Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi


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Antonio Vivaldi
the Genius of Venetian Music

  • From child to musician

    It was probably his father who decided that Antonio should become a priest. It was common for a poor family to give at least one son the 'privilege' of a free education and the respect of a certain social position. Vivaldi therefore began his priestly training at the age of 14 and was ordained a decade later.

    Barely a year after his ordination, in 1703, Vivaldi stopped celebrating mass regularly, claiming that his health did not allow him to do so. Whether this was true remains to be seen: but it is now traditional that Vivaldi found the cassock too tight and was much more attracted to the musical profession. In short, he was certainly ill, but perhaps he exaggerated his condition somewhat.

    Even with some unproven hypothesis (Giovanni Legrenzi as maestro), it was his father who initiated Antonio into the study of the violin from an early age.

  • Early Years

    Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in Venice on 4 March 1678. He was the eldest of the nine children of Giovanni Battista Vivaldi and his wife Camilla Calicchio, who had married a year earlier, on 11 June, and had settled in Venice near the Arsenale. Vivaldi was born very weak and was immediately baptised in the church of Bragora, for fear of death. Antonio later recounted that suffered from a "tightness in his chest" that made him walk with difficulty. He supposedly suffered from bronchial asthma. Antonio's father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was born around 1655. His family was originally from Brescia, but lived in Venice from a young age. Giovanni Battista was a red-haired barber (his nickname was, in fact, 'Rossi'), a characteristic he inherited from his son Antonio, who for this is known as 'the Red Priest'. However, instead of devoting himself solely to the profession of barber, Vivaldi's father also became an excellent violinist, gave lessons and was part of the orchestra of St. Mark's Basilica. Antonio had four sisters and four brothers, none of whom were musicians. Of little is known of them, apart from the names of, for example, Francesca, Cecilia, Zanetta, or of the youngest, Iseppo, the black sheep of the family, who was expelled from Venice after some quarrels.

  • Violin teacher at the Pietà

    In 1703, Vivaldi was employed as a teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà in Riva degli Schiavoni, one of the orphanages for orphaned or unrecognised girls (there were many noble families in the city with a large number of serving women). Many of the girls admitted were musically talented and Pietà provided them with an excellent musical education, from singing to playing a wide variety of instruments.

    The orchestral concerts at the Pietà were a major attraction in Venice. The young Vivaldi, who was 25 years old when he began attending the Institute, proved to be an excellent teacher for the girls, responsible not only for violin technique but also for the acquisition of instruments and scores.

  • The Four Seasons

    In 1716, the Pietà decided not to renew its contract with Vivaldi for a fixed term. Perhaps his persistent refusal to celebrate mass, his frenetic work as composer and impresario, perhaps even his difficult character, led the Pietà to disapprove of his behaviour. In 1717, he left the Pietà and moved to Mantua until 1720, when Prince Philip appointed him 'Maestro di Cappella da Camera', which meant that he had to write music for all official occasions. He also wrote cantatas, instrumental music and melodramas.

    It seems that the advanced draft of "The Four Seasons", which later appeared in Opera VIII in 1725, a true descriptive musical poem that remains one of the greatest musical successes of all time, dates from this period.

  • Maturity and success

    In 1723 and then again in 1724 Vivaldi achieved great success in Rome, with the operas represented for the Carnival at the Capranica theater: in this period the Pope invited him twice to play the violin in his private apartments. To help him in Rome was Cardinal Ottoboni, a great lover of music, and it was in his circle of friends that Pier Leone Ghezzi made the many famous caricatures, including the well-known one of Antonio.

    In the meantime, Vivaldi's creations reaped success after success throughout Europe thanks to the press and dissemination in France, the Netherlands, England ..., with numerous thefts and falsifications due to the absence of copyright laws.

  • The Giraud sisters

    Vivaldi re-established his contacts with the Pietà in 1723, with the commitment to write two new concerts a month for the Institute. Later, in the works of Vivaldi represented in Venice, the young Anna Giraud appears as prima donna. He made his debut at a very young age in 1724-25 at San Moisè and at Sant’Angelo in 1726-28, where he sang in the opera by Vivaldi Dorilla. She was very successful and soon became a pupil and friend of Antonio, singing in his operas, but also traveling and living with him for a period. A somewhat embarrassing situation for a Catholic priest, despite the frequent claims of innocence of their relationship.

    There are no (to date) certain portraits of Anna, but Carlo Goldoni describes her as "beautiful and graceful", with beautiful hair and a graceful figure. Her mezzo-soprano voice was neither strong nor particularly beautiful, but she could act very well, which was unusual for the time. In short, he became a little star, very close to Vivaldi, together with his older sister Paolina, who probably looked after him due to his health conditions.

    Between Antonio and Anna there were about thirty years of difference. Always next to Vivaldi, traces of the Girauds are lost on the very last and definitive trip to Vienna.

  • Vivaldi's last years

    After Rome Vivaldi visited Vienna, becoming very popular with the Austrian Emperor Charles VI, who assigned him a title and some tributes. In exchange Vivaldi gave Charles VI two concerts dedicated to him, a common practice for musicians of the time to obtain money.

    It is probable that Antonio would return a second time to Vienna, still followed by his father Giovanni Battista, who later died in 1736. It was precisely during the 1830s that Vivaldi, even though he continued to travel and represent works, saw his fame begin to decay in Venice.

    The worst years were between '36 and '38, when one of his operatic activities in Ferrara was suddenly prevented by Cardinal Ruffo, to whom (still) it did not go down that he did not say Mass and lived with Anna (called Girò): the worst consequence was the loss of a great deal of money already invested. Between 1740 and '41 Vivaldi left Venice for Vienna in an attempt to receive a job at court, which also failed due to the death of Charles VI.

    He died on July 28, 1741 and was buried the same day in a mass grave. The cemetery no longer exists.

  • Music in Venice in the Baroque period

    Even in the eighteenth century Venice was a great tourist attraction, and even then the temptation to take home a memory of the wonders seen in the streets and canals, and listened to in the Academies or in the Theaters was strong. Just as the growing demand for pictorial "views" stimulated the development of the genre (Guardi, Canaletto ...), so in music the genres most in demand abroad, such as the "Concerto" or Melodrama, determined a decisive direction in choices of musical composition.

    The fertile soil of music in Venice was nourished by the celebratory function assigned to it by the Serenissima Republic and by the prestigious positions that derived from it, first of all that of Maestro di Cappella di San Marco, as well as by the many public and private performances. Commoners and patricians from Venice and the Serenissima, tourists on the "grand tour", the inevitable trip to Italy of the wealthiest Europeans, constituted an ever attentive audience able to determine the fortune or the eclipse of an artist. In less than 50 years the composers of a list that today appears almost impossible are present or active in Venice: Antonio Lotti, Baldassare Galuppi, Antonio Caldara, Giovanni Legrenzi, the brothers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello, Niccolò Jommelli, Nicola Porpora, Tomaso Albinoni, Giuseppe Tartini, Domenico Cimarosa, George Friedrich Haendel, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Joachim Quantz, Johann Adolphe Hasse, Leonardo Leo, and Mozart, even if only for a short passage ...