A Vivaldi

In April 1717 Vivaldi was passing through the town of Cento in northern Italy, and was coming to play at Vespers at the Church of the Santissimo nome d'Iddio. A witness describes a packed church, with people almost coming to blows in a frantic attempt to gain entry, and crowds filling the streets outside. View the profiles of people named Pedro Vivaldi. Join Facebook to connect with Pedro Vivaldi and others you may know. Facebook gives people the power to.

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Last weekend I mentioned that, in addition to arranging a four-violin concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s popular L’estro Armonico, op. 3, for four harpsichords and strings, Bach “reduced” three concertos from this set for unaccompanied harpsichord, and two more for organ. He most likely prepared these “reductions” during the period July 1713–July 1714, while he was serving as organist to the court of the Duke of Weimar and learning the new Italian style stemming from sunny Venice. I’ve placed “reduced” and “reductions” in quotation marks because, while fitting the full tutti onto just a keyboard, Bach went further and added more contrapuntal lines to Vivaldi’s texture. Some of the concertos he transposed into different keys.

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A. vivaldi - summer



CONCERTO No. 3 in G major, RV 310 —> CONCERTO in F major, BWV 978

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo
  3. Allegro

A scalar motive, easy to hear when it returns, opens the ritornello. The solo violin offers up echos and sequences. Standing in stark contrast is the minor-key Largo, with lyrical wisps and arabesques in the solo violin supported by bleak orchestral chords (“Winter”?). Active life is rejoined in the Allegro Finale, which is all hustle and bustle, with the bass charging forward, echo effects and engaging syncopations in the upper strings, and the soloist showing off fast-note virtuosity.

Vivaldi: Performed by Elizabeth Wallfisch, violin, with Tafelmusik, by Jeanne Lamond

Watch how Bach adds to the left-hand imitations of the right hand’s scalar motive, to increase the movement’s dynamism.

Bach: Performed by the elegant young French harpsichordist and organist Benjamin Alard

CONCERTO No. 9 in D major, RV 230 —> CONCERTO in D major, BWV 972

  1. Allegro
  2. Larghetto
  3. Allegro

For this work we’ll listen to two recordings: Fabio Biondi playing the Vivaldi and Richard Egarr performing the Bach. The Allegro is announced with a group of well-spaced, snappy dotted rhythms open to interpretation — is it a slow introduction (Biondi) or an assertive overture (Egarr)? The same interpretative options are available for the central Larghetto, as witness our two recordings — is it soulfully sad, or is it melancholy yet strongly anchored? On the harpsichord Egarr’s Finale is a bold burst of sound, replete with bounding chords and improvised trills; with Biondi’s orchestra, it is a spritely, dance-like dash-to-the-finish, with quick minor-key inflections.

Vivaldi: Performed by violinist Fabio Biondi with Europa Galante

A Vivaldi Trivia

Bach: Performed by the English harpsichordist Richard Egarr, playing on a 1640 Ruckers harpsichord

As Egarr notes, “Bach added an interesting part for the left hand in the third movement, and in the first movement he fitted a whole string orchestra onto one harpsichord, while also making the music more appropriate for keyboard.” For a demonstration of how Bach did this, see Richard Egarr’s chat at:

CONCERTO No. 12 in E major, RV 265 —> CONCERTO in C major, BWV 976

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo (Vivaldi) —> Largo e spiccato (Bach)
  3. Allegro

The chipper ritornello Allegro, with its bouncing repeated notes, is always welcome on each reappearance. The solo violin appears with a bit of the opening motive in sequence before weaving its own extensions of fancy fiddle-work, specializing in showy cross-string playing. The Largo features contemplative dueting between soloist and first violin, often in stepwise sequences, ending in warm, secure cadences. In The English Concert’s interpretation the ritornello of the Allegro final has a galloping feeling, setting off the soloist’s rapid-fire displays of virtuosity. Yet, all ends quietly.

Vivaldi: Performed by violinist Simon Standage with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert

Bach: Performed by Robert Hill on a harpsichord built by his brother, Keith Hill, with a scanning score that allows you to see, as well as hear, the step dynamics in the tutti sections using the two keyboards, the brilliant passage-work in the solo sections, as well as how a fine harpsichordist ornaments the melodic lines, inserts poignant hesitations (especially in the Largo), and employs a wonderful variety of arpeggiation (or rolling) of full chords to create lush “orchestral sounds.” After hearing Vivaldi’s original Finale, you’ll be amazed at the incredible arrays of left-hand passage-work that Bach adds to drive the movement forward at a manic pace. You’ll need to take some deep breaths after the roiling, then crashing climax! In Bach’s hands (and Hill’s performance) Vivaldi’s quiet closing takes on a certain nobility of accomplishment.


During his years in Weimar, Bach also transcribed two of Vivaldi’s double violin concertos for the solo organ. We shall explore these works next week.

