Why was the flute concerto Il Gran Mogol (The Grand Mogul) such an important find?
Vivaldi is perhaps the composer who enjoys a frequency of a new find that no other composer does. There’s pretty much something that turns up every year. But this Concerto is without a doubt one of the most important pieces of instrumental music that’s turned up in the last 20 years or so. The quality is fantastic. And most finds seem to turn up on the Continent, so to have this turn up in Britain, the first to be found in Scotland at all, is great. Adjectives fail to describe it really.
It’s thought to be one of a group of four flute concertos representing different countries, similar to Vivaldi’s ever-popular The Four Seasons for violin…
This one is India, and the other three flute concertos all have titles as well: England, France and Spain. If they turn up you could do a concert with The Four Nations in the first half and The Four Seasons in the second half. But unfortunately they are yet to be found. Who knows if they ever will.
The rate of perishability of manuscripts from that period is high. The only reason that we have so many Vivaldi manuscripts from then is because there’s his personal collection in Turin, which he kept on file, and we were lucky that, after it was divided in two, both parts were found in the 20th century.
How does it feel to have recorded a Vivaldi world premiere?
It’s a huge honour. I’ve been mad about Vivaldi since I was about 10. Everyone in the band was aware that we’re making a little moment of musical history.
Were there any challenges performing the Concerto?
The second violin part is lost. So Andrew Woolley, the chap who discovered the Concerto, reconstructed that part. Vivaldi actually reworked this Concerto a few years after he wrote it, transposing it into E minor. Most of that piece survives in its autograph score in Turin.
However there are large chunks that are completely different. The flute solos kind of retain their harmonic structure but largely they’re completely different, the orchestral ritornellos are the same. The flute part is much simpler, the Il Gran Mogol is much more virtuosic. So you can reconstruct the second violin part. The only real bit of composition was the slow movement. There wasn’t one in the E minor version.
How does La Serenissima compare to the forces Vivaldi would have used?
Well, it’s difficult to say because probably the forces Vivaldi worked with varied from place to place. Also, for all we know, this Concerto might have been commissioned by a punter.The size of the ensemble would have been similar of 15-16 people.
We do know the Pietà had flute players, so maybe the Concerto was written for there. Who knows. But in terms of the orchestra that Vivaldi worked with at the Pietà in Venice, there wouldn’t have been any blokes in it, and there are a few blokes in La Serenissima, so that wouldn’t have been allowed.
Interview by Rebecca Franks
La Serenissima’s recording of Vivaldi’s Il Gran Mogol is released as a three-track digital EP on 1 March 2011
Audio clip: Vivaldi: Concerto Il Gran Mogol: Allegro