Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in the Castello district of Venice on March 4, 1678. By the time he was 15 he was studying to become a priest, a career that would never last. He also received a great amount of musical training, specifically the violin, from his father Giovanni Battista Vivaldi. After leaving the priesthood due to health problems, he went on to quickly become a well known force of nature in the baroque period. In fact Vivaldi took new forms to new heights and made the concerto form what it was during that time, greatly influencing other composers of the period. One of these being Johann Sebastian Bach who looked upon Vivaldi with great admiration. Sadly by the late 1730s Vivaldi’s music was no longer the “in thing”. He began selling his compositions but never got what he wanted for them, and steadily over the years he began to grow more and more destitute. In 1740, at age 62, Vivaldi moved to Vienna, Austria in the hopes that his music might be promoted by a potential patron and admirer, Emperor Charles VI. But as fate would have it the emperor died shortly after his arrival, dashing any hopes of Vivaldi reigniting his fame and fortune. At the same time a war was brewing, the War of Austrian Succession which would run from 1740 to 1748, which created an atmosphere of distrust and friction among the population. Vivaldi, by 1741, was broke and living in a poor house. During his entire life he had suffered from asthma and one summer day he began to come down with an illness, which was likely influenza and/or pneumonia. Considering his already impacted airways, Vivaldi suffered greatly and on the 27th or 28th of July he passed away at the age of 63. Sadly, like Mozart, Vivaldi’s grave has been lost. He is buried somewhere beneath what is the Vienna University of Technology, which was built over top of the Spitaller Gottsacker cemetery in 1818. The cemetery had been abandoned in 1783 and Vivaldi’s grave was unmarked at the time, so his remains were not transferred to the new cemetery.
From the day of his death onward Vivaldi’s music faded into non-existence. It was never performed and most of the manuscripts that had been copied and shared with the rich patrons of his time vanished into dark attics and cellars. By the mid 18th century Vivaldi was an unknown, as if he had never been born.
Vivaldi wrote over 800 works ranging from concertos to operas, from cantatas to sonatas, from liturgical works to great choral works. Of these the only work that is most commonly known is from his opus 8, “Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione”/”The Test of Harmony and Invention”. The first four concerti from this work are known as “The Four Seasons”, and are undeniably one of the most overplayed, run into the ground, works in the history of classical music. Most people don’t know Vivaldi for anything else, some may even think that is all he ever wrote. It’s definitely a sad state of affairs, for the bulk of Vivaldi’s music is amazing and incredible. The Four Seasons, while wild and extravagant for the period, are hardly a valid example of Vivaldi’s greatness.
What if you had been alive before 1926? You would never have known about Vivaldi, he didn’t exist. However it was in 1926 that a school run by an order of monks discovered a collection of original Vivaldi compositions. These were sent to the Turin National University Library and the musicologists there were shocked and amazed to have found a previously unknown composer by the name of Antonio Vivaldi. Over the next several years these researchers, coupled with philanthropists, worked overtime to find every scrap of music they could by him. In 1939 a composer and pianist named Alfredo Casella organized Vivaldi Week, which was the spark that lit the Vivaldi flame. Because of all this hard and diligent work, we now can enjoy an immense collection of Vivaldi’s works. Sadly some have been lost with the passage of time, but the man wrote so much stuff that it has made up for some of the losses.
So what’s my point with regard to this history lesson about Vivaldi? The point is to make it clear, dear reader, that Antonio Vivaldi was an incredibly talented and influential man who composed some amazing music, and that the overplayed Four Seasons are not all he wrote. So I implore you, if you have any interest in learning about this man through his music, to go explore what is available on Apple Music or Spotify. The record label Naïve has released (and continues to do so) an immense Vivaldi Collection, which is performed by some of the greatest and most admired baroque music groups in Europe.
It is truly heartbreaking to think Antonio never got to see his music regain it’s previous admiration. But we can honor him and his life by just listening and giving thanks that this lost composer was found, to the enrichment of classical music, and ears everywhere who long to hear his music.
“The Red Priest – The Life of Antonio Vivaldi”, James Fritz – Bookcaps Study Guides, 2013
“Antonio Vivaldi” Findagrave.com, “www.findagrave.com/memorial/9963/antonio-vivaldi”, Bobb Edwards
“The Vivaldi Compendium”, Michael Talbot, The Boydell Press, 2011