Antonio Vivaldi and the first mandolin concertos

The mandolin is an instrument that has accompanied humanity since the Middle Ages. His incorporation into music was not so prominent until Vivaldi, after studying the metrics of its sounds, decided to write a couple of mandolin concertos, giving him the role of soloist in his most famous symphony “Concerto for two mandolins in G major” .


The mandolin is an instrument that is characterized by having four double orders, that is, it incorporates four even strings for a total of eight. Its box is round and the shape of its body resembles the shape of a pear. The sound generated during its performance is enveloping due to its softness, but at the same time metallic.

The presence of the mandolin in musical history dates back to the Middle Ages. However, it is not until the 17th century that it officially begins to be manufactured in Italy and, later, to be used by great composers such as Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and Paganini.

Currently, the mandolin is used in musical genres such as folk, country, bluegrass, and in folkloric performances from Latin American countries. Similarly, the mandolin has given its rhythmic contribution to various experimental ensembles, academic music and rock.

This renaissance of the instrument has increased its demand in the music market, so that more and more manufacturers are dedicated to its construction. In this sense, we will be able to find instruments for children, beginners or professionals, which leads many potential buyers to wonder which is the best mandolin .


Vivaldi and the mandolin

Vivaldi was the first composer to write a mandolin concerto, which was certainly quite risky. Let us remember that with the oboe and the violin there was a reference given by other composers. In other words, these instruments had a musical history to study, analyze and create new music from it, which was not the case with the mandolin.

While some musicians of the time had composed popular music for mandolin, it is also true that none of them had experienced writing a concert exclusively for her. However, this was not an obstacle for Vivaldi. The musician carefully examined the sound generated by the instrument, which was completely new to him. It was a fragile and metallic tune, in which a series of harmonics and high tones of great delicacy stood out.

It is from this study that the artist begins to compose the “Concerto C major for a mandolin and orchestra” and then the “Concerto in G major for two mandolins and orchestra”.


Concerto for Two Mandolins in G major

Among the most emblematic works of Vivaldi, we find “Concerto for two mandolins in G major”. It is a baroque concert made up of three movements, which begins with an agile refrain that infects the listener with an air of energy and vitality. Right at the end of the orchestra, the tunes of the mandolins appear, creating a kind of dialogue between them.

Thus, the second mandolin is an echo of the first that manages to be conjugated each time a verse is finished before the chorus. Both mandolins become soloists and absolute protagonists of the musical piece, thanks to their refined tunes.

For this concert, Vivaldi leaves aside the harpsichord, since it has a sound very similar to that of the mandolin. Instead, it makes use of the round and soft tunes of the organ, which achieve a perfect musical balance with respect to the sounds given by the jabs of the mandolin strings.

For the second movement of this concert, Vivaldi decides to continue with the dialogue between the pair of mandolins in an ephemeral but quite contiguous way, thanks to the “pinched movement” carried out by means of their strings. In fact, for this part, the orchestra performs an accompaniment in pizzicati, a technique applied only to plucked string instruments. Thus, the soloists have a harmonious background that complements them.

We come to the third and last movement, which leaves behind the calm and its rhythmic avidity to dazzle the audience again with a series of energetic tunes, quite similar to those present in the first movement. The rhythms are enlivened and give way to a true dance of colors and totally enveloping tones.


Harpsichord vs Mandolin

The harpsichord is an instrument with a keyboard, whose internal structure incorporates a plucked string system like the mandolin. When depressing the key automatically, the strings are pinched by a pick, while in the mandolin the work is done directly with the fingertips. 

This characteristic means that both instruments have a great rhythmic similarity, offering metallic sounds of great delicacy, which we could hardly differentiate one from the other. 

However, Vivaldi decided to dispense with the harpsichord in the concerts he wrote for mandolin, since at that time it was not allowed to integrate two instruments with such similar sound in the same piece. For this reason, instead of the harpsichord he placed an organ, whose round sounds contrasted with the meter of the mandolin.


About the composer and his works

On March 4, 1678, a musical prodigy was born in Venice, who throughout his life would become an entrepreneur, composer and violinist. It is about Antonio Lucio Vivaldi.

Due to his reddish hair and performance as a Venetian Catholic priest of the baroque period, his close friends called him “Il prete rosso” or in Spanish “El cura rojo”. Among his legacy we can mention having structured the genre of the concert, which was one of the most significant contributions of the time. In addition, he composed an average of 46 operas and 400 concerts.

We find under his authorship the series of concerts for violin and orchestra “The four seasons”. “The Concerto in G major for 2 mandolins and string orchestra RV 532”, “Concerto in C major for mandolin and string orchestra RV 425” and the “Concerto in C major for multiple instruments RV 558”.

Until the day of his death in 1741, Vivaldi had composed a total of 770 works, a series of musical pieces that transcended through the centuries, becoming a cult opus.


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