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L’estro armonico, translated “Harmonious Inspiration”, is a work by Antonio Vivaldi, his Op. 3, that consists of 12 concerti for various combinations of violin and cello. It was published in Amsterdam in 1711, and solidified Vivaldi’s reputation in Europe as one of the premiere composers, as it was a turning point in his career. It consists of the following 12 concerti:
1. Concerto for 4 Violins and Cello in D major, RV 549
2. Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello in G minor, RV 578
3. Violin Concerto in G major, RV 310
4. Concerto for 4 Violins in E minor, RV 550
5. Concerto for 2 Violins in A major, RV 519
6. Violin Concerto in A minor, RV 356
7. Concerto for 4 Violins and Cello in F major, RV 567
8. Concerto for 2 Violins in A minor, RV 522
9. Violin Concerto in D major, RV 230
10. Concerto for 4 Violins and Cello in B minor, RV 580
11. Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello in D minor, RV 565
12. Violin Concerto in E major, RV 265
The concerti were arranged into four groups of 3, each group containing a concerto for four violins, two violins, and one violin. Some of the double and quadruple violin concerti also included cello. Among the many unique aspects of this collection is the instrumentation (four violins, two violas, cello, violone and harpsichord) that did not change based on the solo instruments used, and the use of a singing style or catabile in the slower movements. He also uses his signature ritornello form. The instrumentation was designed so that only one player was on each part. Often times, they are referred to as concerto grossi because of the form.
Bach was so enamored of this work that he transcribed several into works of his own. The fact that he did this speaks highly of the quality of Vivaldi’s work.
- Concertos Nos. 3, 9 and 12 were arranged for solo keyboard, BWVs 978, 972 and 976.
- Concertos Nos. 8 and 11 became Bach's Concerti for solo organ, BWVs 593 and 596.
- Concerto No. 10 was reworked into the concerto for four harpsichords and strings, BWV 1065.
It is easy to see why Bach would be attracted to these works…they fit in with his style, they are pleasing to the ear and work well for organ, especially BWV 596, which is transcribed from the Concerto for Two Violins in d minor by Vivaldi.
I chose this piece because I have personally performed some of these works by Vivaldi. These works are delightful for the performer as well as the audience. They sit well on the instrument, and make good teaching tools for developing string players. These works are timeless, in that they still retain the same appeal today that they did when they were first published. They served to not only change the course of Vivaldi’s career, but set a standard that many composers after him followed.