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Portrait of Antonio Vivaldi, by François Morellon de la Cave
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678 – July 28, 1741), nicknamed ''il Prete Rosso'' ("The Red Priest"), was a Venetian Baroque composer, priest, and famous virtuoso violinist. He was born and raised in the Republic of Venice. ''The Four Seasons'', a popular series of four violin concerti, is his best-known work. His other compositions include over 500 instrumental concertos, sacred choral works and over 40 operas.
Many of his compositions were written for the female music ensemble of the ''Ospedale della Pietà'', an orphanage for poor and illegitimate children where Vivaldi worked between 1703 and 1740. Vivaldi also had some success with stagings of his operas in Venice, Mantua and Vienna. After meeting the Emperor Charles VI, Vivaldi moved to Vienna hoping for preferment. The Emperor died soon after Vivaldi's arrival, and the composer died a pauper, without a steady source of income.
Well received during his lifetime, Vivaldi's music went into a decline until it was rediscovered in the first half of the 20th century. Vivaldi's music is popular with modern audiences.
The church where Vivaldi was baptised: San Giovanni Battista in Bragora, Sestiere di Castello, Venice.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in Venice, the capital of the Republic of Venice in 1678. He was baptized immediately after his birth at his home by the midwife, which led to the belief that his life was somehow in danger. Though not known for certain, the immediate baptism was most likely due either to his poor health or to an earthquake that shook the city that day. In the trauma of the earthquake, Vivaldi's mother may have dedicated him to the priesthood. Vivaldi's official church baptism (the rites that remained other than the baptism itself) did not take place until two months later.
[Michael Talbot, ''Vivaldi'' (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1978), 39.]
Vivaldi's parents were Giovanni Battista Vivaldi and Camilla Calicchio, as recorded in the register of San Giovanni in Bragora. Vivaldi had five siblings: Margarita Gabriela, Cecilia Maria, Bonaventura Tomaso, Zanetta Anna, and Francesco Gaetano. Giovanni Battista, a barber before becoming a professional violinist, taught Antonio to play the violin, and then toured Venice playing the violin with his young son. He probably taught him at an early age, judging by Vivaldi's extensive musical knowledge at the age of 24 when he started working at the Ospedale della Pietà. Giovanni Battista was one of the founders of the ''Sovvegno dei musicisti di Santa Cecilia'', an association of musicians. The president of the ''Sovvegno'' was Giovanni Legrenzi, a composer of the early Baroque and ''maestro di cappella'' at St. Mark's Basilica. It is possible that Legrenzi gave the young Antonio his first lessons in composition. The Luxembourg scholar Walter Kolneder has discerned in the early liturgical work ''Laetatus sum'' (RV Anh 31, written in 1691 at the age of 13) the influence of Legrenzi's style. Vivaldi's father may have been a composer himself: in 1689, an opera titled ''La Fedeltà sfortunata'' was composed by a Giovanni Battista Rossi, and this was the name under which Vivaldi's father had joined the Sovvegno di Santa Cecilia: "Rossi" is Italian for "Red", and would have referred to the colour of his hair, a family trait.
Vivaldi's health was problematic. His symptoms, ''strettezza di petto'' ("tightness of the chest"), have been interpreted as a form of asthma.
This did not prevent 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 15, he began studying to become a priest. He was ordained in 1703, aged 25. He was soon nicknamed ''il Prete Rosso'', "The Red Priest", because of his red hair. Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given a reprieve from celebrating the Holy Mass because of his ill health. Vivaldi only said mass as a priest a few times. He appears to have withdrawn from priestly duties, but he remained a priest.
At the ''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. While Vivaldi is most famous as a composer, he was regarded as an exceptional technical violinist as well. The German architect Johann Friedrich Armand von Uffenbach referred to Vivaldi as "the famous composer and violinist" and said that "Vivaldi played a solo accompaniment excellently, and at the conclusion he added a free fantasy [an improvised cadenza] which absolutely astounded me, for it is hardly possible that anyone has ever played, or ever will play, in such a fashion." Vivaldi was only 25 when he started working at the Ospedale della Pietà. Over the next thirty years he composed most of his major works while working there. There were four similar institutions in Venice; their purpose was to give shelter and education to children who were abandoned or orphaned, or whose families could not support them. They were financed by funds provided by the Republic. The boys learned a trade and had to leave when they reached 15. The girls received a musical education, and the most talented stayed and became members of the Ospedale's renowned orchestra and choir.
Shortly after Vivaldi's appointment, the orphans began to gain appreciation and esteem abroad, too. Vivaldi wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for them. These sacred works, which number over 60, are varied: they included solo motets and large-scale choral works for soloists, double chorus, and orchestra. In 1704, the position of teacher of ''viola all'inglese'' was added to his duties as violin instructor.
[H.C. Robbins Landon, ''Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque'' (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), 26.] The position of ''maestro di coro'', which was at one time filled by Vivaldi, required a lot of time and work. He had to compose an oratorio or concerto at every feast and teach the orphans how to play certain instruments and theory.
His relationship with the board of directors of the Ospedale was often strained. The board had to take a vote every year on whether to keep a teacher. The vote on Vivaldi was seldom unanimous, and went 7 to 6 against him in 1709.
[Michael Talbot, ''Vivaldi'' (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1978), 48.] After a year as a freelance musician, he was recalled by the Ospedale with a unanimous vote in 1711; clearly during his year's absence the board realized the importance of his role. He became responsible for all of the musical activity of the institution when he was promoted to ''maestro di' 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, his Opus 2. A real breakthrough as a composer came with his first 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 sponsored many musicians including Alessandro Scarlatti and Handel. He was a musician himself, and Vivaldi probably met him in Venice. [Michael Talbot, ''Vivaldi'' (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1978), 54.] ''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 (RV 621) was played as part of a religious festival. The work seems to have been written in haste: the string parts are simple, the music of the first three movements is repeated 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 one of his early masterpieces.
Despite his frequent travels from 1718, the Pietà paid him to write two concerti a month for the orchestra and to rehearse with them at least five times when in Venice. The Pietà's records show that he was paid for 140 concerti between 1723 and 1733.
First edition of ''Juditha triumphans''
[[http://www.baroquemusic.org/bqxvivaldi.html Baroque Music] ''As far as his theatrical activities were concerned, the end of 1716 was a high point for Vivaldi. In November, he managed to have the Ospedale della Pietà perform his first great oratorio, Juditha Triumphans devicta Holofernis barbaric. [''sic''] This work was an allegorical description of the victory of the Venetians over the Turks in August 1716.'']
In early 18th century Venice, opera was the most popular musical entertainment. It proved most profitable for Vivaldi. There were several theaters competing for the public's attention. Vivaldi started his career as an opera composer as a sideline: his first opera, ''Ottone in villa'' (RV 729) was performed not in Venice, but at the Garzerie Theater in Vicenza in 1713. The following year, Vivaldi became the impresario of the Teatro Sant'Angelo in Venice, where his opera ''Orlando finto pazzo'' (RV 727) was performed. The work was not to the public's taste, and it closed after a couple of weeks, being replaced with a repeat of a different work already given the previous year. In 1715, he presented ''Nerone fatto Cesare'' (RV 724, now lost), with music by seven different composers, of which he was the leader. The opera contained eleven arias, and was a success. In the late season, Vivaldi planned to put on an opera composed entirely by him, ''Arsilda regina di Ponto'' (RV 700), but the state censor blocked the performance. The main character, Arsilda, falls in love with another woman, Lisea, who is pretending to be a man.
Vivaldi got the censor to accept the opera the following year, and it was a resounding success.
At this period, the ''Pietà'' commissioned several liturgical works. The most important were two oratorios. ''Moyses Deus Pharaonis'', (RV 643) is lost. The second, ''Juditha triumphans'' (RV 644), celebrates the victory of the Republic of Venice against the Turks and the recapture of the island of Corfù. Composed in 1716, it is one of his sacred masterpieces. All eleven singing parts were performed by girls of the Pietà, both the female and male roles. Many of the arias include parts for solo instruments—recorders, oboes, clarinets, violas d'amore, and mandolins—that showcased the range of talents of the girls.
Also in 1716, Vivaldi wrote and produced two more operas, ''L'incoronazione di Dario'' (RV 719) and ''La costanza trionfante degli amori e degli odi'' (RV 706). The latter was so popular that it performed two years later, re-edited and retitled ''Artabano re dei Parti'' (RV 701, now lost). It was also performed in Prague in 1732. In the following years, Vivaldi wrote several operas that were performed all over Italy.
His progressive operatic style caused him some trouble with more conservative musicians, like Benedetto Marcello, a magistrate and amateur musician who wrote a pamphlet denouncing him and his operas. The pamphlet, ''Il teatro alla moda'', attacks Vivaldi without mentioning him directly. The cover drawing shows a boat (the Sant'Angelo), on the left end of which stands a little angel wearing a priest's hat and playing the violin. The Marcello family claimed ownership of the Teatro Sant'Angelo, and a long legal battle had been fought with the management for its restitution, without success. The obscure writing under the picture mentions non-existent places and names: ''ALDIVIVA'' is an anagram of ''A. Vivaldi''.
In a letter written by Vivaldi to his patron Marchese Bentivoglio, he makes reference to his "94 operas". Only around 50 operas by Vivaldi have been discovered, and no other documentation of the remaining operas exists. Vivaldi may have exaggerated, but it is possible that he did write 94 operas. While Vivaldi certainly composed many operas in his time, he never reached the prominence of other great composers like Alessandro Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, and Baldassare Galuppi, as evidenced by his inability to keep a production running for any period of time in any major opera house.
[Karl Heller, ''Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice'' (Hong Kong: Amadeus Press, 1997), 114.] His most successful operas were ''La constanza trionfante'' and ''Farnace'' which garnered six revivals each.
