Antonio Vivaldi


Born: March 4th, 1678 in Venice, Italy
Died: July 28th, 1741 (at age 63) in Vienna, Austria
Nationality: Italian
Fields: Baroque violin and instrumental concertos
Famous For: “The Four Seasons” violin concertos
Awards: Kighted, given a gold medal and invited to play for royalty

Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian composer during the Baroque period. He is especially renowned for his set of violin concertos, “The Four Seasons,” which have become popular all over the world. Vivaldi also wrote around 40 operas as well as a considerable quantity of church music. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he was famous in his own lifetime, with his ideas of pattern and form influencing many other composers. He was instantly recognizable due to his red hair, which gave him the nickname “The Red Priest.”

Early Life

Vivaldi was born in Venice on March 4th, 1678. His father played the violin for a living, and taught the young Antonio. He also introduced him to several prominent Venetian composers. Antonio’s violin playing developed well, although he was frequently short of breath and this prevented his becoming proficient at playing wind instruments. Feeling a calling to the religious life, when he was 15 he began training for the priesthood. He was eventually ordained in 1703, although his career was short as poor health meant that he was unable to perform mass.

Musical Works

Vivaldi became violin master at Venice’s Devout Hospital of Mercy orphanage when he was 25. He remained in the post for 30 years, during which time he wrote the majority of his great works. The orphanage maintained an orchestra, which was made up of the most musically talented girls as boys were sent to learn trades instead. Vivaldi proved to be an excellent leader of the orchestra, and it quickly achieved recognition across Europe. In return for his work in the role, he was given a promotion in 1716, becoming the institution’s director of music.

By this time, Vivaldi was well known for his concertos and choral works, but he then expanded his repertoire to include scores for operas. He wrote at least 40 of these; the exact number is not certain because some may have been lost during the composer’s period of obscurity in the 19th century. Nevertheless, some of these works proved to be very popular at the time. Indeed, two of his best known pieces – “Farnace” and “La constanza trionfante” – were frequently revived, and were performed on a large number of occasions.

The Four Seasons

While continuing with his work at the hospital, Vivaldi also accepted positions supplied by patrons in Rome and Mantua. These were generally given on a short-term basis, and included a four-year spell in Mantua starting in 1717. While he was there, he wrote the concertos which are now considered to make up his masterpiece: The Four Seasons. Each of the pieces represents a season of the year, with the story of the passing year told in a dramatic, string-heavy style. Each season is paired with a sonnet; some musicologists believe that it is likely that Vivaldi wrote the sonnets as well.

Vivaldi was patronized by several royal households; he wrote a cantata celebrating the marriage of King Louis XV of France. However, his music lost popularity as the composer entered old age, being considered old-fashioned by many. Vivaldi traveled to Austria, it is thought to look for a post in the royal court. When Charles VI died, however, he was left without a powerful patron and quickly became poverty-stricken. After his death in July, 1741, no music was played at his funeral service. Vivaldi was then almost forgotten until the modern era, though since World War II he has reclaimed his position as one of the most popular composers of all time.