Wednesday 15 May 2019
Vivaldi in Venice
Peter Medhurst MISM, GRSM, ARCM
Summary by Derek Latham:-
Peter Medhurst’s talk on May 15th entitled “Vivaldi in Venice” was so much more than a simple recital of Antonio Vivaldi’s years in late 17th and early 18th century Venice. With extracts of Vivaldi’s works Interspersed with images of Canaletto’s paintings and erudite explanations of contemporary architecture of the city, he succeeded in putting before us a truly vibrant picture of the Venice of that time. He also wove into the canvas the relevance of what today we would call the social structure of the city, as well as adding relevant and interesting historical information. For instance in 1631, nearly 50 years before the birth of Vivaldi in 1678, the population of Venice was reduced by an outbreak of the plaque from some 140,00 to 90,000.
Against this background we were shown how Vivaldi’s music reflected the mood, the art, atmosphere and architecture of the city. Had he not been born in Venice, Peter averred, Vivaldi’s music would have been of a very different nature. His music was totally evocative of the ethos of the Venice of his time. Throughout his life the structure and style of his music remained unchanged – he never adopted changing fashions in music which others, for instance Haydn, did.
We were introduced to the vast oeuvre of the man – nearly 500 concertos are attributed to him (indeed Vivaldi was instrumental in the development of the structure of the classical concerto for solo or dual instruments) as well as many other forms of music. Peter played a Vivaldi musical setting of Psalm 109 which I am sure was new to many of us. An interesting innovation in the presentation was the use of a video of the score which moved across the screen in time to the music. He made only passing reference to the Four Seasons, the work by which most people know Vivaldi; “worthy music”, but unfortunately these days over-exposed to people waiting for a telephone to be answered or listening to background music in a department store.
Peter described the way the city state handled its social problems (the poor, the homeless, lepers, and orphaned or abandoned children), through the establishment of charitable institutions or “ospedales”. Somewhat surprisingly Peter said he believes that if Vivaldi, priest, composer, musician, and conductor, had been asked to describe himself in a single word he would have said “teacher”. For many years between 1703 and 1740 he taught at the Ospedale della Pietà, the institution which cared for orphaned and abandoned children, and the girls’ choir and orchestra of the Pietà was famed throughout Venice for its performances at church festivals and services. The Pietà we see today was not the one known to to Vivaldi; the present-day church was not built until 1761, (twenty years after Vivaldi’s death) a few metres away from the site of the former church, convent and school of Vivaldi’s time.
The lecture was full of interesting asides. For instance did Handel and Vivaldi ever meet? There is no record that they did although it is known that their presence in the city overlapped. Another little-know fact is that the few open squares in the crowded city were always attached to a church, and were known as “campi”. Literally, because in those days they were open fields where food was grown.
Antonio Vivaldi died in penury and obscurity in Vienna in 1741. A sad end for a man held in such esteem in the years of his pomp.
Not only is Peter Medhurst an outstanding lecturer in music and the arts. He is an accomplished performer on keyboard and other instruments, and a talented singer. He mentioned that in January 2020 he will be leading tours to Venice for small groups during which he will be giving organ recitals. Details are on his website.