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Antonio Lucio Vivaldi: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (b Venice, 4 March 1678; d Vienna, 27/8 July 1741).
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi: Italian composer. The most original and influential Italian composer of his generation, he laid the foundations for the mature Baroque concerto. His contributions to musical style, violin technique and the practice of orchestration were substantial, and he was a pioneer of orchestral programme music.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's father Giovanni Battista (1655–1736), a tailor's son, was born in Brescia. He moved with his widowed mother in 1666 to Venice, where he practised as a barber before becoming a professional violinist in early adulthood. Nine children, of whom Antonio was the eldest, are known to have been born to his union with Camilla Calicchio, a tailor's daughter, whom he married in June 1676. None of Antonio's brothers and sisters became musicians, although Francesco (1690–1752) emulated his elder brother's entrepreneurial spirit by adding to his main calling of barber those of paving contractor and publisher. On 23 April 1685 Giovanni Battista was engaged as a violinist at S Marco under the surname of Rossi. This suggests that red hair, which was to earn Antonio the sobriquet of ‘il prete rosso’ (‘the red priest’), was a family characteristic. In the same year Giovanni Battista became a founder-member of the Sovvegno di S Cecilia. He became sufficiently esteemed as a violinist to be listed alongside his celebrated son in Coronelli's Guida de' forestieri. There are signs that he was from time to time involved in operatic management. He certainly travelled widely, often with Antonio, to play the violin at church festivals. He may even have been a composer: La fedeltà sfortunata, an opera attributed to one G.B. Rossi, was performed at an unidentified Venetian theatre in 1688–9. On 30 September 1729, he was granted a year's leave from S Marco to accompany a son (presumably Antonio) to Germany. Father and son worked in the closest collaboration: the hand of Antonio's principal copyist, from the mid-1710s to the mid-1730s, is believed to be that of Giovanni Battista, with whom he shared a succession of apartments in Venice.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was baptized officially on 6 May 1678. Because the life of the newborn infant was thought to be in danger the midwife had performed a provisional baptism on the day of his birth; a possible cause was the earthquake which shook Venice on 4 March, but it is more likely that the ailment which the composer claimed to have afflicted him from birth was already manifesting itself. This condition (‘strettezza di petto’ was how Antonio Lucio Vivaldi described it) is generally identified with bronchial asthma. Although Antonio Lucio Vivaldi as an adult was evidently determined not to let it prevent him from undertaking frequent and arduous journeys, even if that meant maintaining a large and expensive entourage, its physical and particularly its psychological effect on him should not be underestimated.
Between 18 September 1693 (the date of his tonsure) and 23 March 1703 (the date of his ordination) Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was trained for the priesthood at the local churches of S Geminiano and S Giovanni in Oleo while continuing to live with his family in the parish of S Martino. He probably learnt the violin from his father, for whom he is said to have occasionally deputized at S Marco; his participation as a ‘supernumerary’ violinist in Christmas services at the basilica in 1696 is his earliest known public appearance. A few years after his ordination (probably in late 1706) he ceased for good to say Mass, thereby sacrificing a useful income as a house priest (mansionario) at the Pietà. In 1737, while under censure for conduct unbecoming a priest, he blamed this failure on his ailment, but it is not hard also to suspect an opportunist motive in view of his immersion in musical activities. Perhaps his defence is slightly strengthened by a fanciful early 19th-century report of his temporary retirement to the sacristy during celebration of Mass (if one chooses to discount the explanation that his purpose was to write down a fugue). Outwardly Vivaldi remained pious, and even traded on his status as a priest. The religious motto ‘Laus Deo’ (abbreviated as L.D.) and an expanded version ‘LDBMDA’, usually found in monogram form and possibly standing for ‘Laus Deo Beataeque Mariae Deiparae Amen’, occur with great frequency at the head of his scores – strange to say, particularly those of operas. From Goldoni's account of a meeting with Antonio Lucio Vivaldi in 1735 we glimpse the composer taking refuge from a rather unwelcome confrontation in mechanical recitation from his breviary.
