Friday, 24 April 2015

V is for Vivaldi

We continue the globe-hopping A to Z challenge in Italy with Antonio Vivaldi who was born in 1678 in Venice.  His father was a professional violinist who ensured that his son also had musical instruction from an early age.  An illness in his youth that today would be classified as asthma prevented him from playing wind instruments but he took up the violin and composition to compensate.

In 1703 after resigning from a brief career as a priest, Vivaldi accepted the position of Master of Violin at the Devout Hospital of Mercy orphanage in Venice, where he spent nearly 30 years and composed many of his major works.  He wrote pieces that were inspired by the children, and even taught music to them.  However his relationship with the board of directors was often strained; he was voted out in 1709 but voted back in the following year after the board realized his importance.  His first major breakthrough as a composer was with his first concerto for strings, "L'estro armonico" which became hugely successful.

In addition to his liturgical music Vivaldi began to compose operas on the side.  One of his early works "Arsilda, regina di Ponto" was about a woman who falls in love with another woman who was disguised as a man; Vivaldi had to persuade the state censor to allow its performance, and it fared admirably.  His progressive style put him at odds with more conservative musicians of the time.  Around 1717 he was offered the prestigious position of Maestro di Cappella of Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt of Mantua, and he stayed there for three years, writing more operatic music before moving to Rome.

He returned to Venice in 1725, having achieved a successful career in composition, and went back to work at the Hospital of Mercy.  There he continued to redefine his art: "The Four Seasons" was described as a "revolution in music conception" as the piece evokes natural scenes.  Now at the height of his career, he received commissions from the European nobility and royalty.  A meeting with Emperor Charles VI in 1728 impressed the monarch enough for him to bestow the title of Knight on Vivaldi.

With his father he migrated to Vienna in 1740, perhaps in the hopes of gaining a position in the imperial court.  He continued to compose and produce music, but the changing musical tastes left many of his works outmoded.  The death of the Emperor was a huge blow which left him without a steady source of income, and sadly he was forced to sell the bulk of his manuscripts.  Vivaldi died suddenly in 1741 of what was believed to be an infection and he was buried in Vienna.  There are several memorials to him in Vienna, and his music was revived to great success in the 20th century.

Below is the first movement of Vivaldi's "Gloria" which I performed in several times while with my university choir.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo

1 comment:

  1. I like listening to Vivaldi, but I hate performing him. My daughter recently played one of his violin concertos, though, and she loves performing him. :)