Mantua and ''The Four Seasons''
Caricature by P.L.Ghezzi, Rome (1723)
In 1717 or 1718, Vivaldi was offered a new prestigious position as ''Maestro di Cappella'' of the court of the prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, governor of Mantua. He moved there for three years and produced several operas, among which was ''Tito Manlio'' (RV 738). In 1721, he was in Milan, where he presented the pastoral drama ''La Silvia'' (RV 734, 9 arias survive). He visited Milan again the following year with the oratorio ''L'adorazione delli tre re magi al bambino Gesù'' (RV 645, also lost). In 1722 he moved to Rome, where he introduced his operas' new style. The new pope Benedict XIII invited Vivaldi to play for him. In 1725, Vivaldi returned to Venice, where he produced four operas in the same year.
During this period Vivaldi wrote the ''Four Seasons'', four violin concertos depicting scenes appropriate for each season. Three of the concerti are of original conception, while the first, "Spring", borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of his contemporaneous opera "''Il Giustino''". The inspiration for the concertos was probably the countryside around Mantua. They were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties from both the hunters' and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, children ice-skating, and warming winter fires. Each concerto is associated with a sonnet, possibly by Vivaldi, describing the scenes depicted in the music. They were published as the first four concertos in a collection of twelve, ''Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione'', Opus 8, published in Amsterdam by Le Cène in 1725.
During his time in Mantua, Vivaldi became acquainted with an aspiring young singer Anna Tessieri Giro who was to become his student, protégée, and favorite prima donna. Anna, along with her older half-sister Paolina, became part of Vivaldi's entourage and regularly accompanied him on his many travels. There was speculation about the nature of Vivaldi's and Giro's relationship, but no evidence to indicate anything beyond friendship and professional collaboration. Although Vivaldi's relationship with Anna Giro was questioned, he adamantly denied any romantic relationship in a letter to his patron Bentivoglio dated November 16, 1737.
Later life and death
During the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from European nobility and royalty. The wedding cantata ''Gloria e Imeneo'' (RV 687) was written for the marriage of Louis XV. Vivaldi's Opus 9, ''La Cetra'', was dedicated to Emperor Charles VI. In 1728, Vivaldi met the emperor while he was visiting Trieste to oversee the construction of a new port. Charles admired the music of the Red Priest so much that he is said to have spoken more with the composer during their one meeting than he spoke to his ministers in over two years. He gave Vivaldi the title of knight, a gold medal and an invitation to Vienna. Vivaldi gave Charles a manuscript copy of ''La Cetra'', a set of concerti almost completely different from the set of the same title published as Opus 9. The printing was probably delayed, forcing Vivaldi to gather an improvised collection for the emperor.
Frontispiece of ''Il teatro alla moda''
Accompanied by his father, Vivaldi traveled to Vienna and Prague in 1730, where his opera ''Farnace'' (RV 711) was presented. Some of his later operas were created in collaboration with two of Italy's major writers of the time. ''L'Olimpiade'' and ''Catone in Utica'' were written by Pietro Metastasio, the major representative of the Arcadian movement and court poet in Vienna. ''La Griselda'' was rewritten by the young Carlo Goldoni from an earlier libretto by Apostolo Zeno.
Like many composers of the time, the final years of Vivaldi's life found him in financial difficulties. His compositions were no longer held in such high esteem as they once were in Venice; changing musical tastes quickly made them outmoded. In response, Vivaldi chose to sell off sizeable numbers of his manuscripts at paltry prices to finance his migration to Vienna. The reasons for Vivaldi's departure from Venice are unclear, but it seems 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 Giro. It is also likely that Vivaldi went to Vienna to stage operas, especially since he took up residence near the Kärntnertortheater. Shortly after Vivaldi's arrival in Vienna, Charles VI died, a stroke of bad luck that left the composer without royal protection or a steady source of income. Vivaldi died a pauper not long after the emperor, on the night between July 27 and 28, 1741,
[Talbot (pg.69) gives the 27th as the day of death. Formichetti (pg.194) reports that he died during the night and his death was the first registered on the next day. Heller (pg.263) states: "The composer's death is noted in the official coroner's report and in the burial account book of St. Stephen's Cathedral Parish as having occurred on 28 July 1741". But the so-called ''Totenbeschauprotokoll'' is not a reliable source, since the date can refer to when the entry was made, not to the actual time of death.] of "internal infection", in a house owned by the widow of a Viennese saddlemaker. On July 28 he was buried in a simple grave at the Hospital Burial Ground in Vienna. Vivaldi's funeral took place at St. Stephen's Cathedral, where the young Joseph Haydn was then a choir boy. The cost of his funeral included a ''Kleingeläut'' (pauper's peal of bells). He was buried next to Karlskirche, in an area now part of the site of the Technical Institute. The house Vivaldi lived in while in Vienna was torn down; the Hotel Sacher is built on part of the site. Memorial plaques have been placed at both locations as well as a Vivaldi "star" in the Viennese Musikmeile and a monument at the Rooseveltplatz.
Only three portraits of Vivaldi are known to survive: an engraving, an ink sketch and an oil painting. The engraving, by Francois Morellon La Cave, was made in 1725 and shows Vivaldi holding a sheet of music. The ink sketch was done by Ghezzi in 1723 and shows only Vivaldi's head and shoulders in profile. The oil painting found in the Liceo Musicale of Bologna gives us possibly the most accurate picture and shows Vivaldi's red hair under his blond wig.
Style and influence