Monday, March 4, 8678

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678, Venice - July 28, 1741) was baptized immediately at his home by the midwife. It is not known how the life of the infant was in danger, but the immediate baptism was most likely due to his poor health or to an earthquake that shook the city that day. Vivaldi's official church baptism (at least, the rites that 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 and then toured Venice playing the violin with his young son. Giovanni Battista was one of the founders of the Sovvegno dei musicisti di Santa Cecilia, a sort of trade union for musicians and composers. The president of the association was Giovanni Legrenzi, the maestro di cappella at St. Mark's Basilica and noted early Baroque composer. It is possible that the young Antonio's first lessons in composition were imparted by him. The Luxembourg scholar Walter Kolneder sees in the early liturgical work Laetatus sum (RV Anh 31, written in 1691 at the age of 13) the influence of Legrenzi's style. His father may have been a composer himself: in 1688, 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" for "Red", because of the colour of his hair, a family trait).

Vivaldi had a medical problem that 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, or taking part in many musical activities. However, he could not play wind instruments due to his lack of breath. At the age of 15 (1693), he began studying to become a priest. In 1703, at the age of 25, Vivaldi was ordained a priest and was soon nicknamed il Prete Rosso, "The Red Priest," probably because of his red hair.

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.

There were four such institutions in Venice; their purpose was to give shelter and education to children who were abandoned, 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 at age 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 his appointment, the orphans began to gain appreciation and esteem abroad, too; Vivaldi wrote most of his concertos, cantatas, and sacred music for them. In 1704, the position of teacher of viola all'inglese was added to his duties as violin instructor.

Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given a reprieve from celebrating the Holy Mass because of his ill health. From that point onward, he appears to have withdrawn from active practice, but did remain a priest.

In 1705, the first collection (Raccolta) of his works was published: his Opus 1 is a collection of 12 sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, still in a conventional style.

In 1709, a second collection of 12 sonatas for violin & basso continuo appeared (Opus 2).

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 in that same year, he lost his job after a seven-to-six vote.


Gloria (1709): I. Gloria

Vivaldi wrote several settings of the Gloria. RV 589 is the most familiar and popular piece of sacred music by Vivaldi; however, he was known to have written at least three Gloria settings. Only two survive (RV 588 and RV 589) while the other (RV 590) is presumably lost and is only mentioned in the Kreuzherren catalogue.

RV 589 is the better known setting of the Gloria, simply known as "the Vivaldi Gloria" due to its outstanding popularity.

RV 589 is more mature and original than its predecessor, however evidence of obvious inspiration (and borrowings) still exist. The first movement's chorus shares similar key modulations to that of the first movement of RV 588, only modified to fit a 4/4 meter instead of the 3/4 meter of RV 588; the orchestral motifs are also shared, including octaval jumps in the primal motives of the piece. The second movement is much more dramatic in RV 589, but nevertheless shares with RV Anh. 23 in that the second movement of both employ the use of incessant and repetitious moving figures behind chord progressions in the chorus. The "Qui Tollis" movement of RV 589 is rhythmically similar to the first few measures of RV 588 (and ultimately RV Anh. 23). The last movement, "Cum Sancto Spiritu," is essentially an "upgraded" version of Ruggieri's original movement -- that is to say, updated to fit the standards of the emerging classical style, with the addition of accidentals that were missing in RV Anh. 23 and RV 588.

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Chorus)
Et in terra pax (Chorus)
Laudamus te (Sopranos I and II)
Gratias agimus tibi (Chorus)
Propter magnam gloriam (Chorus)
Domine Deus (Soprano)
Domine, Fili unigenite (Chorus)
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei (Contralto and Chorus)
Qui tollis peccata mundi (Chorus)
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (Contralto)
Quoniam tu solus sanctus (Chorus)
Cum Sancto Spiritu (Chorus)

The Glorias remained in a relatively unknown status, until RV 589's revival by Alfredo Casella during Vivaldi Week in

Siena (1939), along with the composer's setting of the Stabat Mater (RV 621). RV 589 enjoys well-founded popularity, performed at many sacred events, including Christmas. It has been recorded on almost one hundred CDs, sometimes paired with Bach's Magnificat (BWV 243), Vivaldi's own Magnificat settings (RV 610-611), or Vivaldi's Beatus Vir (RV 597). RV 588, however, has had little success and has only been published in few albums.

