Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

He is recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread across Europe. He is known mainly for composing many instrumental concertos, for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as sacred choral works and more than forty operas. His best known work is a series of violin concertos known as “The Four Seasons”.

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi is the most prominent representative of the Venetian Baroque music. He was born in Venice, following the marriage of Giovanni Battista Vivaldi and Camilla Calicchio. Since childhood, little Antonio was suffering from a disease of the chest, which he called later in a letter: “pinching chest” pain that would follow him throughout his life, forcing him to live longer close to his apartment and to go out usually in the gondola or a carriage. These things would be felt in his work aswell.

Endowed since a little child with an inclination to contemplate beautiful sounds, the talented Antonio will be highlighted by his father, also a violin virtuoso. It seems that his father was the only violin teacher who managed to make the future master exceed his limits. Under the influence of his father, Vivaldi began to learn the little mysteries of music and started to approach more and more to his first love: the violin. In his early childhood, Venice lived the emotions of the Ottoman army presence even at its gate, the Vizier Mustafa II had surrounded the city and surely he would have won if the Polish king, John Sobiesky hadn’t promptly intervened. Mobilizing its last resources and delegating the leadership in battle to Francesco Morosini, Venice defeated the Turks in several naval battles and regained much of the lost territory in the Peloponnese.

Studying in parallel both music and theology, Antonio Vivaldi has progressed on both fronts, the artistic creation and the service at the holy altar becoming nearly “conjugal”. Thus, on 18 September 1693, the young theologian submitted a vow of chastity, the first event in his life that was later recorded in a register. A few days later, he was given the minor orders and on 4 April 1699 he was ordained subdeacon. Meanwhile, Vivaldi learned to play the organ, also composing his first musical works. On 23 March 1703, Vivaldi received the sacrament, proving to be a fully formed musician, having various works in a manuscript, which soon enough saw the light of day.

Vivaldi complained to his patron, the Marquis Guido Bentivoglio, in a letter where he substantiated his indignation: “There are twenty-five years since I hadn’t serve at the altar and I will not serve anymore, not because I was banned, as your eminence can inform itself, but because of my own decision, following the fact that I suffer since I was born from a disease that makes my breathing process difficult. As soon as I was made a priest, I officiated for a year or something more; then I stopped again because this suffering forced me to leave the altar three times without having finished the service. This is the reason why I don’t serve at the altar anymore. I was in three seasons at the carnival in Rome, for the opera, as Your Excellency knows, and I have never served; I played the violin in the theater and it is well known that even His Holiness wanted to listen to me and how much he thanked me. I was called to Vienna and even there I haven’t served. In Mantova, I have been three times in the service of the Prince of Darmstadt and I haven’t served.” Antonio Vivaldi remained known to the Venetians as the „red priest”.

The figure of the great master della Pieta became almost a symbol for the inhabitants of Venice. About his ascension, the abbey Conti said: “Vivaldi made three works in less than three months, two for Venice and the third for Florence; the last one saved the theater of this city from its financial condition and brought him a lot of money.” It is the famous Teatro degli Immobili, which was saved for the second time from the financial crisis in which it seemed that this time it will not survive, by the works composed by Vivaldi. It took just one artwork with beautiful music, well presented and sung by good singers, even if they were not of the highest order to restore the theater’s monetary status and release him from the most urgent needs. Vivaldi’s successful show was fantastic, the rooms were always overcrowded and the tickets were sold out weeks before.

Animated by the same sentiments and having a similar conception of life, poet Metastasio published in 1719 a canzonet entitled “Spring” and five years later, he wrote “Summer”. These songs with idyllic lyrics, animated by a conglomerate of suggestive feelings, succeeded each other regularly. Under the influence of these marvelous pieces, Vivaldi decided to compose music in which he would describe the four seasons, forming a creation that the elite Venetian audience, finally deemed as fashionable. Through his “Seasons”, Antonio Vivaldi remains even nowadays one of the most listene and beloved composers of the Venetian baroque.

Vivaldi’s music was innovative. He brightened the formal and rhythmic structure of the concerto, in which he looked for harmonic contrasts and innovative melodies and themes. Many of his compositions are flamboyantly, almost playfully, exuberant. Johann Sebastian Bach was deeply influenced by Vivaldi’s concertos and arias (recalled in his Saint John Passion, Saint Matthew Passion, and cantatas). Bach transcribed six of Vivaldi’s concerti for solo keyboard, three for organ, and one for four harpsichords, strings, and basso continuo based upon the concerto for four violins, two violas, cello, and basso continuo.

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