Antonio Vivaldi

(born March 4, 1678, Venice, Republic of Venice [Italy]—died July 28, 1741, Vienna, Austria)

Here is a youtube video, containing all of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. To listen to specific movements:
  • Spring 0:00
  • Summer 10:31
  • Autumn 20:59
  • Winter 32:48

A portrait of what Vivaldi would've seen growing up.
Early Life
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, the capital of the Republic of Venice on March 4th, 1678. On the day he was born there was an earthquake that shook the city; not only that, but he was born frail and sickly (he could've had asthma or angina pectoris) and didn't expect him to survive--these two situations could've been the reason why he was baptized so early. His father, Giovanni Battista, was probably his first violin teacher; although Giovanni Battista Vivaldi was a baker's son, he was the violinist at the St. Mark's Cathedral since April 23, 1665. He was the eldest child of six and he was on his way to becoming a priest. From September 18th, 1693 and March 23, 1703 he trained with the Fathers of San Geminiano and of San Giovanni in Oleo. In 1703 he was ordained, but due the tightness in his chest, or Strettezza di petto, he gave up on saying Mass and, soon after, he became an abbé, a lower-ranking clergyman, without any pastoral duties. His condition even allowed him to go back home and live with his parents in the San Marino district. Since his father was the violinist at St. Mark's Cathedral, sometimes Vivaldi would play as their violinist in their orchestra, and it wasn't uncommon for priests to be engaged in music, however manycommentators on his life say the reason why he stopped doing Mass was because full-time duties might interfere with his music. With that being said, he was still religious--Carlo Goldoni, a famous Venetian poet and playwright, even mentioned in his memoir about how outwardly religious Vivaldi was: "I went to Abbé Vivaldi’s house and found him surrounded by music and with his breviary in his hand. He rose, made the complete sign of the Cross, put down his breviary, and made me the usual compliments. After a short opening conversation the Abbé took up his breviary once more, made another sign of the Cross, and did not answer. ‘Signor,’ I said, ‘I don’t wish to disturb you in your religious pursuits; I shall come another time.’ Vivaldi continued the conversation however, walking about with his breviary, reciting his psalms and hymns...”

A picture of what a Venetian Osepdale would've looked like during Vivaldi's time

At the Pietà

In September, 1703, Vivaldi became the maestro di violine at the Osepdale della Pietà, a Venetian institution similar to the London Foundling Hospital. There were four other 'hospitals' in Venice and were in fact very charitable institutions that was formed to receive orphaned, illegitimate and abandoned girls. There, the girls would be divided into two categories and would receive an education based on the category they fell into--this was paid for by the city's expense. In one category, the girls would receive a general education and in another, the girls would receive a musical education; these girls who fell into the latter of the two categories were called figlie di coro, girls of the choir, would receive the best training in singing and instrumental techniques since many of them were very talented, they'd hire the best teaching staff for them. Concerts would be held every Sunday and feast-day--large sums of money were made off the musical talents of the girls, with most of the money was used by the governors to finance the institution itself. In these 'hospitals' the girls would live a convent-like life and most became nuns and since their parents and heritage was unknown, most of the girls were known by their forenames and the instrument they were most proficient in. Edward Wright, a British traveler, visited Venice in 1720 (the peak of Vivaldi's fame) and spoke of the girls at the Pietà, saying:

"Those who would choose for a wife one that has not been acquainted with the world go to these places to look for them, and they generally take all the care they can they shall be as little acquainted with the world afterwards...Every Sunday and holiday there is a performance of music in the chapels of these hospitals, vocal and instrumental, performed by the young women of the place, who are set in a gallery above and, though not professed, are hid from any distinct view of those below by a lattice of ironwork. The organ parts, as well as those of other instruments, are all performed by the young women. They have a eunuch for their masters (sic) and he composes most of their music. Their performance is surprisingly good...and this is all the more amusing since their persons are concealed from view."

However, not all of the girls in the Pietà would make a good impression. Although they took their vows to become nuns, they wouldn't necessarily act like it--instead they'd dress in elegant but revealing dresses and take on lovers.

Music at the Pietà


During his time at the Pietà, he composed some of his finest music and would also experiment with form and instrumentation. In 1705, two years after his ordination, he published his first piece which was a set of 12-Trio sonatas. This was dedicated to Count Annibale Gambara, a Venetian nobleman, and printed by Sala, a well-known Venetian publisher. On December 29, 1708, King Frederick IV of Denmark visited Venice and attened a concert at the Pietà the next day that was directed by Vivaldi. It was there that Vivaldi unveiled his second piece, Opus 2, a work that consisted of 12 violin sonatas, and dedicated it to the King. By
1709, the actual publication date of his Opus 2, he was working on the composition of the concertos for various instruments and therefore became famous throughout Europe--he'd compose violin concertos that he'd play himself as well as concertos for other instruments that'd be played by the girls of the Pietà. The concerts played at the Pietà were not limited to the hospital galleries but were also played in churches and would sometimes replace the standard music service. In order to continue working at the Pietà, he had to have his position renewed annually by the governors, however in February 1709 they voted to discontinue his time there; their reason why isn't stated. He was re-elected again two years later on September 1711 so the fact that the governors discontinued his time at the Pietà seemed more like a temporary abandonment rather than Vivaldi acting out of place. As the years went on, he continued to be reappointed, but the number of people who're against him also grew.

