The most remarkable thing about Vivaldi s concertos for solo bassoon and strings is their sheer number thirty-nine, including two incomplete (or possibly just incompletely preserved) works. No other composer has produced more than a handful, and the examples best known today by Mozart, Hummel and Weber are singletons within their respective composer s uvre. Vivaldi s bassoon concertos form a chronologically compact group within his output, being concentrated in the second half of his career (1720 41). They may well include the first of their type ever written, since the earliest precisely datable example, by the French composer J.B. de Boismortier, was published only in 1729 (and identifies cello and bass viol as alternative solo instruments).
In the standard catalogue of Vivaldi s compositions by Peter Ryom the bassoon concertos form a continuous block stretching from RV 466 to RV 504: the two incomplete concertos are RV 468 (two movements) and RV 482 (a single movement). Another unusual feature is that they survive without exception only in the form of autograph drafts once belonging to the composer s personal musical archive and today held by the National University Library in Turin. The fact that no contemporary copies, or even mere listings, of these concertos in inventories are extant suggests that demand for them was very localised and specific: Vivaldi evidently composed them in response to commissions from a small number of individual bassoonists or their patrons.
It is hard to imagine that none of the thirty-seven concertos included in the present collection would have been known, or even thought to exist, had a large part of Vivaldi s personal archive not suddenly turned up and been acquired by the Turin library in the 1920s. Seen through a historical prism, Vivaldi s bassoon concertos are peripheral to his concerto output as a whole (though perhaps rather less so to the history of the bassoon as a solo instrument). In purely musical terms, however, they are absolutely central: as impressive in quality as they are in quantity. Each of the concertos has its own personality and makes its individual selection from the toolbox of Vivaldi s favourite devices, driving a further nail into the coffin of Dallapiccola s cruel and baseless jibe that he was the composer not of six hundred concertos but of one concerto written six hundred times over .
© 2014 Michael Talbot