Modo Antiquo

Antonio Vivaldi, Concerti per traversiere RV 431 e RV 432

Concerti per traversiere RV 431 e RV 432
critical edition, edited by Federico Maria Sardelli
«Antonio Vivaldi. Opere incomplete», 1, Firenze, S.P.E.S., 2001

[Abstract from the introduction, translated by Michael Talbot]]

The two incomplete concertos RV 431 and RV 432 have come down to us in autograph manuscripts today preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria of Turin (RV 431: Giordano 31, fols. 266r-271v; RV 432: Giordano 32, fols. 209r-211v). No other sources are known. The scores are written out on Venetian paper (23 x 30.5 cm) in oblong format, ruled with ten staves (which become two systems of five staves) per page. These were manuscripts that Vivaldi, once he had finished his rough draft (which he afterwards threw away), wrote out neatly to serve as copy-texts for the separate parts and as items to file in his well-organised personal archive. And it is precisely within this vast collection, which ended up in Turin, that we find the RV 432 fragment bound by mistake together with the sacred works (Giordano 32); RV 431, on the other hand, is placed correctly among the concertos for wind instruments (Giordano 31).

The incompleteness of the two texts arises from the lack of a slow cen
tral movement in RV 431 and of both a second and a third movement in RV 432. Both concertos have the title “Con:to Per Flauto Trav:r” positioned centrally at the top of their respective opening folios. In RV 431, at the end of the first movement (fol. 268v), after the standard da capo indication for the final tutti (“D. C. al Segno # Sino al Segno U”) we find, centred on the page: “Grave Sopra il Libro come stà”. Similarly, at the end of the only surviving movement of RV 432 (fol. 211v), after the words “D. C. al Segno # Sino al Segno U ”, we see the instruction “Grave Sopra il Libro”. In neither case does the manuscript include a slow movement: in RV 432 the piece breaks off after the first movement; in RV 431 the inscription “Grave Sopra il Libro come stà” is followed by the final “Allegro” on the next folio. Both manuscripts lack (as was usual) specifications for the instruments of the string ensemble, although the standard ensemble comprising violin I, violin II, viola and continuo is clearly intended. Only in RV 431, at the head of the first stave, is the word “Flauto” added: but far from implying the use of a recorder, the term as used here is evidently an abbreviation of the “Flauto Trav:r” specified in the title.

These two works have a number of features in common: first, of the ninety-odd works that Vivaldi wrote for the flute, they are the only ones in E minor, a key that the flute finds very comfortable and expressive; second, they belong to the same creative period; and finally (by strange coincidence), both have survived incomplete, with entire movements missing. Another shared feature is the fact that the absent central movement is indicated by similar wording in the two manuscripts: “Grave Sopra il Libro come stà” (RV 431) and “Grave Sopra il Libro” (RV 432). Since the expression “sopra il libro” (or supra librum) had been used to denote an improvisational practice that dates back to the Middle Ages and survived until the 17th century, it has been conjectured that Vivaldi’s two markings allude to that practice. But in fact, a careful examination of the historical sources concerning improvisational and supra librum practices allows us to rule out the possibility that the two slow movements of RV 431 and RV 432 were intended as improvisations. Besides, the phrase “come stà” is a typical piece of copyists’ jargon, indicating merely that the movement is to be copied out in its original key. Another Vivaldi autograph, that of the violin concerto RV 263, bears two similar markings: “Sopra l'altra carta” and “Sopra il Libro”. Clearly, those expressions, like the ones used here in the two fragments for flute, were explicit instructions to the copyist, referring him to an original that had been written out on different folios or even in different gatherings (for reasons of haste, economy or revision). So we can assume that in the case of both RV 431 and 432 the central “Grave” (here understood as a generic reference to any slow movement) had already been composed and was located in a different manuscript. Indeed, we cannot rule out the possibility that these movements already belonged to other works, on which Vivaldi wished to draw as a time-saving expedient. Hence, while it is certainly possible that these two slow movements are irreparably lost, it is equally conceivable that one or both are preserved in extant works that we are unable to identify on the basis of the evidence available today. Moreover, in contrast to the incompleteness of other works, which either lack one or more instrumental parts or break off in mid-flow, the fragmentary nature of RV 431 and 432 in no way diminishes the completeness and impact of the surviving movements. Above all, it leaves open the possibility that future investigations may restore them to their complete form.

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