On March 1716, instead of being re-elected for his old position he was given a higher role instead--the Master of music, or maestro de concerti. The reason why he was able to get this position was because the former maestro, Gasparini, had a sick leave and never returned; in addition, his successor wasn't a very good composer. The institution therefore turned to Vivaldi and other composers for new compositions--for Vivaldi, the new position gave him the oppertunity to write sacred music for the Pietà and achieved great success. The governors were pleased with their decision and his efforts--they paid him 50 ducats for a Mass, vespers, 30 motels and other works that he'd write for them. He wrote an oratorio (a large scale musical work for the orchestra and voices, typically a narrative on a religious theme, performed without the use of costumes, scenery, or action) Moyses Deus Pharaonis, but only the liberatto (the text of an opera or other long vocal work) had survived. In this year, he also wrote Juditha triumphans, a piece for high trumpets, and in recent years was his most popular religious piece.

Popularity and Travelling, Publishing, and the Opera

With Vivaldi's new position at the Pietà, he recieved many commissons and his fame began to spread. His first two works were published in Venice through the old-fashioned "music type", which has been the way of publishing music in Venice for centuries. In 1711 he, like many other Italian composers, began to make the switch from Venetian publisher to Estienne Roger, a publisher in Amsterdam. This firm as well as its successor, Michel-Charles Le Cène, were publishers of engraved music. Engraved music, in comparison to the Venetia
n "music type" was a lot different and easier to follow and since Vivaldi had done this, his work was now available to a wide ranged audience, adding to his fame and popularity. In addition, the publication of his work marked the change in production methods as well as reflected the growing demand for the latest Italian music in northern Europe. He composed L'estro armonico, Opus 3, which was published in 1711 and dedicated to Ferdinand, Grand Prince of Tuscany. L'estro armonico was the most influential piece of the time--it consisted of 12 concertos for a variety of combinations for stringed instruments. After L'estro armonico, he released La stravaganzain 1714; La stravaganza was a set of 12 violin concertos, and this was dedicated to Vettor Delfino. Delfino was a member of the Venetian aristocracy and a former pupil of Vivaldi's. During the years 1716-1717, Opus 5, 6, and 7 were ordered from Vivaldi by Roger, who engrave
An example of engraved music from Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, the first book to be published in musical type, 1501.
d them at his own expense; the gesture itself was rare, and the fact that he did it for him showed Vivaldi's popularity.

A pen and ink sketch of Antonio Vivaldi by Pier Leone Ghezzi. It's the only known and authentic portrait of Vivaldi.

It's been speculated that Vivaldi's father was also a composer, seeing as the opera La fedelta sfortunata is now attributed to him. So it's almost a coincidence that Vivaldi would also take an interest in opera, ever since 1710. He began his career in opera with Ottone in Villa, which was preformed at the summer resort of Vicenza--upon returning to Venice, he took on the roles of composer and impresario. During the years 1714-15 he composed Orlando finito pazzo, a pasticcio (a work consisting largely of borrowings from other compositions) called Nerone fatto Cesare; he wrote two operas before 1717 and at the San Moisé theatre he wrote three operas between 1716 and 1718. He began to travel in 1718 to persue his operatic career and headed for northern Italy; he still kept in touch with the Pietà in Venice, and whenever he came back he took up at least part of his duties there. Once he arrived in Mantua, he worked for their governor Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt as the director of secular music and became 'maestro di cappella da camera', keeping the title even after he left. His job in Mantua seemed to be the only full-time job he ever had, however he preferred the life of a freelance composer because of its flexibility and entrepreneurial opportunities. Vivaldi's work in Mantua were mainly operas but he also composed cantatas and instrumental works. Next stop was in Rome, where he spent several carnival seasons (1723-4, possibly 1725 as well) there; he played twice before the Pope and had his portrait done in a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi--the portrait thankfully survived but it's the only authenticated likeness made during his lifetime. He entered a circle that consisted of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, a former patron and friend of Corelli, and was one of the first to recognize the talents of George Frideric Handel. Ottoboni was the Chancellor of the Vatican; he was also a writer, composer and a patron, and was able to see Vivaldi's creativity.

