In this article, I will briefly introduce you to a piece of Antonio Vivaldi; Concerto in E Minor, Op. 3 No. 4. I am going to do this by first explaining what the function of this piece was in relation to the viewers of the performance as well as the performers themselves. Then I am going to discuss the musical aspects, like the rhythm and the key.
This piece of Vivaldi, like many of his others, was written for children with talent at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, which was a sort of boarding school for the less fortunate. Vivaldi wrote around five hundred concertos for the Pietà, one of which was this concerto. Some girls were also allowed to participate in these musical pieces, which was very unusual in that time. Girls were not expected to pursue a musical career, but these girls needed a positive trait to be desirable for marriage. Since they were already disadvantaged by heritage, ability or come-off, they were taught by Vivaldi among others to master a certain instrument. Another advantage of these lessons were that the funds raised by performances could be used for the hospitals. Because of all of this, Vivaldi was expected to write multiple new works in a relatively short period of time. Therefore he often reused some basic elements that, when combined in different ways, formed a complete new variety of works. Another consequence of having to write a lot of musical pieces for this intention was that Vivaldi had to come up with a lot of different ways to incorporate different instruments into solos and concertos. Every piece offered a chance for a different instrument to take the leading role, so every student could show their process or their skills. Vivaldi even wrote orchestral concertos without any solo parts so the students who performed best in a group could step forward, but this was a piece for four solo violins.
Though most of Vivaldi’s concertos followed a three-movement structure with subsequently an Allegro (fast), Adagio (slow), and Allegro (fast) movement, all in a slightly different key, this piece did not follow that structure. Instead it consists of four movements, subsequently an Andante (average), Allegro assai (very fast), Adagio (slow) and Allegro (fast) movement. The extra movement here is the first one, the average one in speed. It introduces the piece by incorporating the entire ensemble, with a response from the soloist in their respective subgroup. The soloists in this piece are for violins. The second movement, the Allegro assai, is essentially the same as the first movement in the way that it maintains the same mood, albeit at a faster pace. The key also slightly differs. The third movement, the Adagio, functions as a transitional part and is therefore relatively short. Finally, the last movement, the Allegro, in which Vivaldi carries out a slightly different approach, though still keeping the soloists as individuals in their subgroups. The last three movements are virtually identical to the three-movement structure, except the first fast movement is faster than usual. One of the explanations for this deviation is that this concerto is one of his earlier works, he did not decide on the three-movement structure until later in his career. The three-movement structure was originally introduced by Albinoni, another composer of that time. Vivaldi presumably adapted this structure from him.
In conclusion, Vivaldi wrote his concertos for the purpose of teaching and allowing students to show off their talent for particular instruments. This is why many of his concertos consist of both solo instruments and orchestral music. Vivaldi developed his style of the three-movement structure, which he adapted from composer Albinoni, throughout his career and thus sometimes deviated from it as in this piece.