Vivaldi Background

True, Antonio Vivaldi was a composer. We're relatively confident that if he were alive today he would have used Vivaldi as his default browser on all his devices. Chances are, he would have been an EDM DJ, though (a very scary thought). Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy, on March 4, 1678. His first music teacher was his father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi. The elder Vivaldi was a well-respected violinist, employed at the church of St. It is possible, though not proved, that as a boy Antonio also studied with the composer Giovanni Legrenzi (1626–1690).

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Emeritus Professor of Musicology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
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.

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Life

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

Born: March 4, 1678
Venice, Italy
Died: July 26, 1741
Vienna, Austria

Italian composer, violinist and priest

Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian violinist and composer whose concertos—pieces for one or more instruments—were widely known and influential throughout Europe.

Childhood and early career

Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy, on March 4, 1678. His first music teacher was his father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi. The elder Vivaldi was a well-respected violinist, employed at the church of St. Mark's. It is possible, though not proved, that as a boy Antonio also studied with the composer Giovanni Legrenzi (1626–1690).

Antonio was trained for a clerical (religious service) as well as a musical life. After going through the various introductory stages, he was ordained (authorized) a priest in March 1703. His active career, however, was devoted to music. In the autumn of 1703 he was appointed as a violin teacher at the Ospitale della Pieta in Venice. A few years later he was made conductor of the orchestra at the same institution. Under Vivaldi's direction, this orchestra gave many brilliant concerts and achieved an international reputation.

Vivaldi remained at the Pietà until 1740. But his long years there were broken by the numerous trips he took, for professional purposes, to Italian and foreign cities. He went, among other places, to Vienna, Italy, from 1729 to 1730 and to Amsterdam, Netherlands, from 1737 to 1738. Within Italy he traveled to various cities to direct performances of his operas. He left Venice for the last time in 1740. He died in Vienna on July 26 or 27, 1741.

Vivaldi's music

Vivaldi was very productive in vocal and instrumental music, sacred and secular (nonreligious). According to the latest research, he composed over seven hundred pieces—ranging from sonatas (instrumental compositions usually with three or four movements) and operas (musical dramas consisting of vocal and instrumental pieces) to concertos (musical compositions for one or two vocal performers set against a full orchestra).

Today the vocal music of Vivaldi is little known. But in his own day he was famous and successful as an opera composer. Most of his operas were written for Venice, but some were performed throughout Italy in Rome, Florence, Verona, Vicenza, Ancona, and Mantua.

Vivaldi was also one of the great eighteenth century violin virtuosos, or musicians with superb ability. This virtuosity is reflected in his music, which made new demands on

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Antonio Vivaldi.
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violin technique. In his instrumental works he naturally favored the violin. He wrote the majority of his sonatas for one or two violins and thorough-bass. Of his concertos, 221 are for solo violin and orchestra. Other concertos are for a variety of solo instruments, including the flute, the clarinet, the trumpet, and the mandolin. He also wrote concertos for several solo instruments, concerti grossi, and concertos for full orchestra. The concerto grosso features a small group of solo players, set against the full orchestra. The concerto for orchestra features differences of style rather than differences of instruments.

Orchestral music

Vivaldi's concertos are generally in three movements, arranged in the order of fast, slow, fast. The two outer movements are in the same key; the middle movement is in the same key or in a closely related key. Within movements, the music proceeds on the principle of alternation: passages for the solo instrument(s) alternate with passages for the full orchestra. The solo instrument may extend the material played by the orchestra, or it may play quite different material of its own. In either case, the alternation between soloist and orchestra builds up a tension that can be very dramatic.

The orchestra in Vivaldi's time was different, of course, from a modern one in its size and constitution. Although winds were sometimes called for, strings constituted the main body of players. In a Vivaldi concerto, the orchestra is essentially a string orchestra, with one or two harpsichords or organs to play the thorough-bass.

Some of Vivaldi's concertos are pieces of program music, for they give musical descriptions of events or natural scenes. The Seasons, for instance, consists of four concertos representing the four seasons. But in his concertos the 'program' does not determine the formal structure of the music. Some musical material may imitate the call of a bird or the rustling of leaves; but the formal plan of the concerto is maintained.

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Vivaldi's concertos were widely known during and after his lifetime. They were copied and admired by another musician, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). In musical Europe of the eighteenth century Vivaldi was one of the great names.

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For More Information

Heller, Karl. Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1997.

Background

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Kolneder, Walter. Antonio Vivaldi: His Life and Work. Edited by Bill Hopkins. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

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Landon, H. C. Robbins. Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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Morgenstern, Sheldon. No Vivaldi in the Garage: A Requiem for Classical Music in North America. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2001.