Thursday, 28 July 2011

Michael Talbot's Vivaldi

The Boydell Press is privileged to publish a remarkable new book by the internationally renowned Vivaldi scholar, Michael Talbot. The Vivaldi Compendium includes a short biography of the composer, bibliography, a list of works, and takes us alphabetically from “Abate” to “Ziani, Marc’Antonio”. Here Professor Talbot gives us some background to what is certain to be considered an essential resource for anyone with an interest in the composer.

Every great composer needs at least one compact book of handy reference that enables anyone interested in him, from the ordinary music lover to the expert, to access basic data instantly and if possible to learn where to find more on the same topic. This is all the more true of a composer such as Vivaldi, about whom knowledge is growing so fast, so that constant updating is needed. For instance, literally dozens of new works by him have been discovered in the last fifty years. Vivaldi is not alone in being a composer on whom there is much ‘misinformation’ in circulation, and it is vital to set the record straight where one can.

Some thirty years ago an eminent Austrian Vivaldian, Walter Kolneder, wrote what he called a ‘Vivaldi Lexicon’ in response to this need. This book had many drawbacks – for a start, it was printed in such small type that one almost needed a magnifying glass to read the bibliography – but it did enough to reveal the potential of a Vivaldi dictionary of this kind and suggested what other, complementary sections could appear together with it. The book that I have entitled The Vivaldi Compendium is a more ambitious, and naturally more up-to-date, realization of the same concept.

The core of the book is its Dictionary section. This has entries for persons, institutions, places, genres, associated musical terminology, individual works and collections and many other items relevant to Vivaldi. To give a flavour, the entries for the letter E are: Echo-Repeats; Eller, Rudolf; Enharmonic change; Ensemble concerto; Ephrikian, Angelo; Ercole su ’l Termodonte, RV 723; Erdmann, Ludwig; Estate, L’, RV 315; Estragiudiziale; Estro armonico, L’, op. 3; Everett, Paul. (I should reassure the reader that most letters have many times that number of entries!) There is ample cross-referencing between the entries, so that the reader, starting at a randomly chosen point, can hop back and forth between entries following the drift of his interest. More important, nearly all the entries are cross-referenced to items in the bibliography that I have suggested for further reading.

This Bibliography section, running to 26 pages, is the probably the longest on Vivaldi in existence. Since the book itself is in English, priority has been given to English-language publications, although full account has also been taken of the many vital contributions in Italian, German, French and other languages. The other two sections are, first, a list of Vivaldi’s compositions that, with its well over 800 items, absorbs the latest discoveries and the latest opinions over the authenticity of certain controversial works and, second, a concise biography of the composer that likewise aims to bring to light the latest information.

Although The Vivaldi Compendium is as reliable and authoritative as I can make it, it is deliberately not an ‘impersonal’ product. On Vivaldi I have some strong opinions that I am eager to share, although I hope I have also shown fairness towards contrary opinions. While writing it, I have always been aware that its potential readership extends far beyond the academic fold. It is the sort of book, for instance, that a radio station might keep in the office in order to check a detail for the announcer of a broadcast piece by Vivaldi, or a collector of Vivaldi’s music on CDs might like to have handy. I will be interested to see how successful I have been in making the book serious but at the same time reader-friendly.

I enjoyed the experience of writing the book. Since I have been researching into Vivaldi for over forty years, during which period I have been writing constantly on him, I had little extra work to do, apart from keeping up with whatever literature or discoveries made themselves known during the period of the writing (and right up to the proofs stage, actually). But it is too easy to forget things, especially as one gets older, and my work on the book certainly reminded me of many important details that had slipped out of my mind over the years.

On the other hand, it was extraordinary how many absolutely new and unexpected things dropped into my lap while I was writing it simply by utilizing the resources of the Internet almost in a spirit of play. When I started out as a researcher in the early 1960s there were no photocopiers, let alone scanners and computers (with their music notation programs, search engines and e-mail). It seems almost indecent how easy it has become to acquire and store information, even though the problem of deciding how reliable that information is never goes away.

The experience of writing the book certainly helped me – as I hope it will many readers – to co-ordinate things better: to see more clearly the multifarious interconnections between the composer, his world and his music. In a sense, the book is a ‘taking of stock’, showing exactly how and where Vivaldi stands in 2011. But it is also meant as an act of thanksgiving towards the worldwide community of Vivaldians and Vivaldi-lovers, who have sustained my interest in the composer for so long.

The Vivaldi Compendium by Michael Talbot is published by the Boydell Press and available from your favourite bookseller. Talbot's Chamber Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi is also available.


Perry said...

I'm sure this will be an excellent read. Vivaldi was such an interesting composer.

Perry said...

I'm sure this will be an excellent read. Vivaldi was such an interesting composer.