Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The same cliché 400 times

Have you noticed how often it happens that, when a critic is discussing little-known Vivaldi concertos, he feels obliged to decry Stravinsky's claim that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 400 times? We get the message, lads. We know he didn't write the same concerto 400 times. You don't need to keep bringing up this quote only to dismiss it.
To which ancient hard-shelled seed are we referring?
That hoary old chestnut.
What's worse, there's considerable variation in the number of concertos mentioned. You can find any multiple of a hundred from one to six (although a Google search suggests 200 is rare, for some reason!). That's probably because the Stravinsky quote may well be apocryphal. According to my Dictionary of Musical Quotations, Robert Craft's Conversations contains the line "Vivaldi is greatly overrated - a dull fellow who could compose the same form over and so many times over". Not quite as memorable. So who did come up with the line?

Aside: I'm reminded of something I read in a newspaper column somewhere (yeah, sorry) along the lines of "It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone writing a newspaper column about Jane Austen has to begin with the phrase "It is a truth universally acknowledged"."

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