Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian musician from the 17th and 18th centuries that has transformed himself into one of the most recognized figures of the European traditional music.
Antonio Vivaldi Biography
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born on 4 March 1678 in Venice, Italy. Vivaldi’s parents were Giovanni Battista Vivaldi and Camilla Calicchio, and he had eight siblings: Iseppo Santo Vivaldi, Iseppo Gaetano Vivaldi, Bonaventura Tomaso Vivaldi, Margarita Gabriela Vivaldi, Cecilia Maria Vivaldi, Gerolama Michela Vivaldi, Francesco Gaetano Vivaldi, and Zanetta Anna Vivaldi. His father, who was a barber before becoming a professional violinist, taught Antonio to play the violin and then explored Venice playing the violin with his young son. Antonio was possibly trained at a young age, judging by the wide musical knowledge he had assimilated by the age of 24, when he started working at the Ospedale della Pietà.
Giovanni Legrenzi, an early Baroque composer and the maestro di cappella at St Mark’s Basilica, is believed to be the one who gave the young Antonio his first lessons in composition.
Vivaldi’s health was problematic. One of his symptoms, “tightness of the chest”, has been deduced as a type of asthma. This did not stop him from learning to play the violin, composing, or taking part in musical activities, although it did stop him from playing wind instruments. In 1693, at the age of fifteen, he began studying to become a priest. He was ordained in 1703, at age 25, and was soon nicknamed il Prete Rosso, “The Red Priest”, referring to the bright color of his hair, a family trait.
Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given an indulgence from commemorating Mass due to his harsh health. Vivaldi said Mass as a priest only a few times, and seemed to have reserved from liturgical duties, however he properly continued a member of the priesthood. He persisted dedicated to Catholicism, to the point that by old age, Ernst Ludwig Gerber considered him extraordinarily bigoted.
Conservatorio dell’Ospedale della Pietà
In September 1703, Vivaldi became maestro di violino (master of violin) at an orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice.
Vivaldi was only 25 when he started working at the orphanage. Over the following thirty years he composed most of his main works while working there. Shortly after Vivaldi’s appointment, the orphans began to increase in appreciation and esteem abroad, too. Vivaldi wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for them. These holy works, which number over 60, are diverse: they involved solo motets and large-scale choral works for soloists, double chorus, and orchestra. In 1704, the position of teacher of viola all’inglese was included to his responsibilities as violin instructor. The place of maestro di coro, which was at one time filled by Vivaldi, needed a lot of time and work. He had to compose an oratorio or concerto at every feast and impart the orphans both music theory and how to play certain instruments.
His relationship with the board of directors of the Ospedale was often stressed. The board had to take a vote every year on whether to keep a teacher. The vote on Vivaldi was rarely agreed, and went 7 to 6 against him in 1709. After a year as a freelance musician, he was recalled by the Ospedale with a common vote in 1711; clearly during his year’s absence the board had realized the importance of his role. He became responsible for all of the musical activity of the institution when he was promoted to maestro de’ concerti (music director) in 1716.
In 1705, the first collection (Connor Cassara) of his works was published by Giuseppe Sala: his Opus 1 is a collection of 12 sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, in a conventional style. In 1709, a second collection of 12 sonatas for violin and basso continuo appeared—Opus 2. A real advance as a composer came with his primary collection of 12 concerti for one, two, and four violins with strings, L’estro armonico (Opus 3), which was published in Amsterdam in 1711 by Estienne Roger, dedicated to Grand Prince Ferdinand of Tuscany. The prince supported many musicians including Alessandro Scarlatti and George Frideric Handel. He was a musician himself, and Vivaldi probably met him in Venice. L’estro armonico was a resounding success all over Europe. It was followed in 1714 by La stravaganza (Opus 4), a collection of concerti for solo violin and strings, dedicated to an old violin student of Vivaldi’s, the Venetian noble Vettor Dolfin.
