Bach’s Vivaldi: An Examination of Bach’s Transcription Process

Nathan Davy

Thursday, June 23, 8 AM
Grand Ballroom B

Antonio Vivaldi’s influence on J. S. Bach has been to this day generally accepted. Most studies, however, examine Vivaldi’s influence on Bach; I, however, take a slightly different approach, examining the changes Bach made to Vivaldi. Created at the request of Bach’s Italian-concerto-besotted employer, Prince Johann Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar, these transcriptions do not simply to supply a version of Vivaldi to play on an organ: besides keyboard-idiomatic changes (figuration, texture, etc.), there are changes to rhythm, harmony, melody, counterpoint – alterations to all aspects of the music. I demonstrate this using musical examples taken primarily, but not exclusively, from two of Bach’s Concerto transcriptions: BWV 593 in A minor, and BWV 976 in C. I do not simply present lists of examples, but rather seek to explain the musical purpose behind each type of alteration. Examining these alterations has great value. It allows the careful student to make original transcriptions of Italian instrumental concerti in the style of Bach. I will demonstrate this using my own original transcription of Vivaldi’s op. 3 no. 10 (RV 580, which Bach himself transcribed for four harpsichords), showing how I used Bach’s techniques to make an organ-idiomatic transcription. It also provides insight regarding some of Bach’s stylistic preoccupations, as Bach makes many changes not just in order to better express the music on the organ (or harpsichord), but rather in order to change the nature of the music itself.

Nathan Davy is theAssistant Organist at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Dr. Davy received the MM and DMA, and the prestigious Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, studying with David Higgs, Edoardo Bellotti, and Michel Bouvard. Dr. Davy was a semifinalist in the American Guild of Organists National Young Artist Competition in Organ Performance (2010), and the first prize winner at the Albert Schweitzer International Organ Festival (2008). He and his wife Laura have five children, John, Irene, Margaret, William, and Sophie.