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The old Persian story of The three princes of Serendip reached Europe via Venice. In 1557, 121 years before the birth of Vivaldi, a publication entitled Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo was published in that city. About two centuries later, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend Horace Mann about an unexpected discovery he had just made:

This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”; as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.

And this is the unusual way in which the term ‘serendipity’ was coined. It is an expressive word that defines to perfection our discovery of a new work by  Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. One afternoon towards the end of July 2023, together with Inés Salinas I was searching for repertoire for Scaramuccia by looking through scores from various libraries and archives. We started to play through a manuscript collection of several works for Violino è Violoncello. The volume contained sonatas by various authors, most of them from or connected to Bologna. They were short sonatas in chamber music style comprising small dances that were fairly playable for any violinist. But the last sonata in the collection surprised us. It was completely different from the other pieces, with some extremely virtuosic passages, cadenzas above long pedal notes and double stopping, and it was written in a language that I was tremendously familiar with. Many of the passages in the sonata seemed to be taken from cadenzas by Vivaldi, and the idiosyncrasies of his composing style appeared everywhere: sudden changes of mode, augmented seconds, construction in irregular blocks, very clear references to other works of his, etc.

I immediately wrote to my friend and colleague, the Vivaldi specialist, Dr. Fabrizio Ammetto, to show him the sonata, find out his opinion and ask him whether, if he agreed with my intuition, he would be prepared to work on a joint article with me. Fabrizio was quick to identify material from Vivaldi’s sonata RV 11 at the start of the third movement of our mysterious sonata, and I was able to pinpoint important matches with his concerto RV 335 in its first movement. There followed a frantic succession of e-mails and information, with analysis of the sonata, which increasingly indicated that it was Vivaldi through and through: there were concordances with other works by Vivaldi, and formal and compositional elements that pointed clearly to the sonata being by Il Prete Rosso.

Within a month, we had drafted an article and an edition which we submitted to the scientific committee of the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi. The verdict was unanimous: this was a hitherto unknown work by Antonio Lucio Vivaldi.

The sonata is slightly different from the other sonatas that we know by Vivaldi. Professor Michael Talbot states that this sonata is the clearest example of a sonata written in the auf Concertenant style, that is, a type of sonata used by Il Prete Rosso as his ‘visiting card’ to show off his amazing gifts. And this sonata offers performers a perfect visiting card.

The work begins with a passage of chords in the violin over a pedal note. This beginning is very similar to the start of the first of the Capricci Op. 3 by Giorgio Gentili, published in Venice in 1707, so might seem a rather Venetian touch. Vivaldi only writes Arpeggio, but does not say how these arpeggios should be played. Geminiani, in The Art of Playing the Violin, gives us a score of different examples so that “learners can see what the art of performing arpeggios means”, an indication that playing these chords is not just a technical matter but an art in itself. Beginning a sonata in this way is both a technical and musical challenge for any performer. Michael Talbot and Kees Vlaardingerbroek write about bariolage and chords as follows:  “Among Vivaldi’s early works written before L’estro armonico we find bariolage used quite flamboyantly in the A minor concerto RV 355. It appears that the device was initially reserved by him for what one might term ‘exhibition’ concertos or sonatas: works written with a clear intention to show off his violinistic technique at its most advanced, and probably in most instances for him to perform in person” [Michael Talbot and Kees Vlaardingerbroek, “Vivaldi, bariolage and a borrowing from J. P. von Westhoff” (Studi Vivaldiani, 2018, p. 108)].  This is exactly what Vivaldi does in this sonata.

It is impossible to not be amazed by the variety of written examples that we find in the Vivaldi repertoire that can serve as inspiration for performing these chords, but it is even more exciting to imagine Vivaldi beginning this sonata, written especially to show off his skills. I would not be at all surprised if Vivaldi were to improvise variations and extend the arpeggio passage as he often does in cadenzas in his concertos, just as we have done in our performance by adding a cadenza of chords. Vivaldi gives us the inspiration to do so, and we base our performance on RV 233, 366, 582, 763 and some others.

After this initial statement of intentions by Vivaldi comes the first Allegro, which is reminiscent of some of his violin concertos. From the compositional point of view, this writing is very clever. The typically Vivaldian construction in blocks surprises with irregular phrases or pedal notes that suddenly break up the harmonic rhythm. The movement is full of details that allow Vivaldi to shine as both performer and composer. An example is a small intervention by the basso continuo without the violin almost at the start of the movement. What is interesting is that this passage similar to an orchestral tutti lasts for just three and a half bars, an example of Vivaldi’s love of irregularity. And the violin then interrupts when it is least expected with fast semi-quavers. This same passage can be found in his concerto RV 335, although in that case it starts out more gently and appears, following the rules, where we might expect it within the bar. This is yet another way in which Vivaldi surprises us even when using his own musical material.

The second movement, an apparently simple one, seems to have been composed expressly to be ornamented. Vivaldi uses simple harmonies in the first part, but then surprises us with dissonant chords in the second, a clear invitation to an experienced performer who loves to ornament both on simple harmonies and on harmonic progressions that require thorough knowledge of harmony. He even, once again, uses pedal notes in the bass, giving the violinist the opportunity to improvise cadenzas above them.  In my doctoral thesis, I give a thorough analysis of the improvisatory language of Vivaldi and of one of his most famous students, Pisendel. We do not know what Vivaldi did with this movement, but we can take our inspiration from the sources that are available to us, such as the second movement of the violin concerto RV 581 in the ornamented version in the Book of Anna Maria or the slow movements with richly ornamented cadenzas, such as the Grave in RV 212, the Grave Recitativo in RV 208, the Grave in RV 562 or the slow movement of the concerto RV 202 ornamented by Pisendel (who was extremely influenced by Vivaldi, if not explicitly guided by him).

Finally, we come to the last Allegro, which has a very clever formal construction. Its A-A-B form gives Vivaldi a quasi concerto sonata movement in which the pedal notes in the bass as used in his concertos again interrupt the more chamber music passages that are more typical of a sonata. The sonata closes with a long pedal note in the bass and a long and virtuosic cadenza in the violin ending up with some firm chords and double stops to complete Vivaldi’s spectacular “visiting card”.

We did the best video clip for this unique discovery!

And we played this sonata for first time in centuries in Venice and in Madrid in March 2024. This is what the critic said.

Y culminó el concierto presentando -para más simbolismo, en el aniversario exacto de su nacimiento- la última obra incorporada al catálogo del Prete Rosso, (RV 829), una sonata cuya identificación corresponde al propio Lupiáñez.

[…] Es Lupiáñez un violinista que posee una sólida técnica, frasea con elegancia y naturalidad y sabe jugar con la expresividad, saltando de la delicadeza a la energía con facilidad. Hubo momentos -en ciertos movimientos lentos- de pura poesía musical. Y, experto en la técnica del embellecimiento en la época, dejó apuntes deliciosos en este sentido. Inés Salinas es, igualmente, una excelente violonchelista. 

Manuel M. Martín Galán, Scherzo, 2024

Di pregevole livello l’esecuzione da parte dello stesso Javier Lupiánez, direttore e solista al violino barocco dell’ensemble Scaramuccia, formato anche da Inés Salinas (violoncello barocco) e Fernando Aguado (clavicembalo). Si tratta di tre artisti spagnoli, ottimi per perizia tecnica e sensibilità interpretativa, modulata nel segno di una equilibrata espressività, per la quale gli affetti sono armonizzati in un quadro coerente, dalle delicate sfumature tiepolesche.

Fabio Larovere

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