Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby, the Seattle Symphony’s Robert & Clodagh Ash Piccolo, will be performing Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C major, RV 443, with the orchestra on November 1 and 2. (Get your tickets here.) You might say she knows this piece well. After all, she first learned it when she was in junior high, and for a long time it was one of the few significant pieces in the repertoire available for piccolo. And now, her own edition of Vivaldi’s three piccolo concertos, RV 443, 444 and 445, is in its third printing.
You have published an edition of three Vivaldi concertos for piccolo. What is special about these concertos? What is unique about your edition?
These concertos weren’t discovered until the 1950s, and they were the mainstay of the piccolo repertoire until about 20 years ago. It was about all we had to play. My edition is the first one where all three concertos are in the same volume and where there are “performance tips” included.
When you were learning piccolo, you had these three pieces and maybe a few others. The repertoire has grown significantly since then, but when you return to these, is there a special place in your heart for them?
Yes. For me, I was finishing 7th grade and I was in a 7th–9th grade junior high. The piccolo player in the band was a 9th grader and she was graduating. So, at the end of the year my band director handed me this piccolo concerto (RV 443) and said, “Here, why don’t you learn to play this over the summer.” It really was kind of my introduction to the piccolo — learning to play this piece.
In the preface to your edition, you talk about adding dynamics and ornamentation. How do you decide to add all that? How do you know that it belongs?
Well, a lot of that just comes through playing a lot of Baroque music and knowing what the traditions were for ornamentation. In the case of the concerto I’ll be playing, the slow movement is the one that I’m ornamenting a lot, and this is the one movement that has any repeats in it. Almost always, when Baroque composers include a repeat, they expect you to ornament the music the second time around. Baroque music is kind of more like jazz in a way, in that they did not write any articulations or dynamics — they expected you to ornament and put in extra notes. My edition has pedagogical suggestions in there, so hopefully it’s helpful to people who don’t play piccolo much or who don’t have a teacher to explain to them these special “piccolo things” that we (piccoloists) do.
When you look at the facsimile to this work, you get to see Vivaldi in action. He writes notes in the margins. He crosses stuff out. Then he changes his mind and crosses that out and writes in the original again. So you get so see him being human. What did you learn about him from editing your edition of these concertos?
I loved seeing all this. Well, he got really lazy. Look at this section:
You see all the notes he wrote out [in the first bar, on the left]? He started writing them out that way. Then he got lazy and just wrote them as chords — which you can’t play on the piccolo. It’s just an assumed arpeggio. He did that several times, where he’s just kind of like, “Okay, you know what to do here. I’m not going to bother.” That, I thought, was pretty funny.
My favorite quote from the preface is “Vivaldi should not sound like a sewing machine.” Can you explain this quote?
So much of this music is arpeggios, you know, back and forth, like the arm of a sewing machine. What I mean is when you play it, don’t just have it sound like it’s mechanical. Make music out of it. You still play the notes, put expression in it. Which, of course, is not there. It’s not written in, because Vivaldi did not write this stuff in!