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Michael TalbotSee All Contributors
Professor of Music, University of Liverpool, England. Author of Vivaldi.
Alternative Title: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi, in full Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, (born March 4, 1678, Venice, Republic of Venice [Italy]—died July 28, 1741, Vienna, Austria), Italian composer and violinist who left a decisive mark on the form of the concerto and the style of late Baroque instrumental music.

Quiz: Who Composed It?

A Vivaldi School Year

Match the sonata, concerto, or opera to its composer.


A Vivaldi

Vivaldi’s main teacher was probably his father, Giovanni Battista, who in 1685 was admitted as a violinist to the orchestra of the San Marco Basilica in Venice. Antonio, the eldest child, trained for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. His distinctive reddish hair would later earn him the soubriquetIl Prete Rosso (“The Red Priest”). He made his first known public appearance playing alongside his father in the basilica as a “supernumerary” violinist in 1696. He became an excellent violinist, and in 1703 he was appointed violin master at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for foundlings. The Pietà specialized in the musical training of its female wards, and those with musical aptitude were assigned to its excellent choir and orchestra, whose much-praised performances assisted the institution’s quest for donations and legacies. Vivaldi had dealings with the Pietà for most of his career: as violin master (1703–09; 1711–15), director of instrumental music (1716–17; 1735–38), and paid external supplier of compositions (1723–29; 1739–40).

Soon after his ordination as a priest, Vivaldi gave up celebrating mass because of a chronic ailment that is believed to have been bronchial asthma. Despite this circumstance, he took his status as a secular priest seriously and even earned the reputation of a religious bigot.

Vivaldi’s earliest musical compositions date from his first years at the Pietà. Printed collections of his trio sonatas and violin sonatas respectively appeared in 1705 and 1709, and in 1711 his first and most influential set of concerti for violin and string orchestra (Opus 3, L’estro armonico) was published by the Amsterdam music-publishing firm of Estienne Roger. In the years up to 1719, Roger published three more collections of his concerti (opuses 4, 6, and 7) and one collection of sonatas (Opus 5).

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Vivaldi made his debut as a composer of sacred vocal music in 1713, when the Pietà’s choirmaster left his post and the institution had to turn to Vivaldi and other composers for new compositions. He achieved great success with his sacred vocal music, for which he later received commissions from other institutions. Another new field of endeavour for him opened in 1713 when his first opera, Ottone in villa, was produced in Vicenza. Returning to Venice, Vivaldi immediately plunged into operatic activity in the twin roles of composer and impresario. From 1718 to 1720 he worked in Mantua as director of secular music for that city’s governor, Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. This was the only full-time post Vivaldi ever held; he seems to have preferred life as a freelance composer for the flexibility and entrepreneurial opportunities it offered. Vivaldi’s major compositions in Mantua were operas, though he also composed cantatas and instrumental works.

The 1720s were the zenith of Vivaldi’s career. Based once more in Venice, but frequently traveling elsewhere, he supplied instrumental music to patrons and customers throughout Europe. Between 1725 and 1729 he entrusted five new collections of concerti (opuses 8–12) to Roger’s publisher successor, Michel-Charles Le Cène. After 1729 Vivaldi stopped publishing his works, finding it more profitable to sell them in manuscript to individual purchasers. During this decade he also received numerous commissions for operas and resumed his activity as an impresario in Venice and other Italian cities.

In 1726 the contralto Anna Girò sang for the first time in a Vivaldi opera. Born in Mantua about 1711, she had gone to Venice to further her career as a singer. Her voice was not strong, but she was attractive and acted well. She became part of Vivaldi’s entourage and the indispensable prima donna of his subsequent operas, causing gossip to circulate that she was Vivaldi’s mistress. After Vivaldi’s death she continued to perform successfully in opera until quitting the stage in 1748 to marry a nobleman.

In the 1730s Vivaldi’s career gradually declined. The French traveler Charles de Brosses reported in 1739 with regret that his music was no longer fashionable. Vivaldi’s impresarial forays became increasingly marked by failure. In 1740 he traveled to Vienna, but he fell ill and did not live to attend the production there of his opera L’oracolo in Messenia in 1742. The simplicity of his funeral on July 28, 1741, suggests that he died in considerable poverty.


After Vivaldi’s death, his huge collection of musical manuscripts, consisting mainly of autograph scores of his own works, was bound into 27 large volumes. These were acquired first by the Venetian bibliophile Jacopo Soranzo and later by Count Giacomo Durazzo, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s patron. Rediscovered in the 1920s, these manuscripts today form part of the Foà and Giordano collections of the National Library in Turin.

Quick Facts

A. Vivaldi Wikipedia

March 4, 1678
Venice, Italy
July 28, 1741 (aged 63)
Vienna, Austria
notable works
movement / style