In September 1703 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi obtained his first official post, becoming maestro di violino at the comfortable but unremarkable annual salary of 60 ducats at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, one of four Venetian institutions devoted to the care of orphaned, abandoned and indigent children and specializing in the musical training of those among the girls who showed aptitude. Services with music – one might almost call them concerts – at the Pietà were a focal point in the social calendar of the Venetian nobility and foreign visitors, and it was essential to ensure both the competent instruction and rehearsal of the young musicians and the regular supply of new works for them. Antonio Lucio Vivaldi owed his appointment to a request made earlier that year by the Pietà's maestro di coro (musical director) Francesco Gasparini that violin and oboe masters be engaged. In August 1704, 40 ducats were added to his salary in consideration of his teaching of the viole all'inglese – a family of variously sized instruments resembling viole d'amore in having sympathetic strings. To Antonio Lucio Vivaldi fell in addition the task of acquiring new string instruments for the orchestra and maintaining those already in use. The governors renewed his post annually until February 1709, when a majority voted on a second ballot against retaining him. It seems less probable that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was dismissed from his post on grounds of incapacity or misconduct, or through personal animosity, than that the post itself was temporarily discontinued, perhaps in the interests of economy. The orchestra would certainly be left in capable hands, for the Pietà's teachers had deputies (maestre di coro) assigned to them; these were the foremost performers among the girls and women, and some of them (for example, the Anna Maria commemorated in the title of several of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's violin and viola d'amore concertos) attained fame beyond the Pietà's walls. In addition, an élite group of a dozen women, the figlie privilegiate di coro, were responsible for teaching their younger fellow inmates and were even allowed to take pupils from outside. Ironically, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's very success in building up a cadre of seasoned performers may have contributed to his redundancy. This explanation gains support from the fact that the comparable post of teacher of wind instruments was left unfilled for long periods, and that during his lifetime no other violin teacher was ever appointed, although teachers of the cello, beginning with Antonio Vandini (sometimes confused in the Pietà's records with Antonio Lucio Vivaldi – whose name did, however, appear anagramatically as Lotavio Vandini in the libretto of Aristide), were employed between 1720 and 1731.
Meanwhile, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was seeking recognition as a composer. The earliest extant edition of his op.1, a set of 12 chamber sonatas in the trio medium, is that by Sala dated 1705 and dedicated to Count Annibale Gambara, a Brescian nobleman. That edition describes Antonio Lucio Vivaldi on the title-page as ‘Musico di violino, professore veneto’, making no mention of his appointment at the Pietà but acknowledging his status as a priest by use of the title ‘Don’; it could be a reprint of a lost original edition dating from 1703, though the inclusion of a letter of dedication implies otherwise. His op.2, consisting of violin sonatas, was hurriedly dedicated in 1709 to Frederik IV of Denmark during the king's brief visit to Venice. By then Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was also writing concertos, which circulated in manuscript; copies of some of his cello concertos made by the musician Franz Horneck while staying in Venice during the carnival season of 1708–9 have survived in the library of the Counts of Schönborn.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was voted back into his former post at the Pietà in September 1711 and was reappointed against steadily mounting opposition every year until March 1716, when the required majority of two-thirds was not obtained. Surprisingly, in May 1716 he was appointed to a position of nominally greater responsibility, maestro de’ concerti. The departure, in April 1713, of Gasparini on a sick leave from which he never returned gave Antonio Lucio Vivaldi an opportunity to write sacred music, for Pietro Scarpari, the singing master, was only a modest composer. The governors were so pleased with Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's efforts that in June 1715 they awarded him the choirmaster's customary annual bonus of 50 ducats in respect of ‘an entire mass, a vespers, an oratorio, over 30 motets and other labours’. In late 1716 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi followed his earlier Moyses Deus Pharaonis with a new oratorio, Juditha triumphans, which contained patriotic references to Venice's war against the Turks. This was probably the most elaborate work he ever wrote for the Pietà.
In 1711 Etienne Roger, the Amsterdam publisher, brought out what was to become the most influential music publication of the first half of the 18th century: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's L'estro armonico op.3, dedicated to Grand Prince Ferdinando of Tuscany; it comprised 12 concertos divided equally into works for one, two and four solo violins (see fig.1). The change to Roger from local publishers, which several other eminent Italian composers made about the same time, reflected not only the superiority of the engraving process over the printing from type still normally used in Italy (a superiority acknowledged in Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's preface to L'estro armonico) but also the enormous growth in demand for the latest Italian music in northern Europe. Nowhere was the enthusiasm for Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's concertos stronger than in Germany. Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed several of them (including five from op.3) for keyboard, and his noble patron Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar wrote concertos in Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's style. German musicians visiting Venice such as Stölzel (1713–14), Heinichen (1713–16) and Pisendel (1716–17) sought him out. Pisendel, who is supposed to have taken lessons from him, copied out several of his sonatas and concertos and also received autograph scores of many works directly from the master, who continued to have close relations with the Saxon court. Quantz, who first heard Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's concertos at Pirna in 1714, gave him credit in his Anweisung for having reformed the concerto (together with Albinoni); the formula for composing a concerto set out by Quantz conforms in every particular to Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's normal practice.
