Thursday, September 8, 2011:Missing Gift

Composer Ondřej Macek has pieced together probable missing parts of a Vivaldi opera

Mr Macek’s ‘Missing Gift’

Have you ever been busy and nearly forgotten someone’s birthday or anniversary? In a way, this happened to composers, too, even the great ones like Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. But they couldn’t run out to the mall for last-minute shopping. They had another solution instead.

If you were a court composer, like Vivaldi, it was part of your job to compose short pieces to mark the births and anniversaries of your noble employer and his family. Obviously, though, this task was not always easy, especially if you were in the middle of composing an opera or symphony.

So Vivaldi and others developed a little trick: They didn’t write the compulsory little pieces totally from scratch, they borrowed bits and sections from longer pieces they’d already written, and then patched together old and new music into one celebratory piece.

Naturally, they didn’t record the origin of all the little borrowed parts. And that has left today’s music historians with many unsolved mysteries. Who wrote exactly which undated, unsigned fragments? How much of it is completely original, versus borrowed? Borrowed from where? And what about the rediscovered fragments of the libretto (the text), but with the music missing?

One Czech musicologist and musician, Ondřej Macek, has successfully identified and reconstructed some fragments from several Vivaldi compositions. He tells Opus Osm exactly how he goes about his work.

The Missing Vivaldi

“I’ve been working with Baroque opera since 1995. We began to be interested in some operas that are not well known,” he says. That includes Vivaldi, whose operas are basically forgotten, despite his popularity these days with works such as The Four Seasons. The Italian composer wrote more than 40 operas, but only 20 have survived.

Mr Macek’s research revealed that the opera Orlando Finto Pazzo was the last preserved opera by Vivaldi that had not been performed on a contemporary stage. So Mr Macek’s Hof-musici baroque ensemble premiered the revived work in Venice and in the Czech Republic.

A scene from Vivaldi's Argippo, performed by the ensemble Hof-musici

But the ensemble’s artistic leader didn’t stop there. “In 2008 I started working on Vivaldi’s opera Argippo. He wrote this one especially for the Sporck Theatre in Prague in 1730,” he explains. But only the libretto still survived. “I found about half of the arias that Vivaldi wrote, in the private archive of the Thurn und Taxi family in Regensburg, Germany.”

He completed the score by examining music for the solos from Vivaldi’s other operas written at about the same time. He chose only those arias which fit the libretto’s metric structure and character. The resulting “reconstructed” Argippo was performed again in Prague in 2008, 278 years after its premiere.

What do these reconstructions look and sound like? Fortunately, you don’t have to wait another 278 years for the next revival. Vivaldi’s Serenata L’Unione della Pace, e di Marte (short opera, The Union of Peace with Mars) will be performed Sept 19 through 22 at The Prague Baroque Festival at the Ledebour Garden below Prague Castle.

It was Vivaldi’s birthday gift for the twin daughters born in 1727 of the French King Louis XV – and it’s Mr Macek’s gift to today’s music lovers, nearly 300 years later. – 00

– Marios Christou and Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top, photo illustration: Mary Matz; bottom photo: Libor Sváček

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