The year is 1716, and a group of distinguished musicians from the Court of Dresden are spending some time in Venice as escorts to the prince-elector Friedrich August of Saxony. At some stage during this visit they manage to acquire several original manuscripts of chamber concertos by Antonio Vivaldi, among them the earliest version of the Tempsta di Mare RV 98.
It was a known fact for 18th century composers that works bearing titles of a programmatic nature would undoubtedly enjoy greater popularity than those not. It could be argued, however, that Vivaldi’s fondness for descriptive writing was nurtured more from his immersion in the opera world of Northern Italy than from his wish to be popular. The Tempeste di Mare concerto bears all the stamps of operatic onomatopoeic music. Stormy seas, a depiction of the turbulence of life, are among the most commonly encountered operatic images, and Vivaldi presents this at once in the opening allegro with unrestful, rushing semi-quavers. The uneasy calm at the eye of the storm is depicted in a central largo by a recorder solo accompanied by all the other instruments in unison. This short-lived moment of stillness is interrupted by fast scale passages evoking the return of the wind and waves. It seems that it is no accident that when the time came for Vivaldi to assemble his collection of flute concertos, published as Opus 10 in 1728, La Tempesta di Mare and La Notte appeared, in reworked versions, on top of the list. They remain to this day among the most loved of Vivaldi’s compositions.