The 100 most Influential Musicians Of All Time – Antonio Vivaldi
(b. March 4, 1678, Venice, Republic of Venice [Italy]—d. July 28, 1741, Vienna, Austria)
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was an Italian composer and violinist who left a decisive mark on the form of the concerto and on the style of late Baroque instrumen- tal music.
Vivaldi’s main teacher was probably his father, Giovanni Battista, who in 1685 was admitted as a violinist to the orchestra of the San Marco Basilica in Venice. Antonio, the eldest child, trained for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. He made his ﬁrst known public appearance playing violin alongside his father in the basilica in1696. He became an excellent violinist, and in 1703 he was appointed violin master at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned or orphaned children. The Pietà specialized in the musical training of its female wards, and those with musical apti- tude were assigned to its excellent choir and orchestra.
Vivaldi had dealings with the Pietà for most of his career: as violin master (1703–09; 1711–15), director of instrumental music (1716–17; 1735–38), and paid external supplier of compositions (1723–29; 1739–40).
Vivaldi’s earliest musical compositions date from his ﬁrst years at the Pietà. Printed collections of his trio sonatas and violin sonatas respectively appeared in 1705 and 1709, and in 1711 his ﬁrst and most inﬂuential set of concerti for violin and string orchestra (Opus 3, L’estro armonico) was published by the Amsterdam music-publishing ﬁrm of Estienne Roger. In the years up to 1719, Roger pub- lished three more collections of his concerti (opuses 4, 6, and 7) and one collection of sonatas (Opus 5).
Vivaldi made his debut as a composer of sacred vocal music in 1713, when the Pietà’s choirmaster left his post and the institution had to turn to Vivaldi and other com- posers for new compositions. He achieved great success with his sacred vocal music, for which he later received commissions from other institutions. Another new ﬁeld of endeavour for him opened in 1713 when his ﬁrst opera, Ottone in villa, was produced in Vicenza. Returning to Venice, Vivaldi immediately plunged into operatic activity in the twin roles of composer and impresario.
From 1718 to 1720 he worked in Mantua as director of secular music for that city’s governor, Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. This was the only full-time post Vivaldi ever held; he seems to have preferred life as a freelance composer for the ﬂexibility and entrepreneurial opportunities it offered. Vivaldi’s major compositions in Mantua were operas, though he also composed cantatas and instrumental works.
The 1720s were the zenith of Vivaldi’s career. Based once more in Venice, but frequently traveling elsewhere, he supplied instrumental music to patrons and customers throughout Europe. Between 1725 and 1729 he published five new collections of concerti (opuses 8–12). After
1729 Vivaldi stopped publishing his works, ﬁnding it more proﬁtable to sell them in manuscript to individual purchasers.
In the 1730s Vivaldi’s career gradually declined. The French traveler Charles de Brosses reported in 1739 with regret that his music was no longer fashionable. Vivaldi’s impresarial forays became increasingly marked by failure.
In 1740 he traveled to Vienna, but he fell ill and did not live to attend the production there of his opera L’oracolo in Messenia in 1742. The simplicity of his funeral on July 28, 1741, suggests that he died in considerable poverty.
Almost 500 concerti by Vivaldi survive. More than 300 are concerti for a solo instrument with string orchestra and continuo. Of these, approximately 230 are written for solo violin, 40 for bassoon, 25 for cello, 15 for oboe, and 10 for ﬂute. There are also concerti for viola d’amore, recorder, mandolin, and other instruments. Vivaldi’s remaining concerti are either double concerti (including about 25 written for two violins), concerti grossi using three or more soloists, concerti ripieni (string concerti without a soloist), or chamber concerti for a group of instruments without orchestra.
Vivaldi perfected the form of what would become the Classical three-movement concerto. Indeed, he helped establish the fast-slow-fast plan of the concerto’s three movements. Perhaps more importantly, Vivaldi was the ﬁrst to employ regularly in his concerti the ritornello form, in which recurrent restatements of a refrain alternate with more episodic passages featuring a solo instrument.
Vivaldi’s bold juxtapositions of the refrains (ritornelli) and the solo passages opened new possibilities for virtuosic display by solo instrumentalists. The fast movements in
his concerti are notable for their rhythmic drive and the boldness of their themes, while the slow movements often present the character of arias written for the solo instrument.
Several of Vivaldi’s concerti have picturesque or allusive titles. Four of them, the cycle of violin concerti entitled The Four Seasons (Opus 8, no. 1–4), are programmatic in a thoroughgoing fashion, with each concerto depicting a dif- ferent season of the year, starting with spring.
Vivaldi’s effective representation of the sounds of nature inaugu- rated a tradition to which works such as Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony belong. Vivaldi also left more than 90 sonatas, mainly for stringed instruments.
More than 50 authentic sacred vocal compositions by Vivaldi are extant. They range from short hymns for solo voices to oratorios and elaborate psalm settings in several movements for double choir and orchestra. He composed some 50 operas (16 of which survived in their entirety) as well as nearly 40 cantatas. Many of Vivaldi’s vocal works exhibit a spiritual depth and a command of counterpoint equal to the best of their time.
Moreover, the mutual independence of voices and instruments often anticipates the later symphonic masses of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.