Sunday, 25 October 2020

A Bit of Sunday Music (and Etymology)

 Once upon a time, the fondly remembered Dabbler blog used to carry a regular feature called Lazy Sunday Afternoon, in which the great Mahlerman would introduce us to some glorious piece or pieces of music that we (I, anyway) had somehow spent all our lives missing.
   Here, in the spirit of Lazy Sunday Afternoon (but without Mahlerman's erudition), is a piece of music I caught on Radio 3 the other day and would like to share. It's a very beautiful (I think) aria from Vivaldi's L'Olimpiade, a musical drama that was premiered in Venice in 1734 – 'Mentre Dormi':

  One of my great pleasures in recent years has been discovering the music of those Baroque composers I never bothered with in my youth, dominated as my listening then was by Beethoven and the Romantic heavy brigade. This ignorance or prejudice (widely shared at the time) has had the happy effect of leaving me with an ever growing number of great composers to discover (or at least to explore their works much more deeply). Vivaldi is just the latest, and I've recently been wallowing in his L'Estro Armonico (having bought the double CD by Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante) – an astonishing collection of violin concertos with an intriguing name.  'Estro' means something like inspiration, or talent, or gift or bent, whim or fancy. Its root meaning, from the Greek 'Oistros', is a gadfly: Socrates used the word to describe himself, irritant that he was. Anglicised as Oestrus, the word then extended its meaning to cover a vehement impulse or frenzy, and thence to sexual arousal and, in biology, the period of sexual receptivity in many female mammals. It is also the root of Oestrogen, the female sex hormone. And to think Vivaldi could have just called his collection 'Twelve Concertoes'. 

1 comment:

  1. This aria IS beautiful, and it is sung by a countertenor of rare excellence. The world of culture has yet to digest all of Vivaldi, some hundreds of whose scores (including operas) were only relatively recently pulled from obscure libraries.