Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678, Venice â€“ July 28 (or 27), 1741, Vienna), nicknamed Il Prete Rosso ("The Red Priest"), was an Italian priest and baroque music composer, as well as a famous violinist.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born on March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy. He was baptized immediately at his home by the midwife due to "danger of death" . It is not determined what that means, but it probably referred to the infant's poor health or the earthquake that shook the city that day. Vivaldi's official church baptism (at least, the rites which remained other than the actual baptism itself) did not take place until two months later. His father, Giovanni Battista, a barber before becoming a professional violinist, taught him to play violin at first and then toured Venice playing violin with his son. Vivaldi had a medical problem which he called the tightening of the chest (probably some form of asthma). His medical problem, however, did not prevent him from learning to play the violin, composing and taking part in the prescribed musical activities. At the age of 15 (1693), he began studying to become a priest. In 1703, at the age of 25, Vivaldi was ordained as a priest, soon nicknamed Il Prete Rosso, "The Red Priest," probably because of his red hair.
Not long after, in 1704, he was given a dispensation from celebrating the Holy Mass because of his ill health. In late 1706 he withdrew from the priesthood and became maestro di violino at an orphanage for girls called the Pio Ospedale della PietĂ in Venice. Shortly after his appointment, the orphans began to gain appreciation and esteem abroad, too; Vivaldi wrote for them most of his concertos, cantatas, and sacred music. In 1705, the first collection (Raccolta) of his works was published. Many others would follow. At the orphanage he covered several different duties, only interrupting them for his many travels. In 1709, he was let go for economic reasons but in 1711, he was offered the job again and in 1713, became responsible for the musical activity of the institute.
Vivaldi was promoted to maestro de' concerti in 1716. It was during these years that Vivaldi wrote much of his music, including many operas and concertos. In 1718, Vivaldi began to travel. Despite his frequent travels, the PietĂ paid him to write two concertos a month for the orchestra and to rehearse with them at least four times when in Venice. The PietĂ 's records show that he was paid for 140 concertos between 1723 and 1729.
Most of his repertoire was rediscovered only in the first half of the 20th century in Turin and Genoa and was published in the second half. Vivaldi's music is innovative, breaking a consolidated tradition in schemes; he gave brightness to the formal and the rhythmic structure of the concerto, repeatedly looking for harmonic contrasts and invented innovative melodies and themes. Moreover, Vivaldi was able to compose non-academic music, particularly meant to be appreciated by the wide public and not only by an intellectual minority. The joyful appearance of his music reveals in this regard a transmissible joy of composing. These are among the causes of the vast popularity of his music. This popularity soon made him famous in other countries such as France which was, at the time, very independent concerning its musical taste.
Vivaldi is considered one of the composers who brought Baroque Music (with its typical contrast among heavy sonorities) to evolve into a classical style. Johann Sebastian Bach was deeply influenced by Vivaldi's concertos and arias (recalled in his Passions and cantatas). Bach transcribed a number of Vivaldi's concertos for solo keyboard, along with a number for orchestra, including the famous Concerto for Four Violins and Violoncello, Strings and Continuo (RV 580). However, not all musicians have shown the same enthusiasm: Igor Stravinsky provocatively said that Vivaldi had not written hundreds of concertos but one concerto hundreds of times. Despite his priestly status, he is supposed to have had possible love affairs, one of which was with the singer Anna Giraud. With Anna, he was suspected of reusing materials from old Venetian operas, which he only slightly adapted to the vocal capabilities of his protegĂ©e. This business caused him some troubles with other musicians, like Benedetto Marcello, who wrote a pamphlet against him. There is no concrete evidence, however, that links Vivaldi romantically to anyone.