However, his time in Rome did not consist of work alone--there, he met Anna Giraud (or Girò, in the Italian spelling). They probably met through their connection at the Pietà where he was his protégéé, and she's referred by commentaries as "Annina della Pietà". Anna was a contralto and sang for the first time in one of Vivaldi's operas in 1726 and soon became the prima donna for many more operas. In addition some have thought that her sister, Paolina, became Vivaldi's nurse; although some sources state that both women were present in his household frequently, suggesting he had an affair with both of them, however some suggest it was merely Anna who was his mistress. In any case, these relationships and his refusal to say Mass (his reason was ill health) the clerical authorities later banned him from appearing in Ferrara, which was a papal domain. In 1726-28, Vivaldi went back to Venice and concentrated on his activities as a composer and impressario at the S. Angelo theatre. His instrumental works continued to be published by Roger during the years 1725-29, entrusting five new collection of concerti to his successor, Le Cène, and keeping his international reputation. Opus 8, Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (the contest between Harmony and Invention) was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a Bohemian nobleman, and had become something of a long distance maestro in Italia for him. Opus 8 includes The Four Seasons which has become one of the most popular pieces of 18th-century music and had made a huge impression throughout Europe; it circulated in manuscript form before it was published by Le Cène, followed by the publication of Opus 10-12, which are the last compositions considered to be by Vivaldi. After 1729, he stopped publishing his works, finding it more profitable to sell them in manuscript form to individual buyers, even though his publishers were now issuing his music at their expense, and would pay him a hefty sum for it.

From 1733-35 he was back at S. Angelo in Venice as the principal composer, but he was focused on promoting opera in the mainland in places such as Verona, Ancona and Ferrara. However, since he was band from Ferrara he had to rely on help from local impressarios because he could not be there to supervise the operas. He also went to Amsterdam during the year 1738 to celebrate the centenary of the Schouwburg Theatre; on January 7th he played violin concertos in the town. During the same year his association with the Pietà had ended because of his long absences, however the association was to continue.

His Decline and Death

From 1730 and the years following it, his popularity slowly began to decline. In 1739 he was still in Venice producing operas, but his contemporaries had informed him that his music was no longer in style with the Venetians; however, in December of the same year Prince Friderick Christian, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, visited Venice. There was an elaborate concert held at the Pietà, with all the surrounding canals illumated, and Vivaldi presented a series of new pieces; these scores were then taken back to Dresden and preserved by the king--they're known as the 'Dresden' concertosand form a valuable part of the Vivaldi archive. From 1739-40, he would what'll be his last journey to Austria; he had hoped that Emperor Charles VI would remember him, and would offer commissions or even an appointment. Luckily for him, before he left, the Pietà governors bought a large collection of his concertos and religious music. In October 1740, Charles VI died, but he still continued on his way to Vienna and arrived in 1741. Prior to his death on July 28, 1741, not much is known about him except that he was old and forgotten. He was ill and died 'of internal flammation' and was burriedd the same day in the Bürgerspital, a cemetery that doesn't exist. At his funeral, six choirboys of St. Stephen's Cathedral, including the young Joseph Haydn, sang the Requiem Mass; his event of his death and poverty was recorded by a contemporary Venetian chronicler:
'The abbé Don Antonio Vivaldi, an excellent violinist called the 'Red Priest' and a highly esteemed composer of concertos, in his time earned 50,00 ducats, but because of immoderate prodigality died a pauper in Vienna'


After his death, his collection of musical manuscripts, which were mostly autographed scores of his own work, were bound in 27 large volumes. His volumes were first acquired by the Venetian bibliophile, Jacopo Soranzo, and then by Count Giacomo Durazzo, Christoph Willibald Gluck's patron. Vivaldi was rediscovered in the 19th century after a new interest in Bach during that time period, which led to his discovery--while he was alive, Johann Sebastian Bach was able to obtain a copy of Opus 3 and was so fascinated by it, he decided to transcribe a large number of the concertos into pieces for keyboard instruments.

Example of engraved music


Harpsicord, an example of a keyboard instrument played during the Baroque period
Almost 500 of his concerti survived--more than 300 are concerti for a solo instrument with string orchestra and continuo; of those 300, 230 of them are written for solo violin, 40 are for bassoon, 25 for cello, 15 for obo, and 10 for flute. He also had concerti written for viola d'amore, recorder, mandolin and others. His remain concerti are either double concerti (including 25 that were written for violin), concerti grossi (uses three or more soloists), concerti ripieni (string concerti without a soloist), or chamber concerti for a group of instruments without an orchestra. He perfected the form known as the classical three-movement concerto and helped established the fast-slow-fast pattern of the concerto's three movement; he was the first to use ritornello form in his concerti, and since he had refrains from the ritornelli and solo passages close together, it also opened up more possibilities for solo instruments. Since his concerti had so much energy and passion infused into them, and the instruments helped to amplify them, they were used as a model for many late composers, including Bach. In addition, several of his concerti have allusive/picturesque titles--four of which fall under the one name The Four Seasons (Opus 8, no. 1-4) . Written for the violin, each concerti effectively portrays the feeling, energy, and essence of the seasons, starting off with Spring.


More than 50 sacred vocal compositions that're authentic still exist; they range from short hymns (for solo voices to oratorios) to elaborate psalm settings in several movements for double choir and orchestra. Many of these vocal compositions portray a spiritual depth and a command for counterpoint, however, upon recieving Vivaldi's secular works, nearly 50 operas have been identified to be by Vivaldi and 16 have survived to be complete.

Signature of Antonio Vivaldi


"Antonio Vivaldi." In Baroque festival: Antonio Vivaldi, 1678-1741; George Frideric Handel, 1685-1759. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 19871984. 31-40.
Michael, Talbot. “Vivaldi, Antonio.” Britannica Biographies (March 2012): 1. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost