Since there are few cello duets that have made it into the standard repertoire, most cellists will recognize immediately what you're asking them about if you mention "Vivaldi's Double Cello" duet or concerto. There's a famous Vivaldi Double that tends to refer to the violinist piece, but for cellists the only one that really counts is this Double Cello Concerto in G minor.
The piece is not technically all that difficult. Why? Well it isn't because in the 1700's they couldn't play the cello yet - there were some tough cello parts already in existence. The reason was perhaps tied into Vivaldi's extensive work at a girls' school where he composed a lot of music for odd ensembles, such as 2 cellos and orchestra, which could showcase and aid his students. Consequently this piece is often played by young aspiring cellists. (I am speaking from experience... there is hard evidence on YouTube but I won't link to myself in middle school. That is for you to search for, or ask me personally about!)
While today we have huge amounts of sheet music to choose from, back in the 1700's most classical music was still written either for the church or on commission. Church music was really meant for performance during holy ceremonies and was usually not particularly helpful or appropriate for young students to perform outside of a church setting, while commissioned works were up to the whim of the commissioner. When clients commissioned music, they usually chose the instrumentation and most often had a specific purpose in mind, and the vast majority of this music was thus written for common ensembles (like string quartets, string orchestras, etc.) or for common events (dancing, operas, royal concerts, etc.) which generally were performed by trained professionals, and therefore also written with professionals in mind. The rest of music was written for amateurs, but these were generally higher class or nobility who had the leisure time to take up an instrument like piano or singing - playing string instruments was generally frowned upon because it created unsightly callous on the tips of otherwise smooth, noble, hands (a sign that they were rich and didn't have to do physical labor).
Not to mention the fact that music was not really being printed or shipped to other locations - most music could only be accessed if you knew the composer or the owner of the printed parts, so if you lived far away from Vivaldi, you probably never heard a single piece he wrote, and there was only a slim chance you would have heard of his name. The simple act of getting his music from Italy to Germany, for example, would have probably meant paying scribes to copy the parts onto new paper (unless there was lots of money to spare to have it actually printed) and then sending courriers on horseback who would ride for days to deliver the parts. Needless to say, overnight delivery was not an option.
This double concerto, then, is a special work for cellists of all ages. But better yet, it is an awesome head-banging worthy piece, good enough to be a movie soundtrack, in fact...
First things first: time to listen! The video is 9 minutes or so, but the 1st movement is the one we are concerned with, and that ends around 3:20.
Baroque music is pretty famous for its driving rhythms, repeated notes that just dictate the beat to you constantly. This first movement is a case study - there is almost always someone playing quick repeated notes, whether they are 8th notes or 16th notes. But the epic minor key and use of the cello's open strings along with the sheer speed and energy of the piece really makes it exciting. And hey - what is the hallmark of a good dance or trance tune? A beat. One that makes you want to dance and shake and stay out all night. Vivaldi was a good 300 years ahead of his time with this one. But it has been clear in the last few weeks that there were quite a few composers "ahead of their time" with some crazy rocking music.
Were they really ahead of their time, though? Or was it just that this is what people have always loved to hear, and we change it a bit over the years to keep with the times and the available instruments. Aboriginal tribes have music with simple melodies (sung, generally) and good beats (with rudimentary drums or even just clapping) but is it because they love that kind of music, or just because they haven't invented or gotten access to more versatile instruments? The instruments we know today all went through periods of development where they were made stronger, louder, and more versatile. Nowadays we have invented electronic instruments, whether it is a modification on a real instrument such as an electric guitar or violin, or even synthesized versions or keyboards and other instruments, or actually new sounds such as the electro bass and drums we have all become accustomed to in modern music, and fascinating creations such as the theremin which are expressive, workable instruments which are also entirely electronic.
And so to end, while I could have put a rockin version of Vivaldi's Winter which was redone entirely with electronic sounds, let me end with this much more on point remix version of the Vivaldi duo by the Piano Guys, which involves both new modifications to old instruments (that is a steel cello he is playing!!), some serious beats and electro type themes, and yet still uses just acoustic type instruments.
Yes, these guys have my respect - some of their songs are a bit too kitsch for my taste (covers of pop ballads... not my thing) but others, like this one... they really know how to make something cool into something awesome.