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Early Music

Vivaldi and Me.

I first played the Vivaldi cello sonatas in the late 1950s when I was 11 or 12 years old. I remember the room in my childhood home where I first learned these pieces.

I’m in my childhood bedroom where I practiced, looking out the window at the darkness on a winter late afternoon. My family is in activity in the house. My mother is reading, and my brother upstairs practicing the violin. My sister is quietly occupied somewhere in the house. My dad is still at work, but will come home on the train soon. The train makes a soulful hooting sound as it enters the station, which I can hear faintly through the winter night.

All this is gone now and only in memory. My parents are no longer living. They’ve been gone for over 30 years, although, like Vivaldi, they are within me always. My brother and sister no longer live nearby – we have all scattered. But we are all still connected through memories, family ties, and music.

The house in New Jersey has been occupied by a different family for 33 years. I visited 10 years ago, and like a time capsule, nothing had changed, except the house and yard seemed smaller, and strange people (not our family) occupied it.

The Vivaldi sonatas remain a constant in my life, as do lingering, bittersweet memories from the past. Vivaldi always invokes in me those times, and my lost family.

I always have loved these pieces, and go back to them often. Each time I go back, I play the pieces differently, because I am a different person with different memories and knowledge each time I revisit. As I connect with them, I think about that girl on the cusp between childhood and adulthood in the bedroom of her family home in the dark winter, playing and hearing the pieces for the first time. I can imagine the purity of the tone coming out of that first experience of encountering Vivaldi’s loving and profound soul, in that little New Jersey house so long ago.

There is a touchstone of sadness in all music. Music is in essence the unfurling of emotion through time. Performed music is an act of love, inextricably linked to sadness and loss in some way. As an adult musician, I have experienced many more of life’s joys and burdens than that girl encountering Vivaldi for the first time so long ago in that room. When I play those notes now, they are mediated through my present life and experience. And yet the past is also there imbedded in the notes, the lost past, with its innocence, dark winter’s afternoon, and sadness.

— Laurie Israel 2/15/06, updated 05/18/14.


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