In the hands of an expert: The Vivaldi a minor concerto from Simple Gifts

I promised a set of posts on the music behind Simple Gifts, and it’s taken me a while to deliver. Many apologies. It’s been rather a busy week. 🙂

Earlier, I showed you a snippet describing the Vivaldi concerto in a minor that student Brittany learns with Leila Feran, professional violinist. Leila is exasperated, not just because Brittany struggles with the entrances and musicality, but because she can’t understand why a thirteen-year-old girl could struggle with a concerto Leila mastered at age seven.

“Good God, do you mean you could be even worse?  I was playing this when I was seven!  And you’re what, fourteen now?”  Leila flipped the music book back to the beginning page.

“Thirteen, Ms. Feran,” Brittany said timidly.  The violin and bow slipped in her perspiring hands.

“Fourteen, thirteen, whatever!  If you’re never going to get any better than this, you should just burn your violin and save your parents their money.”

Ahem. Is it any wonder that Carene says that Leila needs a good paddling? 😉

Pedagogical strategies aside, the Vivaldi concerto is a time-honored first concerto (piece of music written for one instrument to play with accompaniment from an orchestra, often with a piano instead for recitals for younger students) for violin students. It has all the proper parts of a concerto, it allows violin students to practice their musical showmanship, and it’s not overwhelming in its technical difficulty.

Here are links to two versions of the Vivaldi concerto played by two girls who are better than Brittany but still have the element of beginning student performance:

An eight-year-old girl

A ten-year-old girl

The first video shows a performance that is technically and musically quite lovely, but it is most definitely a student performance. The second video is closer to Brittany’s level. The emphasis on every beat rather than allowing the music to dance of its own accord, the limited arm movements with the violin bow, and the over-exaggerated accents that detract from the musical themes.

For a comparison, listen to this recording of the concerto by one of the greatest violinists of all time, Itzhak Perlman.

Even if you are new to classical music, can you hear a difference? Instead of filling out each beat, the melody dips and twists in a lively dance. There is an airy quality not found in the two student recordings.

In the first scene of Simple Gifts when Leila snatches the violin away from Brittany and shows her how the Vivaldi concerto should be played, (let’s ignore, for the moment, that Leila did so against doctor’s orders and set herself back recovery-wise, earning her paddling several times over), Brittany is amazed at the change in the music.

Brittany’s eyes grew wide.  She looked at her violin in awe, as if wondering how the same instrument could sound completely different in her teacher’s hands.

I love that. The same instrument, the same music…completely different in the hands of an expert.

One of the most moving scenes in this book is when Leila takes the humble Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” and transforms it into a moment that is nearly spiritual.

A mother’s kiss to her child.

A father going to work, day after day despite difficulties and sacrifice, to provide for his children.

A childhood best friend who picks up a paddle and teaches an unselfconscious musical genius how not to be a diva.

It’s the Simple Gifts that make life worth living.



10 thoughts on “In the hands of an expert: The Vivaldi a minor concerto from Simple Gifts

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