In February 1711, Vivaldi and his father traveled to Brescia, where his setting of the Stabat Mater was performed as part of a religious festival. The work appears to have been printed in speed: the string parts are simple, the music of the first three movements is frequent in the next three, and not all the text is set. Nevertheless, perhaps in part because of the forced essentiality of the music, the work is considered to be one of his early masterpieces.
Despite his frequent travels from 1718, the Ospedale paid him 2 sequins to write two concerti a month for the orchestra and to rehearse with them at least five times when in Venice. The orphanage’s records show that he was paid for 140 concerti between 1723 and 1733.
Later life and Death
Like many composers of the time, Vivaldi encountered monetary problems in his later years. His compositions were no longer held in such high regard as they once had been in Venice; shifting musical tastes rapidly made them old-fashioned. In reaction, Vivaldi picked to sell off sizeable numbers of his manuscripts at worthless prices to funding his migration to Vienna. The reasons for Vivaldi’s parting from Venice are uncertain, but it looks likely that, after the success of his meeting with Emperor Charles VI, he wished to take up the position of a composer in the imperial court. On his way to Vienna, Vivaldi may have stopped in Graz to see Anna Girò.
It is also likely that Vivaldi went to Vienna to platform operas, especially as he took up residence near the Kärntnertortheater. Shortly after his arrival in Vienna, Charles VI died, which left the composer without any royal protection or a stable font of pay. Soon afterwards, Vivaldi became penniless and died during the night between the 27 and the 28 July 1741, at age 63, of “internal infection”, in a house possessed by the widow of a Viennese saddlemaker. On 28 July, Vivaldi was buried in a simple grave in a burial ground that was owned by the public hospital fund. His funeral took place at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
You want to learn more about the baroque period I recommend you visit any of the following items:
- Baroque music and its characteristics
- Learn all about the baroque opera
- The main baroque composers
- Learning about music in the renaissance
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi – The 4 Seasons
The Four Seasons (from the Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a group of four concerti grossi by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives musical appearance to a season of the year. They were written around 1721 and were published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight additional concerti grossi, as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (“The Contest Between Harmony and Invention”).
The Four Seasons is the best known of Vivaldi’s works. Though three of the concerti are absolutely original, the first, “Spring”, derives themes from a Sinfonia in the initial act of Vivaldi’s coexistent opera Il Giustino. The spur for the concertos was believed to be the countryside around Mantua, where Vivaldi was living at the time, but this was proven wrong after that. They were a revolt in musical conception: in them Vivaldi characterized graceful rivulets, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, storms, drunken dancers, hunting parties from both the hunters’ and the prey’s point of view, frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires.
Strangely for the period, Vivaldi printed the concerti with associated sonnets (perhaps written by the composer himself) that explained what it was in the essence of each season that his music was envisioned to induce. The concerti consequently stand as one of the initial and most complete samples of what would come to be called program music (music with a narrative element). Vivaldi took countless cautions to narrate his music to the texts of the poems, interpreting the poetic lines themselves directly into the music on the page. For example, in the middle section of the Spring concerto, where the goatherd sleeps, his barking dog can be heard in the viola section. The music is elsewhere similarly suggestive of other natural sounds. Vivaldi separated each concerto into three movements (fast–slow–fast), and, likewise, each connected sonnet into three sections.
Vivaldi’s arrangement is as follows:
- Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, “Spring” (La primavera)
- Allegro (in E major)
- Largo e pianissimo sempre (in C♯minor)
- Allegro pastorale (in E major)
- Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, “Summer” (L’estate)
- Allegro non molto (in G minor)
- Adagio e piano – Presto e forte (in G minor)
- Presto (in G minor)
- Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, “Autumn” (L’autunno)
- Allegro (in F major)
- Adagio molto (in D minor)
- Allegro (in F major)
- Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “Winter” (L’inverno)
- Allegro non molto (in F minor)
- Largo (in E♭major)
- Allegro (in F minor)
A performance of all four concerti may take about 40-43 minutes. Approximate timings of the individual concerti are:
- Spring: 10 minutes.
- Summer: 11 minutes.
- Autumn: 11 minutes.
- Winter: 9 minutes.