Oboe Concerto

Antonio Vivaldi

Oboe Concerto in D minor


About this work

Of the composer's 20-plus concertos for oboe and strings (there are also three for two oboes and strings and many more chamber concertos that incorporate the instrument), this is one of the most dynamic. Possibly, this is in part due to the fact that the music was first written as the ninth of 12 concertos for the violin (published as "Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione," "The Contest between Harmony and Invention," a collection which also includes the well-known work The Four Seasons), and was shortly adapted and changed for the oboe. The three beautifully structured movements are notable for their economy of style and expression.

The first movement, of almost three minutes' duration, in an Allegro tempo, opens with a strong syncopated rhythm on repeated chords in the strings with a continuous series of swells (dynamically arching crescendo to decrescendo) that produces an effect similar to a Gabrieli-type "pian e forte" echoing of instrumental groups, but with a circular feeling of approaching and retreating sound. This initial gesture is followed by a series of descending sighing figures. The solo oboe enters, accompanied by the continuo only, playing a syncopated melody of a skip of a fourth followed by an anapestic figure (short-short-long). This gesture is repeated several times without variation on varying pitches and concludes in a scale run to the tonic. The strings then return with the initial theme. When the oboe re-enters, it repeats the skipping rhythm only on repeated tones instead of a skip. This mutates further into a series of flighty short anapests and quickly rolling figures. The theme returns briefly, rondo-like, and the oboe continues to vary its previous figures slightly, including a lovely series of arpeggiations over a bridge of suspensions. Once more, the theme recapitulates closing the movement with high energy.

Long sustained notes over a rising bass form the main idea of the second movement Largo. Beautifully cast melismatic figures wind their way through gentle bass continuo pulses. The theme projects a deeply nostalgic and introverted mood that is invariant throughout the movement's duration of slightly over two minutes.

The theme of the third movement Allegro is a strange, disconcerting, offbeat syncopation that descends in pitch quickly from the tonic to dominant chord. This is followed by a brief tag of upwardly exploding figures, and then the syncopated pitches are heard again entering after three measures, creating an unusually asymmetric construction to the overall melody. The oboe responds with interval skipping figures, fast whirling turns, and repeated notes fired in an ascending volley. The theme is then repeated in the relative major creating a less frantic mood, but soon the initial key aggressively recapitulates as if it had never been gone and, showing no mercy, cadences strongly with unremitting vigor, concluding after a mere two-and-one-half minutes' duration.