). On the other hand, in his descriptive concertos Tartini is far removed from Vivaldi’s narrative manner in The Seasons. The “program” that he adopts is intended less for the listener than for himself; what he looks for is not an outline, but a stimulant to inspiration and a source of poetic invention.
In the nature of his sonata and concerto themes, Tartini at the beginning of his career often imitated the nervous and nimble design of the typical Vivaldi phrase; later, he was to lean to the rococo, even getting himself reproached by good judges such as J. J. Quantz for an abuse of ornamentation. We are allowed to get a notion of his practices from the Adagio varie that J. B. Carrier gives as an appendix to his Art du violon.
In the works of less important composers, similarities to Vivaldi’s style are everywhere, to the point where one suspects a kind of unconscious aping. I shall cite the following names, which are far from all that could be listed: Carlo Tessarini, who copied even the title of La Stravaganza; Giuseppe Valentini; Andrea Zani; and Casale Maggiore, whose sonatas, Opus 1, include purely Vivaldian characteristics side by side with work of a potent originality. These sonatas are dedicated to Princess Theodora, wife of the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, in whose service at Mantua, according to all probability, Vivaldi was from 1720 to 1723. Now, Zani’s sonatas appeared in the same city in 1727, and there is a strong likelihood that the two musicians knew each other in the circle of the prince.
As to Mossi, Bitti, Salvini, Predieri, Rampini, and a few other composers, joint collections published by Roger and Le Cene around 1715-1720 contained some of their concertos side by side with some of Vivaldi’s. Better proof cannot be given of the extent to which they submitted to Vivaldi’s influence than the fact that it sometimes turns out to be impossible, when these concertos are not assigned by name, to decide if they are by the master or by his imitators.
Giuseppe Matteo Alberti, several of whose concertos appear in such collections, deserves to be considered separately. This Bolognese was a musician markedly superior to those just mentioned. Chronologically he was the first to have written works in Vivaldi’s form that have a clear profile of their own despite somewhat unguarded thematic likenesses. And in his first works, from 1713, he employs ways of writing that are not to be met with in Vivaldi’s work before Opus 6, ways that could very well have been inspired by him. (We know, however, that Vivaldi’s concertos circulated for some years before being published.) Also, in his manner of orchestration and formal construction Alberti early appears inventive. An immediate and complete exploration of his merits cannot be too much desired.