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Bettina Hoffmann, I bassi d’arco di Antonio Vivaldi

The ‘Prete Rosso’ whimsical violinist, and extravagant concert composer, is well anchored in the collective imagination of today’s listeners; his vocal music, as sacred as profane, is now increasingly known; specific studies have long explored its contributions to other acute instruments. The time has then come to turn our attention downwards; it is necessary to explore deeply that other Vivaldi who for many years was a teacher of cello, double bass, and viola da gamba and who gave the evolution of the low strings a decisive contribution”

Often those who find in their hands a document of musical subject of the ‘700 has the feeling of getting lost among the terms used to indicate the instruments of the string family: violone, violone da braccio, violone piccolo, viola, viola da braccio, viola da spalla, basso viola / basso di viola, viola bassa, basso viola da braccio / basso da braccio, violoncino, violoncello, bassetto di viola / bassetto viola, violoncello da spalla, violone, violone grande, violone grosso, violone doppio, violone basso, basso, viola contrabasso, violone contrabasso, contrabasso. But is it possible to establish unequivocally what were the characteristics of the instruments indicated with these terms?

When can you start talking about cell music? And who were the first composers of music for cello and the first cellists (or cellists?) Of the European musical context in general, but above all of the Venetian context within which Vivaldi gave shape to his musical ideas? And what is your direct knowledge of the cello?

How much did the executive contexts interfere with the way you play the musical instruments, or with the choice of instruments of different sizes? In what position were the instruments kept? What are we able to reconstruct in relation to the movement of the hands of the interpreters (for example on the fingerings, or on the use of the nut, or on the handling of the bow)?

What were the differences in shape, use, and playing technique, between cello and ‘bassi d’arco’?

And finally, what are Vivaldi’s compositions dedicated to arc bass? What information do we have available to reconstruct the context of their genesis and to know how Vivaldi wanted it to be performed?

It seems incredible that in a single book, even if it is almost 600 pages long, it is possible to face all these questions in an in-depth and punctually documented way, instead, it is so.

Bettina Hoffmann succeeds in the arduous enterprise of organizing a world that, at first sight, appears confused and undefined. It presents and examines the sources with acute scientific rigor, highlights the information that can be obtained from it, but does not pretend to give certainties, where these certainties cannot be based on solid foundations. He speculates and above all provides a very rich, well organized, and structured material for those who want to approach the Vivaldian repertoire in a non-superficial way.

Particularly fascinating, for any type of reader”, the “female” window wide open on the world circumscribed by the walls of the Hospital of the Pietà (second chapter).

More technical, but still always very pleasant to read, the other chapters of the volume that, page after page, reconstruct a world of men, instruments, and sounds. A world of experimentation, often daring, that comes out alive from the pages of ancient documents. Men (and women) who learn to play for a living and who make their life of music, in the continuous search for novelties. Fingers that slide nimbly on the strings in search of increasingly high-pitched sounds, soundboards that stretch, widen, shorten. Bows that are always looking for new ways to get the desired sounds from the strings.

A book to read, read again, consult. A book that cannot miss in the library of those who study the history of music, of those who want to play Vivaldi, but which can be very interesting also for those who, even without playing, love to listen to Vivaldi’s compositions.

Bettina Hoffmann, born in Düsseldorf Düsseldorf, lives in Florence where she carries out a lively activity as a leg violist, baroque cellist, and expert of the history of her instruments. As a soloist and with Modo Antiquo, an ensemble appreciated in particular for Vivaldi’s interpretations, he is present in the major European festivals and theaters. Among his record production are the recordings dedicated to Marais, Ortiz, Ganassi, Schenck, and Gabrielli. On the musicological side, we point out his Catalogo della musica per viola da gamba and the volume La viola da gamba, published in Italian, German and English. He teaches at the Vicenza Conservatory and at the Music School of Fiesole.

I bassi d’arco di Antonio Vivaldi
Fondazione Giorgio Cini – Studi di musica veneta. Quaderni vivaldiani, vol.19
Olschki Editore, 2020
ISBN: 978-8822266903

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