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Book Review

The Vivaldi Compendium

The Vivaldi Compendium
Michael Talbot
Boydell 2011, pp xii + 258
ISBN-10: 184383670X
ISBN-13: 978-1843836704
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The Vivaldi Compendium is an extremely useful encyclopedia, or dictionary – and more – dealing with the life and works of Vivaldi. Its compiler and editor, Michael Talbot, is Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Liverpool and Fellow of the British Academy. His studies in late Baroque music include Vivaldi (Ashgate, 2011 ISBN-10: 0754628841 ISBN-13: 978-0754628842), The Chamber Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi (Boydell, 2006 ISBN-10: 1843832011 ISBN-13: 978-1843832010) and Tomaso Albinoni: The Venetian Composer and His World (Oxford University Press, 1994 ISBN-10: 0198164203 ISBN-13: 978-0198164203). Before the publication of The Vivaldi Compendium, there was nothing similar. Being the popular composer that he is, there are many resources online, and several outstanding studies of Vivaldi's life and music, of course. But nothing so condensed, comprehensive and nicely-targeted as the present volume. The significantly shorter (and slighter) Lübbes Vivaldi-Lexikon by Walter Kolneder (ISBN-10: 3785703813 ISBN-13: 978-3785703816) was published over 25 years ago and has long been unavailable. Expensive though this latest book from Boydell is at $90 for barely 250 substantive pages, lovers of the composer should not hesitate to get hold of it, so thorough, authoritative and handy is it.

As well as a list of the 16 illustrations in The Vivaldi Compendium, there is an introduction by Talbot which puts his work into context. Vivaldi scholarship has advanced greatly since Kolneder's work – inspired in part by the upsurge of interest and research in Vivaldi at the time of the tercentenary in 1978. Talbot acknowledges his indebtedness to the worldwide community of Vivaldi scholars and enthusiasts on whose work he inevitably draws. Indeed, the title "compendium", rather than "dictionary" or "encyclopedia" was chosen deliberately to expose the wealth of other resources available to those using the book; and to suggest that these form a part of your inquiries too. Most of the 750 main entries are annotated with abbreviations referring to one or usually more items in the extensive (25-page) bibliography.

There is a short (15-page) but nicely-distilled biography of Vivaldi; but no need for an index of course. The list of works towards the back of the book is comprehensive, accurate and informative with Ryom (RV) numbers, Categories, then variously Instruments, Key, Published sources, Title and Comments. The conventions which Talbot has used for these too are thoroughly explained in the appropriate places. The main entries themselves thus occupy about two thirds of the entire book. They stretch from the obvious (Anna Girò) to the obscure (the composer Giovanni Giorgi: there is a link, and the most apparently minor of contemporary performers) with entries on Vivaldi's handwriting, the instruments he used and wrote for, the churches with which he is associated, and an assessment of his prodigious rate of composition. Musical terms, where relevant and/or peculiar to Vivaldi, are also explained.

The range of entries is enormous, both intriguing and authoritative; the spread of what's covered is everything a general Vivaldi lover – and many a specialist too – could want. They're clearly and interestingly written. And there is a good balance of the generally informative and the highly specific… Vivaldi only once used the term Fantasia for a composition; the Société Internationale Antonio Vivaldi was founded by Ryom in the 1970s, but didn't last for long. This is far from a collection of curios, however. All the subject matter is dealt with in a scholarly and expert way. It will provide the reader with an exhaustive and informative one-stop source for Vivaldi's life, music and world. The production of The Vivaldi Compendium, too, is well up to Boydell's high standards: the illustrations, tables, score extracts are clear with plenty of white space and clean use of typography to aid use.

For Vivaldi collectors and specialists The Vivaldi Compendium is almost a required item. Its scope exceeds anything otherwise currently available and is managed extremely well by an expert. Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Sealey.