As part of its 35th season, Les Idées heureuses (LIh) is happy to share their inventiveness, creativity and knowledge of music composed during the Baroque period.

To launch their anniversary season, LIh gave a splendid recital (Vivaldi Mist and Light) this past Wednesday October 6th at MMFA’s Bourgie hall, which allowed listeners to hear and discover two rare instruments: the baroque guitar and the small mandolin of the 17th century with a full Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) repertoire.

These rarely heard Italian baroque instruments, combined with the luminosity of the Italian harpsichord and the softness of the chamber organ, allowed for a collective musical moment of great intimacy with all-Italian flair and passion.

Especially for this concert, lutenist Esteban La Rotta built a replica of a small mandolin by the luthier Stradivarius, the one used by Vivaldi. It is probably the only instrument of its kind in North America,” said Geneviève Soly, musicologist and artistic director of Llh. 

Gen’s Delights had the pleasure of interviewing both lutenist Esteban La Rotta and artistic director of LIh , Genevieve Soly.

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 Esteban La Rotta with his Lute.

Esteban, in Vivaldi: Mist and Light, you shall be performing on a very rare Stradivarius mandolin

–  Could you please expand upon the instrument`s uniqueness and how difficult it is to achieve a certain mastery. Also, what importance did the mandolin occupy socially during Vivaldi`s time and how can you relate it to modern times?

In my opinion, the mandolin is not an unheard of instrument. There is a high probability that 90% of the population would have at least heard it, or seen one. This is in part due to the popularity of one variant of the instrument – the Neapolitan mandolin– that gained huge popularity at the end of the 19th century because of its use as a folkloric instrument for Italian and German music. It gained even more popularity later on with bluegrass music! 

The other variant of the instrument, the Lombardian counterpart, (mandolino Lombardo) was never as popular in the 19th century. Even so, there exists a modern folkloric version of it that is rarely heard outside of Lombardia (northern Italy).

 The Napolitain instrument closely resembles a violin: it is tuned in 5ths, has a floating bridge and has metal strings. However, it is played with a plectrum and has a large body (In comparison to the violin). 

During the 17th hundreds, the ‘popular’ mandolin, was the Lombard mandolin, also called Milanese, that closely resembles a lute. Tuned in 4ths with a smaller body, the instrument is strung with gut strings and played with the bare fingers. The bridge is also glued and not floating. Fun fact: the model I shall be performing on is based on the maker Smorzone and is barely larger than the palm of my hand!

 The instrument was particularly popular in high society circles especially with the ladies. Most artistic iconography portrays high society dames in elegant dresses playing it. 

Since Vivaldi taught at the Pieta, an all female school, its normal that he was well acquainted with the instrument and that he included it in some of his compositions. The solo mandolin concerto that will be performed during the recital, was perhaps written for some particular student. He also penned a concerto for two mandolins as well as several concerti for multiple instruments including the mandolin, as well as a couple of opera arias.

The main difficulty of the instrument resides in the small spaces for the fingers and the comparatively high string tension versus a lute. 

In modern times, the baroque mandolin is a much-overlooked instrument and is usually replaced with a lute or a classical guitar. However if mandolins were included, we would discover a full new world of sonorities that is worth discovering. 

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Geneviève Soly (D. Mus.)

Hello Geneviève Soly (D. Mus.), you programed a full Vivaldi repertoire for the concert, what aspects of the composer`s music personally appeals to you?

 Vivaldi’s music was one of the first rediscoveries of Baroque music. We are fortunate to have a large amount of autographs (manuscripts written by the composer) of his compositions preserved in the library of Torino (Turin), all rediscovered in the 1930s (No more than 90 years ago).

Thanks to the popularity of recordings such as his Four Seasons and several other of his instrumental or religious music, the composer rapidely became one of the most appreciated and well-known composers of his time.

Les Idées heureuses usually enjoys working with unknown or lesser-known repertoire. However, in the case of composers such as J.S. Bach, G.P. Telemann or A. Vivaldi, we believe that we can excel as musicians specialized in the interpretation of baroque music, to think outside the box and happily perform music that is familiar and beloved by the public.

 In direct answer to your question, what I particularly like about Vivaldi`s instrumental music (in reference to the pieces we selected for the mist and light concert) are three things :

On the one hand, I love the unique atmospheric sounds, that he “paints” with original instrumentations – the trio for violin, lute and continuo RV 85 for example in which the lute systematically doubles the violin part. It is very touching to “see” these “sound colors” develop before our eyes. It’s impossible not to think of the mist and light that emanates from the city of Venice where he worked, hence the title of our concert.

Secondly, I am in love with the almost modern harmony that he uses in certain chords structures that almost stems from another world. What imagination! What expression of language!

Finally, I am very sensitive to the apparent simplicity of form and the musical construction which hides a world of great richness. This is a proper characteristic of a great composer. 

– What new projects are you working on?

I am preparing the next concert of the Passion (April 15th, 2022, Good Friday at 3 p.m.) for which I have been pursuing (for 4 years) my research on music as played in New France under the French Regime, right here in Ville-Marie (the name of Montreal originally).

I am passionate about this research work! We are trying to recreate the same conditions in which the first inhabitants enjoyed concerts : at the convent, in the church or in the missions, including that of Fort de la Montagne for this concert. The structural remains of this Fort ( 2 of 4 towers) are still being preserved on Sherbrooke Street, just east of Atwater, by the director of the Mission : Sulpician musician François Vachon de Belmont.

We will include music in indigenous languages as sung by the inhabitants of the Mission and accompanied on the lute by this Sulpician.

*** It is important to take note that at that time there wasn`t a residential school in place neither was there any abuse towards natives. Residential schools date only from the 19th century onwards. The life of the natives in the fort was on voluntary basis.




Thanks to Esteban and Geneviève for taking the time to answer my questions for MLPBS

To learn more about Les Idées heureuses

IG: @lesideesheureuses 



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