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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: March 2011

21 - Concerto of the individual



The instrumental concerto, a vehicle for solo individualism within a rational framework, was essentially a child of the eighteenth century. The framework contained (yet simultaneously defined) this soloistic expression, a characteristically eighteenth-century tension between the individual and the corporate mass. As a genre, the concerto adapted to vast changes in musical style across the century, yet already in his earliest works Vivaldi captures the essence of the later symphonic concerto: the relationship between soloist and orchestra unfolding across a single span in a unique thematic and tonal argument. In short, the principle of discourse and interaction between these forces, played out in all its diverse richness up to Beethoven and beyond, was there from the very beginning.

Concerto grosso and aria

The early 1710s saw the publication of two monuments of Italian instrumental music. Corelli’s Op. 6 (1714) symbolized the culmination of the collaborative Roman ‘concerto grosso’, while Vivaldi’s Op. 3 (1711) introduced the thrilling new Venetian solo concerto, its individualistic display and cantabile melodies set in relief by the driving rhythms of vivid ritornelli. The clarity and order implicit in Vivaldi’s ritornello form – structural tuttis alternating with solos that together traverse an expressive trajectory – created for the first time an environment rich in potential for experiment with design on a large scale. In its musical vocabulary, too, the early Vivaldi concerto came to represent a defining instrumental genre, epitomizing the musical idiom of the 1710s (the ‘concerto style’ of the pioneering historian Manfred Bukofzer).