As with many other pieces of the Baroque era, RV 589 (and its lesser known companion RV 588) have been performed in historically-performed instrumentation, even with the use of an all-female choir to simulate choral conditions at the Pietà.


After a year as a freelance musician, he was recalled by the Ospedale with a unanimous vote in 1711; clearly the board had realized the importance of his role by then.

In February of that year, Vivaldi and his father went to Brescia, where his setting of the Stabat Mater (RV 621) was played as part of a religious festival. The work reveals musical and emotional depth and is one of Vivaldi's early masterpieces.

A stylistic breakthrough 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, and was a resounding success all over Europe,

Concerto Grosso in A Minor
(L'Estro Armonico) (The Harmonic Whim)

In 1713, he became responsible for the musical activity of the institute.

In the Venice of the early 18th Century, opera was the most popular musical entertainment and the most profitable for the composer. There were several theaters competing for the public attention. Vivaldi started his career as opera writer in undertone: his first opera, Ottone in villa (RV 729) was performed not in Venice, but at the Garzerie theater in Vicenza in that year.

In 1714, Vivaldi made the jump to Venice and became the impresario of the theater Sant'Angelo in Venice, where his opera Orlando finto pazzo (RV 727) was performed. However, the work did not meet the public's taste, and Vivaldi had to close it after a couple of weeks and replace it with a rerun of a different work already given the previous year.

This period also saw the publication of La stravaganza (Opus 4), a collection of concerti for solo violin and strings.

In 1715, he presented Nerone fatto Cesare (RV 724, lost), with music by seven different composers, of which he was the leader, with eleven arias. This time it was a success, and in the late season, Vivaldi planned to give an opera completely of his own hand, Arsilda regina di Ponto (RV 700). However, the state censor blocked the performance, objecting to the plot: the main character, Arsilda, falls in love with another woman, Lisea, who is pretending to be a man.

Vivaldi managed to get the opera through censorship the following year, and it was eventually performed to a resounding success.

In this same period of time, the Pietà commissioned several liturgical works. The most important were two oratorios. The first, Moyses Deus Pharaonis, (RV 643) is lost. The second, Juditha triumphans (RV 644), composed in 1716, is one of his sacred masterpieces.

It was commissioned to celebrate the victory of the Republic of Venice against the Turks and the recapture of the island of Corfù. All eleven singing parts were performed by girls of the Pietà, both for the female and male characters. Many of the arias included parts by solo instruments -- recorders, oboes, clarinets, violas d'amore, and mandolins -- that showcased the range of talents of the girls.

In the same year, Vivaldi wrote and produced two more operas, L'incoronazione di Dario (RV 719) and La costanza trionfante degli amori e degli odi (RV 706).

Vivaldi was promoted to maestro de' concerti at this time.


Opus 5, (second part of Opus 2), four sonatas for violin and two sonatas for two violins and basso continuo (1716).

Opus 6, six violin concerti (1716–21)

Opus 7, two oboe concerti and 10 violin concerti (1716–1717)


La costanza was so popular that it was re-edited and titled in 1718 as Artabano re dei Parti (RV 701, lost)

In 1718, Vivaldi began to travel. Despite his frequent travels, 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.

About this time, Vivaldi was offered a new prestigious position as Maestro di Cappella of the court of the prince Phillip 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, presenting the pastoral drama La Silvia (RV 734, lost) and again the next year with the oratorio L'adorazione delli tre re magi al bambino Gesù (RV 645, also lost). The next big step was a move to Rome in 1722, where his operas introduced the new style and where the new pope Benedict XIII invited Vivaldi to play for him.

Meanwhile, the Pietà's records show that he was paid for 140 concerti between 1723 and 1733.

In 1725, Vivaldi returned to Venice, where he produced four operas in the same year.

