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Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678 - July 28, 1741), nicknamed il Prete Rosso ("The Red Priest"), was a Venetian priest and Baroque music composer, as well as a famous virtuoso violinist; he was born and raised in the Republic of Venice. The Four Seasons, a series of four violin concerti, is his best-known work and a highly popular Baroque piece.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in Venice, the capital of the Republic of Venice. He was baptized immediately at his home by the midwife. It is not known how the life of the infant was in danger, but the immediate baptism was most likely due to his poor health or to an earthquake that shook the city that day. Vivaldi's official church baptism (at least, the rites that remained other than the actual baptism itself) did not take place until two months later. His father, Giovanni Battista, a barber before becoming a professional violinist, taught him to play violin and then toured Venice playing the violin with his young son. Giovanni Battista was one of the founders of the Sovvegno dei musicisti di Santa Cecilia, a sort of trade union for musicians and composers. The president of the association was Giovanni Legrenzi, the maestro di cappella at St. Mark's Basilica and noted early Baroque composer. It is possible that the young Antonio's first lessons in composition were imparted by him. The Luxembourg scholar Walter Kolneder sees in the early liturgical work Laetatus sum (RV Anh 31, written in 1691 at the age of 13) the influence of Legrenzi's style. His father may have been a composer himself: in 1688, an opera titled ''La Fedeltà sfortunata was composed by a Giovanni Battista Rossi, and this was the name under which Vivaldi's father had joined the Sovvegno di Santa Cecilia ("Rossi" for "Red", because of the colour of his hair, a family trait). Vivaldi had a medical problem that he called the tightening of the chest (probably some form of asthma). His medical problem, however, did not prevent him from learning to play the violin, composing, or taking part in many musical activities. However, he could not play wind instruments due to his lack of breath. At the age of 15 (1693), he began studying to become a priest. In 1703, at the age of 25, Vivaldi was ordained a priest and was soon nicknamed il Prete Rosso, "The Red Priest", probably because of his red hair. Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given a reprieve from celebrating the Holy Mass because of his ill health. From that point onward, he appears to have withdrawn from active practice, but did remain a priest.
In September 1703, Vivaldi became maestro di violino (master of violin) at an orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice. There were four such institutions in Venice; their purpose was to give shelter and education to children who were abandoned, orphaned, or whose families could not support them. They were financed by funds provided by the Republic. The boys learned a trade and had to leave at age 15. The girls received a musical education, and the most talented stayed and became members of the Ospedale's renowned orchestra and choir. Shortly after his appointment, the orphans began to gain appreciation and esteem abroad, too; Vivaldi wrote most of his concertos, cantatas, and sacred music for them. In 1704, the position of teacher of viola all'inglese was added to his duties as violin instructor. His relationship with the board of directors of the Ospedale was often strained. The board had to take a vote every year on whether to keep a teacher. The vote on Vivaldi was seldom unanimous, and in 1709, he lost his job after a 7 against 6 vote. After a year as a freelance musician, he was recalled by the Ospedale with a unanimous vote in 1711; clearly the board had realized the importance of his role by then. In 1713, he became responsible for the musical activity of the institute. Vivaldi was promoted to maestro de' concerti in 1716. It was during these years that Vivaldi wrote much of his music, including many operas and concerti. In 1705, the first collection (Raccolta) of his works was published: his Opus 1 is a collection of 12 sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, still in a conventional style. In 1709, a second collection of 12 sonatas for violin & basso continuo appeared (Opus 2). The real breakthrough came with his first collection of 12 concerti for one, two, and four violins with strings, L'estro armonico (Opus 3), which was published in Amsterdam in 1711 by Estienne Roger. This was a resounding success all over Europe, and was followed in 1714 by La stravaganza (Opus 4), a collection of concerti for solo violin and strings. In February 1711, Vivaldi and his father went to Brescia, where his setting of the Stabat Mater (RV 621) was played as part of a religious festival. The work seems to have been written in haste: the string parts are simple, the music of the first three movements is repeated in the next three, and not all the text is set. However, and in part as a consequence of the forced essentiality of the music, the work reveals musical and emotional depth and is one of his early masterpieces. In 1718, Vivaldi began to travel. Despite his frequent travels, the Pietà paid him to write two concerti a month for the orchestra and to rehearse with them at least five times when in Venice. The Pietà's records show that he was paid for 140 concerti between 1723 and 1733.
