Vivaldi, Antonio

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Vivaldi, Antonio (1678-1741): Italian, Composer.

Antonio Vivaldi composed some 400 concertos, 38 operas, and many hymns the best known of his works being The Four Seasons and Gloria (c. 1726). Despite a renaissance in the twentieth century, he is perhaps best known for his influence on Bach, Johann Sebastian. Despite this, it is his integration of the ritornello form into his concertos, the establishment for the three movement format for concertos, and the development of a new sense of freedom and originality of spirit for composers which had the most impact on the musical world.

Vivaldi was born in Venice on 4 March, 1678. He was the son of a professional violinist. He trained for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. He was frequently referred to as il prete rosso (the red priest) due to his shock of red hair. Soon after his ordination he stopped celebrating mass. Vivaldi claimed that this was due to health problems; notably a tightness of the chest which may have been symptomatic of asthma or angina.

Later in 1703 he was appointed maestro di violino at the Ospedale della Pieta (hospital of pity). The Ospedale is frequently referred to as an orphanage, it is perhaps best described as a home for the daughters of noblemen and their mistresses. As a result, Vivaldi found himself financially well supported and surrounded by talented pupils. He remained in this post until 1709 and regained the post from 1711 - 1716. In 1716 he became maestro de concerti.

Vivaldi published his first works: trio sonatas for two violins and continuo sometime between 1704 and 1705. This was followed by Violin Sonatas in 1709 and L’Estro Armonico (Harmonic Inspiration) opus three in 1711. These works were widely circulated in northern Europe which caused Vivaldi’s reputation to grow to a point where musicians traveled to Venice to commission works from him. Bach transcribed five op.3 concertos for keyboard and Vivaldi’s style began to influence many contemporary German composers.

In 1713, Vivaldi was given a month leave from the Ospedale to stage his first opera, Ottone in Villa, in Vicenza. In 1716, the Ospedale della Pieta performed his oratorio Judita Triumphans devicta Holofernis barbaric. He then moved to Mantua in 1717 to serve as Chamber Kapellmeister at the court of Landgrave Philips van Hessen-Darmstadt. There he penned such works as Armida (1717), Teuzzone (1719) and Tito Manlio (1719). In 1720 he returned to Venice to stage his own operas at the Teatro Sant’ Angelo. While there he met singer Anna Giraud with whom, despite being thirty years her elder and claiming that she was no more to him than a housekeeper, he stayed with until his death.

He later moved to Rome where he found a benefactor and patron in the person of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. Vivaldi also claims to have been invited to play a private violin concert for the Pope. While in Rome, he continued to serve the Ospedale’s needs, as their Maestro di concerti, by sending them two concertos per month. He also remained director of the Teatro Sant’ Angelo from 1725 through 1728. During this time he premiered eight of his own operas in Venice and Florence and published twelve enormously successful concertos including the hallmark Four Seasons. French monarch Louis XV was reputedly so enthralled with the Four Seasons that he repeatedly ordered its performance. Vivaldi also received numerous commissions for compositions from the Royal French Court.

He spent the next few years traveling and presenting his work in Prague, Mantua, and Verona. After these travels he focused primarily on composing operas, primarily because operas were more financially lucrative than concertos. Despite the financial disparity, Vivaldi continued to write concertos for the Ospedale until 1740 when he resigned to move to Vienna to serve under the patronage of Charles VI. Unfortunately, this relationship was not to last long as Vivaldi died of internal fire on 28 July, 1741.

Vivaldi’s legacy included great advancements in violin technique, the establishment of the three movement concerto forms, and a number of other innovations for sonatas and concertos. But, perhaps, the freedom to be bold and original in composition was his greatest gift to later generations of musicians.

Further Reading:

Karl Heller, David Marinelli, trans., Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice, 1997.

Walter Kolneder, Antonio Vivaldi : Documents of His Life and Works, 1983.


B. Keith Murphy

Fort Valley State University

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