Antonio Vivaldi is one of the most famous figures in the history of classical music.
The Italian composer and famed violinist might be best known for his work The Four Seasons, which is instantly recognizable by so many of us even today.
But Vivaldi’s path to success and his historic impact on music is just as fascinating and multi-faceted as his music.
Here are 9 interesting facts about the 17th and 18th century violinist who has gone down in history for his music, his teaching, his composing, and his religious devotion.
Antonio Vivaldi: 9 Interesting Facts about the Baroque Composer
1. Music was in his blood.
Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy on March 4, 1678—the day of a large earthquake in the area. His father was a professional violinist—and barber—who passed his passion on to his son. Through the older Vivaldi—Giovanni Battista—young Antonio was introduced to many fine musicians and composers in the Italian music scene. He showed special talent with a violin.
Because he suffered from chronic shortness of breath—which historians now think could have been asthma or a lung disorder—he was never able to practice wind instruments.
2. He planned to be a priest.
Vivaldi took religious training from the age of 15, and became an ordained priest in the early 18th century. Despite planning to make his career as part of the clergy, his health issues made it difficult for him to deliver mass. Eventually he gave up serving in the priesthood.
Vivaldi was a redhead, and he became known in his hometown as The Red Priest, a funny fact about Antonio Vivaldi.
3. He was a musical impresario by the age of 25.
Antonio Vivaldi was given the title of Master of Violin at the Devout Hospital of Mercy—an orphanage—in Venice when he was only 25. Over the next 30 years, he would go on to compose almost all his most famous music while he was in that position, at a hospital that taught orphans.
Boys were taught in trades—carpentry, building, and sculpting. Girls were taught music. Many of these orphans—who showed great skill with their instruments—would go on to join Vivaldi’s orchestra. By 1715, the orchestra had gained global recognition, with Vivaldi as its director.
4. He also wrote for the opera.
Around the time that the orchestra was gaining international recognition, Vivaldi was also working on writing scores for opera. Throughout his life, his two most well-known operas—La Constanza Trionfante and Farnace—were performed regularly.
In addition to these two, Vivaldi wrote around 50 other scores.
5. He had famous fans.
Antonio Vivaldi wrote Gloria e Imeneo especially for King Louis XV’s wedding. The king was one of Vivaldi’s many patrons and fans, who also included Emperor Charles VI, who knighted Vivaldi, an interesting fact about Antonio Vivaldi.
6. He wrote The Four Seasons over four years.
From 1717 to 1721, Vivaldi was living in Mantua. He often took on short-term work, financed largely by his wealthy patrons. His time in Mantua was one of these short-term projects, and he wrote The Four Seasons, along with four sonnets which he wrote at the time. The set of concertos for violin consists of four separate pieces of composition, each of which is meant to inspire feelings and sounds of a certain season.
7. He didn’t make a lot of money.
Much of Vivaldi’s success didn’t translate financially. The composer was well supported by his wealthy patrons—like Emperor Charles VI, who supported him throughout the leader’s life. As he grew older, Vivaldi was also eclipsed by younger musicians and more modern musical trends. Although he had written almost 500 concertos, and was listed as a major influence for other major composers—like Johann Sebastian Bach—his popularity waned, a sad fact about Antonio Vivaldi.
Vivaldi moved to Vienna to be nearer to the Emperor, who was his most prominent patron. Sadly, the Emperor died shortly afterwards. By the time of his death on July 28, the following year, Vivaldi was living in poverty. He had a simple burial at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where young composer, Joseph Haydn, would perform the music for funeral services. He did not perform any musical service for Vivaldi’s funeral, since the deceased composer had nobody to pay for music.
8. His revival came centuries later.
In 1926, Dr. Alberto Gentili—a music historian—compiled a total catalogue of Vivaldi’s works.
Early in the 1930s, Vivaldi’s music was experiencing a renaissance. Many of his lesser known works were discovered with new enthusiasm by musicians and scholars. Composer and pianist, Alfredo Casella, went so far as to organize Vivaldi Week in 1939, to celebrate the historic composer. It was at that music festival that Gloria was rediscovered—music that is now commonly recognized amongst church-goers and in Christmas carols.
From the middle of World War II onwards, Vivaldi’s name and music began to spread across Europe and the rest of the world.
By the early 1950s, London was hosting a Festival of Britain. Part of the festival involved a concert season, which featured a lot of work by the Italian master and increased his relevance in modern times.
9. He even influences modern media.
In 2006, Vivaldi’s opera, Argippo, was discovered. The piece had been written in the mid-1720s, and was last performed in 1730—more than 275 years earlier, an interesting fact about Antonio Vivaldi’s work.
A movie about his life was also released in 2005—Vivaldi, A Prince in Venice. There was also a radio play about his life that same year, which became the stage performance The Angel and the Red Priest.
From his short-lived career as an ordained priest, to teaching orphans, to composing wedding music for emperors and kings—Antonio Vivaldi lived a colorful life. The prolific composer created hundreds of concertos, cantatas, and sonatas, and became one of the most influential musicians of his era.
Centuries after his death, thanks to the care and attention of musicians and historians, Vivaldi was able to experience a second wave of fame and adoration that resonates to this day.
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