Antonio Lucio Vivaldi
The author of hundreds of energetic, effusive instrumental works, Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is highly distinguished as the master of the Baroque instrumental concerto, which he meticulously perfected and popularized more than any of his contemporaries.
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in March 4, 1678. His father, Giovanni Battista, a professional violinist and one of the founders of Sovvegno Dei Musicisti di Santa Cecilia, taught him to play violin. At age 25, Vivaldi was ordained a priest and was nicknamed Il Prete Rosso or the Red Priest because of his red hair. Not long after, he was given a dispensation from celebrating the Holy mass due to bronchial asthma and later on withdrew from active priesthood(Heller 34).
Vivaldi wrote many fine and memorable concertos including five-finger exercises for students. He was employed for most of his working life by the Ospedale della Pietà. Often termed an “orphanage”, “this Ospedale was in fact a home for the female offspring of noblemen and their numerous dalliances with their mistresses”(Heller 42). The Ospedale was thus well endowed; its furnishings bordered on the opulent, the young ladies were well looked-after, and the musical standards among the highest in Venice.
In 1716, Vivaldi wrote two operas, “L’incoronazione di Dario and La costanza trionfante degli amori e degli odi”(Talbot 27) . The latter was so popular that it was re-edited and represented two years later with the title Artabano re dei Parti; and was eventually performed in Prague in 1732. In the subsequent years, Vivaldi composed numerous operas that were performed all over Italy.
In 1718, Antonio Vivaldi toured to Mantua with his new opera, Armida al campo d’Egitto, where he settled until 1720. He composed several operas, cantatas, and serenatas for the Mantuan court. Antonio Vivaldi was given the title maestro di cappella da camera by the Governor. In 1722, he traveled to Rome where he performed for the new Pope Benedict XIII and composed and performed new operas. It is also in this period where he wrote one of his famous groups of concertos, the Four Seasons. “It is a four violin concertos depicting natural scenes in music”(Britannica). Each concerto signifies a different season, where Vivaldi uses his creativity to take the droning sounds of every day life (the barking of a dog, the buzzing of flies), along with more dramatic sounds (a violent spring storm), and represent them in purely musical language that stands on its own merit.
Between 1725 and 1728 some eight operas were premiered in Venice and Florence. Abbot Conti wrote of his contemporary, Vivaldi: “In less than three months Vivaldi has composed three operas, two for Venice and a third for Florence; the last has given something of a boost to the name of the theater of that city and he has earned a great deal of money.”(Whiting 67)
In the second half of the 18th century appeared some remarkable adaptations of the Spring concerto. “Spring”(Whiting 51)was a firm favorite of King Louis XV, who would order it to be performed at the most unexpected moments, and Vivaldi received various commissions for further compositions from the court at Versailles.
In 1730 Vivaldi, his father, and Anna Giraud traveled to Prague. In this music-loving city Vivaldi met a Venetian opera company which between 1724 and 1734 staged some sixty operas in the theater of Count Franz Anton von Sporck. In the 1730-1731 season, two new operas by Vivaldi were premiered there after the previous season had closed with his opera Farnace, a work the composer often used as his showpiece.
At the end of 1731 Vivaldi returned to Venice, but at the beginning of 1732 he left again for Mantua and Verona. In Mantua, “Vivaldi’s opera Semimmide was performed and in Verona, on the occasion of the opening of the new Teatro Filarmonico, La fida Ninfa, with a libretto by the Veronese poet and man of letters, Scipione Maffei, was staged”(Whiting 56).
After his stay in Prague, Vivaldi concentrated mainly on operas. No further collections of instrumental music were published. However Vivaldi continued to write instrumental music, although it was only to sell the manuscripts to private persons or to the Ospedale della Pietà, which after 1735 paid him a fixed honorarium of 100 ducats a year.
In 1738 Vivaldi was in Amsterdam where he conducted a festive opening concert for the 100th Anniversary of the Schouwburg Theater. Returning to Venice, which was at that time suffering a severe economic downturn, he resigned from the Ospedale in 1740, planning to move to Vienna under the patronage of his admirer Charles VI. His stay in Vienna was to be shortlived however, for he died on July 28th 1741 “of internal fire”(Heller 82) and fifty years later, received a modest burial. Anna Giraud returned to Venice, where she died in 1750.
Vivaldi’s Gloria has not been dated. It is most likely to have been written for the girls at the conservatory, given the fact that it has four female solos. The Gloria, “a joyful hymn of praise and worship”(Heller 71), is part of the Roman Catholic Mass. Its opening phrases have their origins in the song the angels sang to shepherds which was recorded in St. Luke’s account of Christ’s birth. Vivaldi’s setting is for four part chorus and orchestra with three soloists, two soprano and one alto, though it is customarily performed with only two soloists. It is divided into twelve contrasted movements, each characterized by its own mood and musical texture, yet still managing to conserve a sense of formal coherence. Between 1713 and 1719, Vivaldi supplied the Ospedale della Pietà with sacred music, and this setting of the Gloria, one of two which he composed in D major, is probably among the earliest of his works. It is divided into twelve comparatively “brief movements contrasting in mood, musical texture, and instrumental and vocal color, yet still rational in overall musical composition”(72).
Talbot, Michael. Vivaldi: Master Musician. Everyman Ltd., 1978.
Whiting, Jim. The Life and Times of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2004.
Heller, Karl. Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice. Amadeus Press(Reprint edition), 2003.
Antonio Vivaldi. www.britannica.com/eb/article-9075589/Antonio-Vivaldi. 13 December 2006.