In my previous post, I tackled why Il Giardino Armonico’s neck-breaking speed in Vivaldi’s Summer is not so far-fetched when carefully considering the rules regarding Baroque tempo. Now I shall further elaborate historically upon that subject, but first, I must point out that the manner in which IGA performs the piece has become standard for period instrument performance. In fact, several such period instrument ensembles — such as Europa Galante and Venice Baroque Orchestra — actually perform the third movement faster than Il Giardino Armonico — suicidal! Here are a few videos to demonstrate this statment; pay particular to the first one of Europa Galante, which totally tops them all with regards to tempo:
I have heard many other outstanding period instrument renditions not available on YouTube (e.g. Tafelmusik, Boston Baroque, the English Consort), and they all play the piece with the same briskness (although some faster than others), rubato, etc. that Il Giardino Armonico plays it with. If others wish to argue that this is the result of unrealism and cutting in recordings, I must say that I also had the privilege of hearing illustrious violinist Rachel Barton Pine — who simultaneously performs on both Baroque and modern violins — perform the piece live on her unaltered Gagliano violin with the same brisk tempo. In all these renditions, the performers are not only heeding the musicological findings on tempo which I described in my previous post, but they are also fully following the rhetorical message of the piece: A fierce summer thunderstorm. In the original, luschiously descriptive accompanying sonnet to The Four Seasons of anonymous origin (assumed to be either Vivaldi or one of his librettists), the scene in this climatic finale is literally described as a vicious summer thunderstorm:
Listening to the piece, one can clearly hear the thunder in the low, gutteral tremolos and the lightening in the cascading, descending scales following the hit on the high note — the lightening strike. Inasmuch as period instrument renditions of the piece are often considered unconventional, the principles behind the piece are unconventional in themselves. According to Judy Tarling in The Weapons of Rhetoric: A Guide for Musicians and Audiences, the author describes how the Baroque masters considered it banal to imitate “things” (e.g. bird calls) over human emotions. Yet Vivaldi made a bold move way ahead of his time in defying the musical preferences of his day, making his piece highly unconventional. So, who’s to say that we should not play it unconventional, either?
In the end, considering both the musicological conclusions on Baroque tempo and the accompanying sonnet’s description of the ongoing thunderstorm action, period ensembles are not so off-the-wall in performing Vivaldi’s Summer in the manner that they do. In turn, modern violinists like myself can take these factors into consideration when performing the piece. Although Baroque violins are not suited to extreme aggression, it is most appropriate to play with fire and passion — albeit not romanticized, making sharp, short quick strokes as a Baroque violin bow is capable of. Hence, although much of the modern violin world currently decries this style as rushed, “sloppy”, and “incorrect”, careful research through historical documents and writings of musicological experts reveal that the latter style is totally out-of-whack with what the Baroque masters truly intended with regards to interpretation AND the original accompanying sonnet. No, thunderstorms are not sweet, as I learned once when my house was struck by lightening ……