Ezra Pound & Vivaldi
Call him what you will — a paranoic, a fascist, a zealot — but remember one thing about Ezra Pound: he was the first serious writer to bring attention to Vivaldi’s work. A big fan of early music in general, Pound was one of a select few who helped resuscitate the long-neglected composer’s music.
Of course, not all of the credit should go to Pound. His longtime companion, Olga Rudge, a distinguished concert violinist and musicologist, was the one who lit the spark. In 1936, Rudge, as part of the Vivaldi revival of the 1930s, studied many of Vivaldi’s original scores — kept in Turin as part of the Foà and Giordano collections — in preparation for the Concerti Tigulliani, a series of concerts featuring relatively unknown works by the composer. (Always the dutiful helper, Pound obtained microfilm of other manuscripts from Dresden.)
In an effort to spearhead the revival, Rudge, with the help of David Nixon, attempted, but ultimately failed, to organize a Vivaldi Society in Venice. However, in 1938, with the help of S. A. Luciani and Antonio Bruers, she founded the Centro di Studi Vivaldiani within the Accademia Chigiana, which is devoted to Vivaldi’s work.
As well, the following year, the Settimana Vivaldiana was held in Siena. Organized by Rudge and Luciani and featuring Alfredo Casella, the festival showcased many neglected concerti and the opera L’Olympiade. Rudge officially put her stamp on the revival by producing a thematic catalogue of over 300 of Vivaldi’s manuscripts, published by the Accademia as part of its Vivaldi homage. Sadly, Rudge’s Vivaldi scholarship ended with the arrival of World War II.
As for Pound, his support of Rudge, and Vivaldi, made him the subject of many jabs from musicologists, who saw his inexperience as a music scholar reason enough to discount his support of Vivaldi’s works. But, as he was want to do, Pound stood his ground. In a January 1939 letter to The Musical Times, he defended his and Rudge’s emerging view of Vivaldi, a composer whose works he believed deserved at least some continued consideration:
[M]y minimum claim is that one can’t be certain that Vivaldi is merely another composer like 60 others until one has at least heard or read through the 309 [u]nedited concerti lying in Turin.
Although he admitted that there was still much work to be done before a true picture of Vivaldi’s place in the development of Baroque music could emerge, Pound went on to say that Vivaldi’s music had already painted for him a picture of musical sensitivity he deemed rare:
I admit that my acquaintance with his work has been favourably conditioned; I mean I have heard his line as rendered by a violinist exceptionally sensitive to certain qualities which are either there on the page or are suggested to the violinist by what is on the page.
Pound also defended Vivaldi as a victim of both musical reduction and misattribution:
Bach was sufficiently interested to want some of Vivaldi’s work in a form he himself [could] play without being bothered to train an ensemble. Distant from a reference library, I do not wish to mislead any reader, but my impression is that of the 12 or 16 concerti reduced by Bach (or some member of his family) for keyboard, only about six are Vivaldi’s, some at least are known to be by other Italians (I think). I have heard Gerhart Münch get quite good results in performance of two that are certainly Vivaldi’s . . .
Perhaps in an attempt to show how mindful he really was as a music scholar, Pound gave this assessment of Vivaldi’s concerti:
I am perfectly willing to admit a possible or even probable component of error in my present tentative (note the word tentative) hunch. Quite possible that a simple-minded bloke like myself, copying out the Dresden concerti note by note, and being pleased by the quality of Vivaldi’s mind therein apparent, become more enthusiastic over the possibilities of the unpublished Vivaldi than I [would] if I heard even the same concerti played (as I have) by a heavy and heavily led orchestra. Piccardi said to me, of one of my efforts in another direction: ‘You will never get an orchestra to do it. With a few instruments you might get the effect.’
Pound also took pleasure in this little defense:
As to the chances offered a reconstructor of Vivaldi, I can only adduce a bit of autobiography. A brilliant pianist playing from my grubby copy reproved me last summer for introducing my modern stunts into the piano part. Said stunts being found on examination [in the manuscript] and in no way due to my setting or adaptation.
On the irony of a 20th century revival of Vivaldi’s music, Pound wrote:
I [would] readily admit that Vivaldi was in a sense ‘out of date,’ meaning out of fashion, out of the received ideas of the general public for a hundred and fifty years, and that he comes into date along with the Miró’s painting, as that painting was in the years immediately following Miró’s arrival in Paris.
Naturally, Pound’s defense ended with a reference to Rudge’s Vivaldi catalogue, undoubtedly an invaluable addition to the Vivaldi revival of the 1930s:
I don’t see how there can be very accurate estimate of Vivaldi’s extent and variety until at least a few experts have seen or heard the 309 concerti and the 29 or more operas. Some of the Arie whereof are in various reprints. My impression is that Dandelot and Borrel are among his best modern condensers now on sale in the music shops. The first step toward a general estimate [would] be publication of the thematic catalogue now lying before me. Were musical archeology as active as several other less vital branches of what is miscalled ‘scholarship’ this catalogue [would] have been in print three weeks after [Olga] Rudge had made it. The Turin instrumental section (that is the list of the main incognita up to date) [would] require six pages of photo reproductions the size of the present page ofThe Musical Times, if done without margin.
Though Pound will most likely be remembered, at least in the popular mind, more as a “traitor” than a “reconstructor,” it goes without saying that his and Rudge’s efforts to breath life into Vivaldi’s work are invaluable. Of course, now that Vivaldi’s popularity is peaking beyond the point of measurability, perhaps more should be said.
Papers related to Olga Rudge and Vivaldi
Conover, Anne. Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound. Yale University Press: 2001.
Pound, Ezra. “Mr. Pound Replies.” The Musical Times. Vol. 80, No. 1151. (Jan., 1939), pp. 57-58.