Vivaldi's life, like those of many composers of the time, ended in poverty. His compositions no longer held the high esteem they once did in Venice; changing musical tastes quickly made them outmoded, and Vivaldi, in response, chose to sell off sizeable numbers of his manuscripts at paltry prices to finance a migration to Vienna. Reasons for Vivaldi's departure from Venice are unclear, but it seems likely that he wished to meet Charles VI who adored his compositions (Vivaldi dedicated La Cetra to Charles in 1727), and take up the position of royal composer in the emperor's Imperial Court. However, shortly after Vivaldi's arrival at Vienna, Charles died. This tragic stroke of bad luck left the composer without royal protection and a source of income. Vivaldi had to sell off more manuscripts to make ends meet and eventually died not long after, on 28 July 1741. He was given an unmarked grave (the assumption that the young Joseph Haydn sang in the choir at Vivaldi's burial was based on the mistranscription of a primary source and has been proven wrong). Equally unfortunate, his music was to fall into obscurity until the 20th century. His burial spot is next to the Karlskirche in Vienna, at the site of the Technical Institute. The house he lived in while in Vienna was torn down. Close to its place there's now the Hotel Sacher. Memorial plaques have been placed at both locations, as well as a Vivaldi "star" in the Viennese Musikmeile and a monument at the Rooseveltsplatz.
Vivaldi remained unknown for his published concerti, and largely ignored, even after the resurgence of interest in Bach, pioneered by Mendelssohn. The resurrection of Vivaldi's unpublished works in the 20th century is mostly thanks to the efforts of Alfredo Casella, who in 1939, organised the now historic Vivaldi Week, in which the rediscovered Gloria in excelsis (RV 589) was first heard again. Following World War II Vivaldi's compositions have enjoyed almost universal success, and the advent of historically informed performances has all but catapulted him to stardom once again. In 1947, the Venetian businessman, Antonio Fanna, founded the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, with the composer, Gian Francesco Malipiero, as its artistic director, with the purpose of promoting Vivaldi's music and putting out new editions of his works.
Three films about Antonio Vivaldi are in production as of 2005. One of them, with the working title Vivaldi, was scheduled to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke for Imagine Entertainment, but she has since withdrawn from the project, while the second could have Ashley MacIsaac in the title role. A third, made by French/Italian producers with Stefano Dionisi as Vivaldi and Michel Serrault in the main roles was completed in 2005.
Vivaldi's music, together with Mozart's, Tchaikovsky's and Corelli's, has been included in the theories of Alfred Tomatis on the effects of music on human behaviour, and used in music therapy.
He was a prolific composer and is best known for composing:
Recently, four sacred vocal works by Vivaldi have been discovered in the Saxon State Library in Dresden. These composition were improperly attributed to Baldassarre Galuppi, a Venetian composer of the early classical period, mostly famous for his choral works.
In the years 1750s or 1760s, the Saxon court asked for some sacred works by Galuppi from the Venetian copyist Don Giuseppe Baldan. Baldan included, among authentic works by Galuppi, the four compositions by Vivaldi, passing them for Galuppi's. He probably obtained the originals from two of Vivaldi's nephews (Carlo Vivaldi and Daniele Mauro) who worked under him as copyists.
The recognition of Vivaldi's authorship could be made by analysing style and instrumentation and by recognizing arias from Vivaldi's operas.
The two most recent among these discoveries are two psalm settings of Nisi Dominus (RV 803, in 8 movements) and Dixit Dominus (RV 807, in 11 movements), identified in 2003 and 2005 , respectively, by the Australian scholar Janice Stockigt.
RV 803 was recorded for the first time in 2005 by the King's Consort under the direction of Robert King.
RV 807 was recorded for the first time in 2006 by the Dresdner Instrumental-Concert under the direction of Peter Kopp. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot called it "arguably the best non-operatic work from Vivaldi's pen to come to light since ...the 1920s" .
Works published during his lifetime
Vivaldi wrote hundreds of concerti for various instruments. Below is a list of notable concerti:
Recorder and Flute:
Brass and Woodwind:
Selected historically informed performance ensembles specialising in Vivaldi
References and further reading