Circe Institute: In an age of prolific composers, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) held his own. His works include five hundred concertos, sixty-four solo sonatas, thirty-eight cantatas, twenty-seven trio sonatas, twenty-one operas, and sixty sacred vocal pieces. “La Follia” is one of the trio sonatas, or pieces composed for two violins and one or more continuo musicians, often a harpsichordist and cellist. This piece exposes a second common misunderstanding: classical music is not cloistered away from the music that people make, sing, and whistle in their everyday lives.

“La Follia” is actually the name of a folk tune traced back to fifteenth-century Portugal. Literally meaning “folly” or “madness,” the tune was used for rambunctious country dancing. But it was eventually noticed by composers who began to play with it, eventually forming a playful tradition of writing variations on the original tune. In Vivaldi’s day, the most famous set of variations was by Arcangelo Corelli; composers after Vivaldi who have written their own variations include Romantic composer Franz List and twentieth-century composer Sergei Rachmaninoff >>>