Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678, the grandson of a baker and son of a man who combined the trades of musician and barber. He was to spend the greater part of his life in his native city, where, from the colour of his hair rather than any political inclination, he was known as "il prete rosso", the red priest. He had been ordained in 1703, when he was appointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Pieta. One of the four establishments in Venice for the education of girls who were orphans, illegitimate or indigent. The institutions were famous for their music in a city that had always attracted many visitors, in addition to its own enthusiastic musical public.
Vivaldi continued to work at the Pieta with relatively little interruption. He was able to combine his duties with those of impresario and composer at the theatre of S. Angelo from 1714, and left the Pieta in 1718 to serve briefly as maestro da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. By 1723 he was back again at the Pieta with a commission to compose and direct the performance of two concertos a month. Meanwhile his reputation had spread widely abroad both as a virtuoso performer on the Violin and as a composer. In 1730 he visited Bohemia and in 1738 led an orchestra in Amsterdam for the centenary of the Schouwberg Theatre. In Italy his operas had been performed in Verona and in Ferrara, as well as in Venice, where they had continued success.
In 1740 the records of the Pieta show Vivaldi's impending departure, and the sale to the institution of 20 concertos. We next hear of him in Vienna, where there is a record of the sale of more compositions to Count Antonio Vinci�guerra on 28 June, 1741. A month later he was dead, to be given, like Mozart 50 years later, a poor man's funeral. At the height of his fame he had earned large sums of money, and one must suspect that his later poverty was due not to simple extravagance but to the changes of fashion and to his involvement in the expensive and risky business of opera.
Vivaldi was prolific, composing vast quantities of instrumental and vocal music and nearly 50 operas. Of the 500 concertos he wrote the most popular in his life-time as today were the four known as Le Quattro Stagioni � The Four Sea�sons, works that had circulated widely in manuscript before being published in Amsterdam in 1725 when explanatory poems were added to clarify the programme of each concerto. The set was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a cousin of Haydn's first patron. The title page describes Vivaldi himself as the Count's "maestro in Italia', as "Maestro de' Concerti" of the Pieta, as well as "Maestro di Capella di Camera" of Prince Philip, Land grave of Hesse-Darmstadt.
The first concerto, Spring, opens with the cheerful song of the birds that wel�comes the season, followed by the gentle murmur of streams fanned by the breeze: there is thunder and lightning, and then the birds resume their song, represented by the solo violin assisted by two other solo violins.
The second movement shows the goat-herd asleep, while the viola serves as a watch-dog, barking regularly in each bar against the murmur of the foliage. A pastoral dance brings more activity, to the sound of the bag-pipe, interrupted by a section for the solo violin that seems to breathe the sultry heat of coming summer.
Summer itself is a time of languor � "langue l'uomo, langue 'l gregge ed arde il Pino", as the introductory sonnet puts it. The music grows more energetic as the cuckoo sings, then the turtle-dove and the goldfinch. The wind rises and the shepherds are anxious, with some musical justification. In the slow movement their rest is disturbed by thunder and lightning and there are troublesome flies, and in the final movement the fears of thunder are realised as a storm batters the crops.
Autumn opens with the dance and song of the country-people, in work that has much of the artifice of the traditional pastoral convention. This is a cele�bration of the harvest, with an excess of wine bringing sleep at the end, to pervade the second movement. The third movement brings the hunt at dawn, with the huntsman's horn, the sound of dogs and guns. An animal takes flight and is pursued and dies in the fatigue of the chase.
The last of the seasons, Winter, brings cold winds, the stamping of feet and chattering teeth. The slow movement shelters by the warmth of the fireside, while the rain falls outside, and the last movement of this eventful history shows people walking carefully on ice, slipping and falling and running in case the ice breaks. The winds are at war, but there is sport to be had.
The Concerto alla rustica in G major is in the usual three movements, with no detailed descriptive programme. Commentators have drawn attention to the anticipation of later Viennese practice in the minor key conclusion to an otherwise major key first movement. The work is in the form of a ripieno concerto, scored for strings, with no solo violin, and with two oboes added in the final movement.
Takako Nishizaki is one of Japan's finest violinists. After studying with her father, Shinji Nishizaki, she became the first student of Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the famous Suzuki Method of teaching children to play the violin. Subsequently she went to Japan's famous Toho School of Music and to Juilliard in the United States, where she studied with Joseph Fuchs.
Takako Nishizaki won Second Prize in the 1964 Leventritt International Competition (First Prize went to Itzhak Perlman), First Prize in the 1967 Juilliard Concerto Competition (with Japan's Nobuko Imai, the well-known violist) and several awards in lesser competitions. She was only the second student at Juilliard, after Michael Ratsin, to win her school's coveted Firtz Kleisler Scholar�ship, established by the great violinist himself.
Miss Nishizaki has performed as soloist at the festivals of Bath, Spoleto, Sofia, Costa Verde, Hong Kong, Chautauqua and Berlin. She has toured Germany, Australia, Bulgaria and the USSR in addition to giving hundreds of concerts in the United States, Canada, her native Japan and South East Asia. She has appeared on nation-wide television in the United States (NBC's Bell Telephone Hour), Japan (NHK) and China (China Central Television, Beijing).
Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded Grieg's Sonatas for Violin and Piano (RCA): Schubert's Duo Sonatas and Franck's A Major Sonata (Balkanton, Eurodisc); an album of music for Violin and Guitar; ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition; many Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Ming-xin, dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos such as Joachim's Violin Concerto No. 3, Respighi's Concerto Gregoriano and Poema Autunnale, Cesar Cui's Suite Concertante, and Anton Rubinstein's Violin Concerto Op. 46.
Capella Istropolitana (Slovak Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra)
The Capella Istropolitana is a chamber orchestra formed by leading members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Bratislava. Founded in 1983, the chamber orchestra allows the players, many of them experienced soloists, to playas cham�ber musicians. Much of the work of the orchestra has been concentrated on the recording studio.
The American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser was educated in New York, continuing his studies at Oberlin, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the New England Conservatory and at Cologne State Conservatory. His period in Cologne was the result of a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by an award from the West German Government and a first prize in the conducting competition held in Santiago, in Spain.
Gunzenhauser has during the last two decades, enjoyed a varied and distin�guished career, winning popularity in particular for his work with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. His other engagements have included appearances with or�chestras in Europe and America, from the RIAS Orchestra of Berlin and Dublin Radio Orchestra to Victoria, B.C., Spokane and Knoxville.
Stephen Gunzenhauser is also Executive Director of the Wilmington Music School and Music Director of the Wilmington Chamber Orchestra.
For the Marco Polo Label he has recorded works by Liadov, Gliere and Rubin�stein and for NAXOS, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
ReviewsThe super-bargain Naxos version is given first-class sound, warm, fresh and well balanced. Takako Nishizaki plays beautifully, displaying an appropriate degree of bravura, and the accompaniment under Stephen Gunzenhauser is modest in scale and pleasingly finished. - Penguin Guide, January 1990