Vivaldi, the most influential Italian composer of his generation, laid the foundation for the mature Baroque concerto and, in his orchestral writing, made possible the later development of the symphony. His instrumental music prompted considerable advances to violin technique and, in his use of pictorialism in music, he anticipated the prevalent use of extra-musical programmes by the Romantics.
The son of a professional violinist, with whom he almost certainly collaborated later in life, Antonio Vivaldi was born on 4 March 1678 in Venice. He suffered at birth from bronchial asthma, a condition that afflicted him throughout life. Although taught the violin by his father, he trained for the priesthood and was ordained on 23 March 1708, though he ceased to say Mass from 1706.
By September 1703 the 'Red Priest' (so-called for his red hair) had been given his first musical appointment, as maestro di violino at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an institution for the care of orphaned children that specialised in the musical training of girls. The concerts at the Pietà occupied a prominent place on the social calendar of the Venetian nobility and Vivaldi continued to supply music for the institution for the rest of his life, though not always with an official position.
When the Pietà's musical director, Francesco Gasparini took a leave of absence due to ill health in 1713, Vivaldi was also given the opportunity to write sacred music. Over the course of his career, he continued to write a great deal of vocal music, including secular cantatas, serenatas, and a D major Gloria that has become particularly popular.
Seeking recognition as a composer, Vivaldi had many of his instrumental works for the Pietà published, including in 1711 one of the most influential publications of the century, a set of 12 concertos known as L'estro armonico op.3. These were published in Amsterdam and spread Vivaldi's fame and influence throughout northern Europe.
In addition to his instrumental works, during the 1710s, Vivaldi established himself in the sphere of opera, working as a composer and impresario with the Venetian theatres of S Angelo and later, S Moisè. He travelled widely, to Mantua and Rome, ruling out any teaching post at the Pietà, though in 1723 he was asked to supply the Pietà orchestra with two concertos a month, giving him a regular income for six years.
He returned to S Angelo as an opera composer between 1726-8 and continued to publish collections of instrumental music; Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione op.8, a collection that includes the famous four seasons concertos, had appeared by 1725. However, by 1733, Vivaldi chose not to publish any more music as it inhibited the more profitable trade in his manuscript copies.
Further years of travel, to Prague and possibly Vienna, and a transfer of his operatic activity to the smaller mainland centres occurred in the early 1730s. In 1735, Vivaldi was reinstated at the Pietà as maestro di cappella, but his frequent travels prevented him occupying the post beyond 1738.
In 1740, with his popularity low with the Venetian public, he left for Vienna to produce a number of operas. The death of Charles VI had, however, closed the theatres and Vivaldi had to sell a number of concertos to pay his way. Either too ill or too poor to return to Venice, he died on 27 or 28 July 1741 and was buried in a pauper's grave.
Notoriously vain and boastful in life (he claimed he could compose a concerto in all its parts faster than it could be copied), Vivaldi's reputation was based more on his abilities as a violinist than those as a composer. Yet his influence spread far and wide throughout Europe, prompting established composers like Albinoni and Dall'Abaco to modify their style in accordance with his.
However, his place in the historical development of the concerto, of which he wrote some 500 examples, was not recognised until the 20th century. In being the first composer to use ritornello form regularly and promote the three-movement form of the concerto, he now occupies a prominent position in the history of the Baroque period.
- MIDI FILE - Concerto for two lutes (3'54'')
- MIDI FILE - From "The Four Season": La Primavera (10'20'')