The Seasons (1725): Spring: I

It is also in this period that he wrote the Four Seasons, four violin concertos depicting natural scenes in music. While three of the concerti are of original conception, the first, "Spring", borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of his opera Il Giustino, composed at the same time as The Four Seasons. The inspiration for them 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 characterised), barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties (both from the hunter's and the prey's point of view), frozen landscapes, children ice-skating, and burning fires. Each concerto was associated with a sonnet of Vivaldi's hand, describing the scenes depicted in the music. They were published as the first four of a collection of twelve, Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention), his Opus 8, published in Amsterdam by Le Cène in 1725.


Mandolin Concerto in D: 2 Largo (arr. Pujol ed. Isbin): 2 Largo (1725) (Guitar)


During his time in Mantua, Vivaldi became acquainted with two natives of that city: Paolina Trevisana and her younger half-sister, Anna Giro. Paolina appears to have become his personal assistant, and Anna Giro was to become his student, protégée, and favorite prima donna. Both ladies left Mantua to live with him in Venice and remained close with him to the end of his life. There was some speculation about the nature of his relationship with the two ladies, but never hard evidence to indicate anything beyond friendship and professional collaboration.


Opus 9, La Cetra (The Lyre), twelve violin concerti and one for two violins (1727)

Opus 10, six flute concertos (c. 1728)

Piccolo Concerto No. 1: 1 Allegro (1728)


At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from European nobles and royalty.

The wedding cantata Gloria e Imeneo (RV 687) was written for the marriage of Louis XV. Opus 9, La Cetra, was dedicated to Emperor Charles VI. In 1728, Vivaldi had the chance to meet the Emperor in person when he came to 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 in that occasion than with his ministers in two years. He gave him the title of knight, a gold medal, and an invitation to come to Vienna. On his part, Vivaldi gave Charles a manuscript copy of La Cetra; this is a set of concerti almost completely different from the one published with the same title as Opus 9. Probably the printing had been delayed and Vivaldi was forced to gather an improvised collection.


Opus 11, five violin concerti, one oboe concerto, the second in E minor, RV 277, being known as "Il favorito" (1729)

Opus 12, five violin concerti and one without solo (1729)


In 1730, accompanied by his father, he traveled to Vienna and Prague, where his opera Farnace (RV 711) was presented. Some late operas marked the 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.

Artabano was eventually performed in Prague in 1732. In the following years, Vivaldi wrote several operas that were performed all over Italy.

His modern operatic style caused him some trouble with other more conservative musicians, like Benedetto Marcello, a magistrate and amateur musician who wrote a pamphlet denouncing him and the modern style of opera. The pamphlet is called Il teatro alla moda, and its cover has a caricature of Vivaldi playing the violin. The Marcello family was the rightful owner of the Sant'Angelo theater, and a long legal battle had been fought with the management for its restitution, without success. The booklet 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. It is a caricature of Vivaldi. The obscure writing under the picture mentions nonexistent places and names. In particular, ALDIVIVA is an anagram of A. Vivaldi.


Opus 13, Il pastor fido (The Faithful Shepherd), six sonatas for musette, viela, recorder, flute, oboe or violin, and basso continuo (1737, spurious works by Nicolas Chédeville).


Vivaldi's life, like those of many composers of the time, ended in financial difficulties. 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. The reasons for Vivaldi's departure from Venice are unclear, but it seems likely that he wished to meet Charles VI, who appreciated his compositions (Vivaldi had even dedicated La Cetra to Charles in 1727), and take up the position of a composer in the Imperial Court. It is ever more likely that Vivaldi went to Vienna to stage operas, especially as his place of residence was near the Kärntnertortheater. 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 eventually died not long after, on the night of July 27-28, 1741, 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 (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). Contrary to popular assumptions, no evidence exists regarding Vivaldi's having been buried as a pauper.

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. In part of its place there is 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 Rooseveltplatz.

Many of Vivaldi's compositions reflect a flamboyant, almost playful, exuberance. Most of Vivaldi's 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 innovative melodies and themes. Moreover, Vivaldi was able to compose nonacademic 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 Johannes Passion, Matthäuspassion, and cantatas). Bach transcribed a number of Vivaldi's concerti for solo keyboard, along with a number for orchestra, including the famous Concerto for Four Violins and Violoncello, Strings, and Continuo (RV 580).