In the Venice of the early 18th century, opera was the most popular musical entertainment and the most profitable for the composer. There were several theaters competing for the public attention. Vivaldi started his career as opera writer in undertone: his first opera, Ottone in villa (RV 729) was performed not in Venice, but at the Garzerie theater in Vicenza in 1713. The following year, Vivaldi made the jump to Venice and became the impresario of the theater Sant'Angelo in Venice, where his opera Orlando finto pazzo (RV 727) was performed. However, the work did not meet the public's taste, and Vivaldi had to close it after a couple of weeks and replace it with a rerun of a different work already given the previous year. In 1715, he presented Nerone fatto Cesare (RV 724, lost), with music by seven different composers, of which he was the leader, with eleven arias. This time it was a success, and in the late season, Vivaldi planned to give an opera completely of his own hand, Arsilda regina di Ponto (RV 700). However, the state censor blocked the performance, objecting to the plot: the main character, Arsilda, falls in love with another woman, Lisea, who is pretending to be a man. Vivaldi managed to get the opera through censorship the following year, and it was eventually performed to a resounding success. In this same period of time, the Pietà commissioned several liturgical works. The most important were two oratorios. The first, Moyses Deus Pharaonis, (RV 643) is lost. The second, Juditha triumphans (RV 644), composed in 1716, is one of his sacred masterpieces. It was commissioned to celebrate the victory of the Republic of Venice against the Turks and the recapture of the island of Corfù. All eleven singing parts were performed by girls of the Pietà, both for the female and male characters. Many of the arias included parts by solo instruments—recorders, oboes, clarinets, violas d'amore, and mandolins—that showcased the range of talents of the girls. In the same year, 1716, Vivaldi wrote and produced two more operas, L'incoronazione di Dario (RV 719) and La costanza trionfante degli amori e degli odi (RV 706). The latter was so popular that it was re-edited and represented two years later with the title Artabano re dei Parti (RV 701, lost) and was eventually performed in Prague in 1732. In the following years, Vivaldi wrote several operas that were performed all over Italy. His modern operatic style caused him some trouble with other more conservative musicians, like Benedetto Marcello, a magistrate and amateur musician who wrote a pamphlet denouncing him and the modern style of opera. The pamphlet is called Il teatro alla moda, and its cover has a caricature of Vivaldi playing the violin. The Marcello family was the rightful owner of the Sant'Angelo theater, and a long legal battle had been fought with the management for its restitution, without success. The booklet attacks Vivaldi without mentioning him directly. The cover drawing shows a boat (the Sant'Angelo), on the left end of which stands a little angel wearing a priest's hat and playing the violin. It is a caricature of Vivaldi. The obscure writing under the picture mentions nonexistent places and names. In particular, ALDIVIVA is an anagram of A. Vivaldi.
In 1717 or 1718, Vivaldi was offered a new prestigious position as Maestro di Cappella of the court of the prince Phillip of Hesse-Darmstadt, governor of Mantua. He moved there for three years and produced several operas, among which was Tito Manlio (RV 738). In 1721, he was in Milan, presenting the pastoral drama La Silvia (RV 734, lost) and again the next year with the oratorio L'adorazione delli tre re magi al bambino Gesù (RV 645, also lost). The next big step was a move to Rome in 1722, where his operas introduced the new style and where the new pope Benedict XIII invited Vivaldi to play for him. In 1725, he returned to Venice, where he produced four operas in the same year. It is also in this period that he wrote the Four Seasons, four violin concertos depicting natural scenes in music. While three of the concerti are of original conception, the first, "Spring", borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of his opera "Il Giustino," composed at the same time as The Four Seasons. The inspiration for them 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 characterised), barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties (both from the hunter's and the prey's point of view), frozen landscapes, children ice-skating, and burning fires. Each concerto was associated with a sonnet of Vivaldi's hand, describing the scenes depicted in the music. They were published as the first four of a collection of twelve, Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, his Opus 8, published in Amsterdam by Le Cène in 1725. During his time in Mantua, Vivaldi became acquainted with two natives of that city: Paolina Trevisana and her younger half-sister, Anna Giro. Paolina appears to have become his personal assistant, and Anna Giro was to become his student, protégée, and favorite prima donna. Both ladies left Mantua to live with him in Venice and remained close with him to the end of his life. There was some speculation about the nature of his relationship with the two ladies, but never hard evidence to indicate anything beyond friendship and professional collaboration.
At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from European nobles and royalty. The wedding cantata Gloria e Imeneo (RV 687) was written for the marriage of Louis XV. Opus 9, La Cetra, was dedicated to Emperor Charles VI. In 1728, Vivaldi had the chance to meet the Emperor in person when he came to Trieste to oversee the construction of a new port. Charles admired the music of the Red Priest so much that he is said to have spoken more with the composer in that occasion than with his ministers in two years. He gave him the title of knight, a gold medal, and an invitation to come to Vienna. On his part, Vivaldi gave Charles a manuscript copy of La Cetra; this is a set of concerti almost completely different from the one published with the same title as Opus 9. Probably the printing had been delayed and Vivaldi was forced to gather an improvised collection. In 1730, accompanied by his father, he traveled to Vienna and Prague, where his opera Farnace (RV 711) was presented. Some late operas marked the collaboration with two of Italy's major writers of the time. L'Olimpiade and Catone in Utica were written by Pietro Metastasio, the major representative of the Arcadian movement and court poet in Vienna. La Griselda was rewritten by the young Carlo Goldoni from an earlier libretto by Apostolo Zeno. Vivaldi's life, like those of many composers of the time, ended in financial difficulties. His compositions no longer held the high esteem they once did in Venice; changing musical tastes quickly made them outmoded, and Vivaldi, in response, chose to sell off sizeable numbers of his manuscripts at paltry prices to finance a migration to Vienna. The reasons for Vivaldi's departure from Venice are unclear, but it seems likely that he wished to meet Charles VI, who appreciated his compositions (Vivaldi dedicated La Cetra to Charles in 1727), and take up the position of a composer in the Imperial Court. It is ever more likely that Vivaldi went to Vienna to stage operas, especially as his place of residence was near the Kärntnertortheater. However, shortly after Vivaldi's arrival at Vienna, Charles died. This tragic stroke of bad luck left the composer without royal protection and a source of income. Vivaldi eventually died not long after, on the night between 27 and 28 July 1741 , of internal infection in a house owned by the widow of a Viennese saddlemaker. On 28 July he was buried in a simple grave at the Hospital Burial Ground in Vienna (the assumption that the young Joseph Haydn sang in the choir at Vivaldi's burial was based on the mistranscription of a primary source and has been proven wrong). Contrary to popular assumptions, no evidence exists regarding Vivaldi's having been buried as a pauper. His burial spot is next to the Karlskirche in Vienna, at the site of the Technical Institute. The house he lived in while in Vienna was torn down. In part of its place there is now the Hotel Sacher. Memorial plaques have been placed at both locations, as well as a Vivaldi star in the Viennese Musikmeile and a monument at the Rooseveltplatz.
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