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Antonio Vivaldi is a composer of the late Baroque period, born in 1678. As a newborn his health was poor and he was immediately baptized in order to ensure his place in heaven if he died. Health issues would plague him for most of his life, which for the time period was actually fairly long. He lived until 1741, dying a few months after his 61st birthday.
Antonio’s father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was a barber who had become a violinist. He taught his son to play the violin early, and the younger Vivaldi’s later compositions are an expression of this love of stringed instruments. Both father and son toured together in Venice, but Antonio began study for the priesthood when he was 15.
Vivaldi was afflicted with what many think may have been asthma, since it was referred to as a “tightening of the chest.” Though the composer was ordained a priest in 1703, in 1706 he received a dispensation to leave the priesthood. His next work was as a violin teacher at a school for orphan girls in Venice. He wrote numerous musical pieces for the girls, and they toured Venice receiving much critical acclaim along the way.
His position as teacher is often considered to be the reason why many violin solos by the composer are approachable for junior violinists. Though they require skill, they can usually be performed well by those who have studied the violin for five or six years. Younger performers frequently choose Vivaldi compositions as solo or audition material.
His position with the orphanage was off and on, due to fluctuating abilities to pay Vivaldi. Historians know, however, that he wrote over 100 concertos from 1723-29, specifically for the school. In his lifetime, he wrote over 500 Concertos, with the largest share of those for violinists. He also wrote over 40 operas, which are seldom performed, as well as a variety of both secular and sacred hymns and songs.
The music of Vivaldi was meant to appeal not simply to the upper classes, but was to be enjoyed by all. One can assume that his early roots as a traveling musician with a father from the lower classes must have influenced his decisions in composition. His music is bright, cheerful, and intricate.
Vivaldi fell out of favor as he aged, and was frequently criticized by contemporary composers, who felt that some of his work was repetitive in theme. Late in his life, Vivaldi sold many of his pieces to move to Vienna, where he thought his work might be better received. Yet in Vienna, his work was not appreciated, and he died impoverished and alone. His work was rarely performed until the 20th century, when interest in Vivaldi was reestablished.
Music historians realized at this time that Vivaldi is one of the great transitional artists and that much of his work is an announcement of the Classical period that was to radically alter music in the 1750s. Vivaldi’s most popular work today is the four concerto piece, The Four Seasons, which to many is considered an exceptional work. Most of his violin pieces are very well enjoyed, but it is the featured violin parts of Seasons which are representative of the greatness of this composer, who like many of his contemporaries, did not receive the appreciation he deserved during his lifetime.