Vivaldi remained unknown for his published concerti, and largely ignored, even after the resurgence of interest in Bach, pioneered by Mendelssohn. Even his most famous. work, The Four Seasons, was unknown in its original edition. In the early 20th century, Fritz Kreisler's concerto in the style of Vivaldi, which he passed off as an original Vivaldi work, helped revive Vivaldi's reputation. This impelled the French scholar Marc Pincherle to begin academic work on Vivaldi's oeuvre. The discovery of many Vivaldi manuscripts and their acquisition by the National University of Turin Library (with the generous sponsorship of Roberto Foa and Filippo Giordano, in memory of their sons, respectively, Mauro and Renzo) led to renewed interest in Vivaldi. People such as Marc Pincherle, Mario Rinaldi, Alfredo Casella, Ezra Pound, Olga Rudge, Arturo Toscanini, and Louis Kaufman were instrumental in the Vivaldi revival of the 20th century. 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 (RV 589) and l'Olimpiade were first heard again. Since World War II, Vivaldi's compositions have enjoyed almost universal success, and the advent of historically informed performances has only increased his fame. In 1947, the Venetian businessman Antonio Fanna founded the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, with the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero as its artistic director, having the purpose of promoting Vivaldi's music and publishing new editions of his works.

A movie titled Vivaldi, a Prince in Venice was completed in 2005 as an Italian-French coproduction under the direction of Jean-Louis Guillermou, featuring Stefano Dionisi in the title role and Michel Serrault as the bishop of Venice. Another film inspired by the life of the composer was in a preproduction state for several years and has the working title Vivaldi. Filming was scheduled to begin in 2007, but was canceled and tentatively rescheduled for 2008.

His compositions include:

Over 500 concerti; approximately 350 of these are for solo instrument and strings, and of these about 230 are for violin; the others are for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d'amore, recorder, lute, and mandolin. Approximately 40 concerti are for two instruments and strings, and approximately 30 are for three or more instruments and strings.

46 operas


73 sonatas

chamber music (even if some sonatas for flute, as Il Pastor Fido, have been erroneously attributed to him, but were composed by Chédeville).

sacred music

His most famous work is 1725's Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons). In essence, it resembled an early example of a tone poem, where he attempted to capture all the moods of the four seasons without the use of percussion to dramatize the effects he sought to portray.

“ The fate of the Italian composer's legacy is unique. After the Napoleonic wars, it was thought that a large part of Vivaldi's work had been irrevocably lost. However, in the autumn of 1926, after a detectivelike search by researchers, 14 folios of Vivaldi's previously unknown religious and secular works were found in the library of a monastery in Piedmont. Some even- and odd-numbered volumes were missing, and so the search continued. Finally, in October 1930, the missing volumes were found to be with the descendants of the Grand Duke Durazzo, who had acquired the property as early as the eighteenth century.

To its amazement, the world of music was presented with 300 concerts for various instruments and 18 operas, not counting a number of arias and more than 100 vocal-instrumental pieces. Such an impressive list of newly unearthed opuses warranted a re-evaluation of Vivaldi's creativity.”

Recently, four sacred vocal works by Vivaldi have been discovered in the Saxon State Library in Dresden. These compositions were improperly attributed to Baldassare Galuppi, a Venetian composer of the early classical period, mostly famous for his choral works.

In the 1750's or 1760's, 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 off as 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 analyzing 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 eight movements) and Dixit Dominus (RV 807, in 11 movements), identified in 2003 and 2005, respectively, by the Australian scholar Janice Stockigt.

Vivaldi's opera Argippo (RV 697) premiered in the Palace of Count Spork, Prague in 1730. The libretto was preserved but the music was presumed to have been lost until portions of it (over two thirds) was discovered in the private archive of the Thurn und Taxis house in Regensburg, in 2006 by harpsichordist and conductor Ondřej Macek.

Further Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
J.F.A. von Uffenbach
A Traveler's Impression of Vivaldi (Pages 235-236)

[8681 Telemann / 8678 Vivaldi / 8674 Jeremiah Clarke]