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Vivaldi, Antonio

Portrait of Antonio Vivaldi

(March 4, 1678 - July 28, 1741)

Initiated into music by his father Giovanni Battista, a violinist at St Mark’s in Venice, Antonio Vivaldi demonstrated his musical talent at a very early age. Of delicate health due to an unusual form of asthma, he was directed at the age of 10 towards a career in the church, in keeping with a vow that his mother had made by way of thanks to God for sparing her son. At Christmas in 1696 Vivaldi obtained the post of violinist at St Mark’s, an appointment that officially marked the start of his career as an instrumentalist. Ordained a priest in 1703, he was quickly exonerated from saying mass on account of his poor health; in the same year the Pio Ospedale della Pietà appointed him as master of violin, a post he held until 1720. In 1705 he published Opus 1, a collection of 12 trio sonatas dedicated to the Veneto aristocrat Annibale Gambara. A second collection of 12 Sonate for violin and basso continuo came out in 1708 and in 1711 in Amsterdam with Etienne Roger he published L’estro armonico, a collection of 12 concertos for one, two and four violins and strings which was greeted enthusiastically throughout Europe. In the same year he appeared with his father in Brescia to perform his Stabat Mater, commissioned by the Congregazione dell’Oratorio San Filippo Neri. This was followed in 1714 by La stravaganza op.4, a collection of concertos for solo violin and strings and in 1715 by Serenata a 3 RV 690. As early as 1705 – in the form of Creso tolto alle fiamme – Vivaldi had measured himself against opera, the most highly regarded and remunerative form of music in Venice at the time; in the years following he wrote many other operas including Ottone in villa (1713), Orlando finto pazzo (1714) and L’incoronazione di Dario (1717) as well as two oratorios commissioned by the Pietà, Moyses Deus Pharaonis (lost) and the famous Juditha triumphans. In 1718 Vivaldi moved to Mantova to take up the prestigious post of maestro di cappella da camera in the court of Prince Filippo d’Assia-Darmstadt. Between 1719 and ’21 he wrote the operas Il teuzzone, Tito Manlio and La verità in cimento for the court at Mantova. In 1725, after a period in Rome as a guest of Pope Benedict XIII, he returned to Venice where he wrote his most renown instrumental collection: Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione Opus 8, published in Amsterdam in the same year by Michel-Charles Le Cène, who had succeeded Estienne Roger. 1725 also saw the appearance of the serenade Gloria e imeneo. In this period Vivaldi’s career as a composer reached its apex thanks to a large number of commissions that arrived from the most important aristocratic families in Europe. Some of these works are: the instrumental collection La cetra Opus 9, the serenade La senna festeggiante (1726) and the operas Giustino (Rome 1724), L'Atenaide (Florence 1728), La fida ninfa (Verona 1732), Bajazet (Verona 1735) and Griselda (Venice 1735). At the invitation of Charles VI Vivaldi moved to Vienna in October 1740 in the hope of obtaining a stable post at the court. Unfortunately, the death of the emperor, which transpired after his arrival in the capital, and the flight of the emperor’s daughter Maria Teresa d’Austria, left Vivaldi alone and without income, so much so that he was even obliged to sell off his own manuscripts. He died in the apartment of the widow Maria Agate Wahlerin on 28th July 1741.