Antonio Vivaldi

1678 - 1741

Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was one of the most original and influential composers of his generation. He is thought to be the one who laid the foundation for the culmination of the Baroque concerto as well as a pioneer of orchestral program music. Vivaldi’s musical language is distinctive containing many occurrences of Lombardic rhythms (a repetitive pattern where a short note is followed by a long note) and a preference toward syncopation. He was extremely flexible in his use of the flexible sixth and seventh degrees of the minor scale, often embracing the augmented second as a melodic feature even in ascending lines. Vivaldi blurs the lines between modes, composing in a musical “grey” area, builds upon cadential fragments, and often composed with instruments in contradiction of one another. Vivaldi, while very idiosyncratic and defiant in his compositions, still managed to gain a wide fan base during his life.

Born in 1678, the eldest of nine children, Antonio Vivaldi was the son of a violinist trained as a barber. While the life of Vivaldi’s father is pieced together from his name appearing in documents around Venice, it is believed that he became an accomplished violinist, had composed an opera, and even had his hand in the management and production of some Venetian operas. Between 1693 and 1703, Vivaldi was trained for the priesthood at the local churches of St Geminiano and St Giovanni in Oleo while continuing to live with his family in the parish of St Martino. It is believed that Vivaldi received his first instructions in music from his father and his earliest public performances were as a violinist in Christmas services at St Marco in 1696.

In 1703, Vivaldi obtained his first official post becoming the maestro di violino at the Pio Ospedale della Pieta in Venice- an establishment dedicated to the musical training of orphaned, abandoned and indigent children which specialized in the training of girls who demonstrated musical promise. The concerts at Pieta were a focal point in the Venetian social calendar drawing many members of nobility as well as travelers. His duties quickly expanded to involve the maintenance and acquisition of instruments, composing new works for the students to perform, as well as teaching many other instruments beyond the violin. His tenure at Pieta was cut short, however, as his position was eliminated because of the economy of the time. During his lifetime, however, no other violin teacher was ever hired. Some believe that his capacity as teacher created a redundancy as his students became so accomplished and capable that they, instead, became the teachers of the younger musicians during their time at Pieta. Vivaldi did return to Pieta in 1711 and in 1716 he was appointed maestro de’concerti in 1716. The most elaborate work Vivaldi composed for Pieta was the oratorio Juditha triumphans.

Vivaldi began seeking recognition as a composer and travelling lightly in 1718. During his travels he met Anna Giró who became his vocal student and a member of his entourage. While Anna was not the most outstanding and accomplished singer (she considered her voice weak), she was accomplished as an actress. Vivaldi, aware of his pupil’s vocal limitations, had adjustments made to the original libretto for Griselda after much insistence to Goldoni. His compositional output grew and, from 1729 to 1733, Vivaldi travelled extensively- particularly because he preferred to oversee the productions of his new operas. During this time, Vivaldi continued to compose for Pieta, composing at least two concertos a month for them as well as keeping up with his duties as a director for them.

Vivaldi was inflicted with illness his entire life. Believed to be bronchial asthma, Vivaldi travelled with a large, and often expensive, entourage to aid in his physical limitations. During the final year of his life, Vivaldi resided in Vienna because he lacked the funds to return to Venice. He died in 1741 and his final opera, L’oracolo in Messenia was produced the following year. Vivaldi was prone to exaggeration (especially concerning his own talent, works and patrons), was vane, and was extremely sensitive to any sort of criticism (as evident in some of his dedications)

With an extremely diverse catalogue, Vivaldi is credited with the composition of over five hundred concertos; ninety sonatas; vocal pieces including numerous motets, cantatas, serenatas, and twenty-one surviving operas; sacred works including masses, psalms, and vespers; and, over the years, has had many works incorrectly attributed to him.