Vivaldi Society

Who is Vivaldi?

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (4 March 1678 – 28 July 1741) was an Italian Baroque musical composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, and cleric. Born in Venice, he is recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread across Europe. He composed many instrumental concertos, for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as sacred choral works and operas. His best-known work is a series of violin concertos known as the Four Seasons.
Many of his compositions were written for the all- female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children where Vivaldi (who had been ordained as a Catholic priest) was employed from 1703 to 1715 and from 1723 to 1740.
Vivaldi was an innovator, as a composer, amazing violinist and pedagogue, his life and genius influenced a number of notable artists. However, because of struggles later in life, his music was nearly lost to obscurity. Thankfully, the meticulous efforts of diligent researchers have ensured that his great body of music will be available to inspire countless future generations of musicians.

“Vivaldi could do a rock concert quite easily, and Vivaldi can appeal to everyone, he’s alone, he’s absolutely unique. You talk about the Baroque style, and the romantic style…Vivaldi cuts that whole suede. With the ‘tremendous energy’ present in his music, Vivaldi is truly one of a kind and is difficult to imitate, he doesn’t fit anywhere, and he fits everywhere.”
Micky White

Italian Institute Antonio Vivaldi in Venice

Vivaldi had been baptized at his birth because his life was in danger, by the midwife and then his wet nurse. On that occasion, the mother had vowed to consecrate him to the Lord if he had remained allive. Ordained in 1703, he celebrated Mass for a certain period of time. He was nicknamed “the red priest” because of the color of his hair.

In September 1703, Vivaldi became maestro di violino (master of violin) at an orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice.Vivaldi was only 25 when he started working at the orphanage. Over the next thirty years he composed most of his major works while working there. The girls received a musical education, and the most talented among them stayed and became members of the Ospedale’s renowned orchestra and choir.

Shortly after Vivaldi’s appointment, the orphans began to gain appreciation and esteem abroad, too. Vivaldi wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for them.Extraordinary was the ability of the orchestra and the girls’ choir to perform works with male characters, but without the presence of male singers.The same girls had to interpret the role of the voices of tenors and bass, as in the case of the oratory Juditha triumphans (RV 644), composed in 1716. The oratory includes eleven parts, both male and female, which were all interpreted by the girls!

Vivaldi could write a complete concerto in all its parts in less time than what was necessary for the copyist to copy it.The “corpus” of Vivaldi’s compositions consists of about 600 concerts and sonatas, almost 300 of them for one or more violins, about 30 for cello, 39 for bassoon, 25 for flute and 25 for oboe, to instruments like the lute, the mandolin and others – very rarely used in concert function at that time. Along with the instrumental compositions, there is a notable production of sacred music, which consists of around 100 compositions; noteworthy is the production of vocal music, including over a 100 cantatas and arias. Finally his operatic activity has been recently rediscovered. It consists of about 45 titles, many of which are lost.

At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from European nobility and royalty. The serenata (cantata) Gloria e Imeneo (RV 687) was commissioned in 1725 by the French ambassador to Venice in celebration of the marriage of Louis XV.  Vivaldi’s Opus 9, La cetra, was dedicated to EmperorCharles VI. In 1728, Vivaldi met the emperor while the emperor was visiting Trieste to oversee the construction of a new port. Charles admired the music of the Red Priest so much that he is said to have spoken more with the composer during their one meeting than he spoke to his ministers in over two years.

Although less known, Vivaldi’s sacred music composition, is probably the greatest contribution to music – featuring an altogether unprecedented combination of spirituality and the contemporary trends of the time.
And this profound personal spirituality was rooted in what is probably a little- known fact for many: Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.