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The Italian Composer, Antonio Vivaldi's Works and Life

Antonio Vivaldi: Overview

  • Born: March 4, 1678 - Venice
  • Died: July 28, 1741 - Vienna 
  • Historical Period: Baroque 
  • Musical Media: orchestra, chamber music, opera, songs, choral, violin

Composer Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi, one of the masters of the Baroque musical era, was an Italian, who was born in Venice in 1678. Leading a life of musical realization, whereupon he composed a number of inventive tunes and pieces, the virtuoso breathed his last in 1741. He left behind an everlasting body of work that not only inspired contemporaries but still impresses today. 

Antonio Vivaldi: The Priest Who Embraced Music

As one of the foremost musical personalities of his time, Vivaldi was initially ordained to be a priest in 1703. But he found his inner calling in music and recognized that as both his passion and career. With every work, his admirers and enthusiasts increased and they regarded him as a master of both form and pattern. His operas Argippo (1730) and Bajazet (1735) are some of the most respected pieces of his time. It can be safely assumed that his musical genesis began under his father, Giovanni Battista, a violinist at the orchestra of Venice’s San Marco Basilica. 

Vivaldi was nicknamed Il Prete Rosso due to his rich volume of red hair, and he joined the San Marco Basilica himself, as a violinist in 1696. His immense talents with the instrument deservedly saw him become the violin master at the convent, Ospedale della Pietà in 1703. The following years, he remained busy with the publication of his trio sonatas in 1705 and the violin sonatas in 1709. Going forward, in 1711, Vivaldi was responsible for the L'estro armonico, Op. III, which was a collection of 12 concerti for violin and string. He got to make the acquaintance of both Domenico Scarlatti and George Frideric Handel in Venice. In 1716, he was made the Maestro De' Concerti in Ospedale della Pietà, and wrote Juditha Triumphans, an oratorio, that same year. 

La costanza trionfante degl'amori e de gl'odii (1716) was and still is one of Vivaldi’s most recognizable work and has been widely performed. Additionally, Opuses IV, V, VI, and VII were composed during the 1712-1717 period and were sets of concerti or sonatas. Subsequent to this, he finished his ultimate masterpiece, The Four Seasons or Le quattro stagioni, in 1721. Published in 1725, in Amsterdam, this piece amply demonstrates the master’s skill with musical composition, along with an uncanny skill of predicting the Romantic musical style. The publication took place along with Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, which is a collection of eight violin concerti, in addition to The Four Seasons. This is a perfect example of a program music, a compositional style complete with a narrative technique. Here, Vivaldi ably broken traditions by turning a descriptive music into an identifiable Italian musical style, noted for the unmistakable timbre and the significant role of the strings.

La Gloria e Imeneo was a cantata created with King Louis XV’s wedding celebrations in mind. In fact, another monarch, Emperor Charles VI, was so impressed by Vivaldi’s talented approach to what he did, that the latter was declared a knight. He also wrote three operas in Rome for the 1723 and 1724 carnivals. Among his numerous works include La Cetra (1727), a collection of twelve violin concertos. Vivaldi wrote the Farnace in 1727, which was an opera. Vivaldi also composed his opera Semimmide, which went on to debut in 1731. 

La fida Ninfa (1732), was written while Vivaldi was in Verona, with a libretto by Scipione Maffei. This performance was to celebrate the then-new theatre, Teatro Filarmonico in Verona. 

Antonio Vivaldi’s compositional skills centered around his highly regarded pieces that profoundly affected renowned composers like Giuseppe Tartini. Such was his enigma that he is credited by many historians as the one who invented the ritornello form in music. In this form, the recurring elements of a refrain alternate with the performance of a solo instrument. 

His economic severity caused him to resign from the Ospedale della Pietà in 1740, when he shifted to Vienna, under Charles VI’s patronage. His last opera, L’oracolo in Messenia, was performed posthumously in 1742. 

The 20th century saw Vivaldi’s works revived and performed far and wide by many. This was particularly true for the Second World War. One of these, Gloria, a choral creation, is popular among Christmas crowds all over the world. It was also Vivaldi, who improved the three-movement concerto, or the Classical concerto. 

Vivaldi served as a benchmark and a reference point for numerous eminent Baroque composers, most notably Bach. His style, as already mentioned, was incredibly unconventional for his time which made him an example of virtuosity in musical circles. His work for the solo violin shows us his excellent mastery of the instrument. His work ranges from operas, sonatas and solo voices to short hymns and oratorios. Much of his work is characteristic of a spiritual side, and this also made him unique to the masses. Even though he struggled quite a bit and suffered financially in the twilight of his life, he left behind a mark in music, that rings across centuries.

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