Q: Vivaldis L'Estate in 18th century France

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Dec 31, 2019, 7:35:20 PM12/31/19
Hello there, and a happy new year!

I did just recently watch Céline Sciamma's film "Portrait de la jeune
fille en feu". This beautiful film is mainly set in Brittany in 1770.
The final scene, however, takes place somewhat later, after 1777, and
involves a performance of Vivaldis L'Estate from the 4 seasons. We know
it must be in 1777 or later, because the scene is set in the Théâtre
Montansier in Versailles, which was inaugurated in November of that year.

I'd like to ask how realistic that is. Would that music have been
performed at that time in that location? Does anyone know more about the
reception history of Vivaldi in France in the second half of the
eighteenth century? Or could point me to relevant sources?

Here's what I have learned so far:

I know from Anthony Pryers, "Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the
Globalization of Musical Taste"
(http://eprints.goldsmiths.ac.uk/archive/00000239/, the full version of
the truncated form published in Musicology and Globalization:
Proceedings of the International Congress in Shizuoka, 2002 (Tokyo:
Academia Musica Ltd, 2004), 180-184) that the Concerts spirituels in
Paris retained Le quattro stagioni in their repertory until 1763 with
"Spring" being particularly popular, that in the 1770s Ducharger, a
musician at the court of the Prince of Condé, wrote to the Prince giving
a detailed description of the meaning of Vivaldi's "Spring", that in
1766 Michel Corrette published his motet à grand choeur Laudate Dominum
de coelis based on "Spring", and that in 1775 Jean-Jacques Rousseau
arranges "Spring" for solo flute: Le printemps di Vivaldi (no
publication date given).

This makes it seem possible although improbable that the original form
of L'Estate would have been performed in Versailles in 1777 or later.

Annabel Goodman, "The Reception History of Antonio Vivaldi in
Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland" (in Sydney Undergraduate Journal
of Musicology, Vol. 7, December 2017) makes the point that "The idea
that Vivaldi’s music fell out of popularity by the time of his death in
1741 is more a reflection of the composer’s reception history in his
native Venice than of his reception across Europe, where his music
continued to be heard across French, German, and British cultures." She
goes on to provide evidence that Vivaldi may have been performed in
Britain up to ca. 1770, but no concrete evidence for later performances.

Goodman also cites Michael Talbot, where of particular relevance is his
article "The Golden Pippin and the Extraordinary Adventures in Britain
and Ireland of Vivaldi’s Concerto RV 519." This article provides the
most detailed published reception history of Vivaldi in
eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland, but also explores non-score
based primary
sources such as newspaper articles and pamphlets from the eighteenth
century. Vivaldi’s Fifth appears in the final chorus of The Golden
Pippin, which made its debut in 1773 on the London stage.

Also, in 1776 John Hawkin’s in "A General History of the Science and
Practice of Music", II, Ch CLXXIX: [of Vivaldi’s Opus VIII] says that
"...the common name of them is the Seasons. The plan of this work must
appear very ridiculous...[but]...Opus VIII is the most applauded of
Vivaldi’s works."

So at that time, Vivaldi was still well-known and talked about in
Britain. It is not impossible that his music might still have been
performed in its original form. But would Britain's musical taste have
had any influence on what was performed in Versailles? Probably not.

Not that the main point of the film is about historical accuracy.
Rather, it treats of resistance against patriarchal structures, and
female self-empowerment through art. If this sounds somewhat dry, it
isn't. The film is wonderful and very moving. It has won the prize for
the best script in Cannes, and in my view would have deserved the Palme
d'or as well.

Only the last scene, however well played, unfortunately borders on
Kitsch, and that is partly because the music has become such a cliché
when it comes to illustrating emotional turbulence. I fear that this
clichè may also have been historically inaccurate, making its use
particulary regrettable.

-- Sebastian

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