Antonio Vivaldi’s most famous oeuvre, The Four Seasons is something of a sound track to the Baroque period. The musician’s passion and discipline, as well as innovative techniques won him a reputation and admiration both as a violinist and composer. Vivaldi’s life moved along with the Baroque period’s development and he could be considered to be one of the main Italian icons of the period.
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678. Both is parents were tailors, but his father also bore a great love and talent for music. Vivaldi inherited this passion and was instructed in the art of the violin by his father.
Like many children from the artisan class at that time, Vivaldi was sent to school to become a priest. Here, his discipline and pious nature thrived, as did his musical talent. In 1696 he was chosen as the violinist to play at the Christmas concerts at Saint Mark’s Basilica. The young man’s choice between church and music soon came to an end, as due to his severe asthma he had to stop saying Mass in Church. Thus, Vivaldi was sent to teach music at the Devout Hospital of Mercy, a sort of hospice for poor or orphan children. His musical prowess transferred well, and the children became well schooled in music, and the hospice’s orchestra and choirs were amongst the most accomplished in the city. While at the hospice, Vivaldi started to compose his music.
Vivaldi’s talent and recognition made him a favourite amongst music loving nobility and gained him many patrons. In 1718 Vivaldi moved to Mantua and later to Milan and Rome to play for the Pope, Benedict XIII. While here, he composed the Four Seasons.
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. Vivaldi is considered responsible for the shift from the concerto grosso to the classic concerto, via the soloist concerto, of his invention. The Four Seasons, consists of four violin concertos depicting scenes appropriate for each season. The inspiration for the concertos was probably the countryside around Mantua. They were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties from both the hunters' and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, ice-skating children, and warming winter fires. Each concerto is associated with a sonnet, possibly by Vivaldi, describing the scenes depicted in the music.
Vivaldi also composed many operas, a total of 94, but only 50 have been discovered thus far. His innovative style and the way in which he could paint pictures with notes made him a particularly apt opera impresario. His most successful operas were La Constanza Trionfante and Farnace. During At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from European nobility and royalty. The wedding cantata Gloria e Imeneo was written for the marriage of Louis XV, while La Cetra was dedicated to Emperor Charles VI. The Emperor gave Vivaldi the title of knight, a gold medal and an invitation to move to Vienna as the court composer.
Antonio Vivaldi commemorative sterling silver 500 Lire coin, 1994
Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741 as a destitute musician. His music, although it influenced contemporaries such as Bach and Hendel, suffered an equally sad fait. With the birth of the classicism and romanticism movements, his music wall all but forgotten in Italy until the aftermath of the Second World War. As it often happens, Italy’s greatest artists are more appreciated abroad than at home, and with Vivadi, his sonatas and concertos enjoyed great popularity in France and England.
Written by: Valentina Zannoni