La stravaganza op.4, a set of 12 violin concertos, was dedicated in about 1716 to Vettor Delfino (Dolfin), a young pupil of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi from the Venetian nobility. The next three publications (opp.5–7, comprising six sonatas and 18 concertos), belonging to the years 1716–20, were left undedicated: apparently Roger ordered them from the composer and had them engraved at his own expense, which shows Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's exceptional popularity – this procedure, later in the century to become normal, was still rather rare.
During the 1710s, if not earlier, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi followed his father into the turbulent world of opera. Although his earliest known stage work, Ottone in villa, was performed at the summer resort of Vicenza in May 1713, he first established himself, as both a composer and an impresario, at the small, somewhat unfashionable Venetian theatre of S Angelo. In the carnival of 1713–14 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi wrote the dedication of the libretto by Grazio Braccioli for M.A. Gasparini's Rodomonte sdegnato, as he did again a year later for Luca Papirio, set to music by Predieri. It was possibly Predieri's opera that the Frankfurt lawyer J.F.A. von Uffenbach heard on 4 February 1715, when he noted in his diary that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was the ‘entrepreneur’ (mistakenly believing him also to be the composer). Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's own Orlando finto pazzo opened the 1714–15 season, and a pasticcio (Nerone fatto Cesare) and two new operas followed up to 1717. Between 1716 and 1718 he also wrote three operas for the S Moisè theatre; in addition, there were some revivals.
In April 1718 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi took his recently composed opera Armida al campo d'Egitto to Mantua, where he stayed until 1720. During that time he wrote three operas for performance in the 1719 and 1720 carnival seasons. The Governor of Mantua (for the Habsburgs) was Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, a noted music lover. Antonio Lucio Vivaldi became his maestro di cappella da camera, a curiously worded title (probably meaning ‘director of secular music’) that he retained after leaving Mantua. He wrote several cantatas and serenatas for the Mantuan court.
Having briefly returned to Venice, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was soon off to Rome, where, according to two letters of 1737 to Guido Bentivoglio d'Aragona, he spent three carnival seasons and was invited twice to play before the pope. Three operas performed in Rome during the 1723 and 1724 carnival seasons are known, and it is possible that the other season for which Antonio Lucio Vivaldi wrote was that of 1720, when he contributed an act to a pasticcio, Tito Manlio, performed at the Teatro Pace. Pier Leone Ghezzi's famous caricature of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was drawn during Carnival 1723 when Ercole su 'l Termodonte was being staged. While in Rome, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi came into contact with Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, Corelli's former patron; numerous concertos and a handsome volume of violin sonatas in Manchester can be traced back to Ottoboni's library. In July 1723 the Pietà governors agreed to ask Antonio Lucio Vivaldi to supply the orchestra with two concertos every month (at one sequin each), sending them by post if necessary, and to direct three or four rehearsals of them when in Venice. The institution's accounts confirm payment to him for over 140 concertos between 1723 and 1729. As a composer Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was evidently a major asset to the Pietà, notwithstanding his frequent travels, which ruled out a teaching post.
It was around this time that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's association with the contralto Anna Girò must have begun. She was the daughter of a Mantuan wigmaker of French origin and became his singing pupil. Between 1723 and 1748 she appeared regularly on the operatic stage, especially in Venice. Goldoni thought her voice weak but conceded that she was a good actress and had an attractive appearance. The alterations made by Goldoni at Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's insistence to Zeno's original libretto for Griselda show that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was aware of his pupil's limitations. Both Anna and her half-sister Paolina (who acted as her chaperone) were loyal members of his entourage. Tongues inevitably wagged, and it was widely believed that Anna Girò was Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's mistress, despite his plausible denials.
From 1726 to 1728 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was again active as a composer and impresario at S Angelo. At the same time his instrumental works were continuing to spread his reputation. Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione op.8 (opening with the four concertos portraying the seasons) appeared by 1725 and was dedicated to his Bohemian patron Count Wenzel von Morzin (a distant relative of the Morzin who employed Haydn). La cetra op.9 was dedicated to Emperor Charles VI, whom Antonio Lucio Vivaldi met in September 1728 at or near Trieste, and from whom he reportedly received much money and a golden chain with a medallion. (The 12 different concertos also entitled La cetra and dated 1728 in a manuscript in Vienna may commemorate that meeting; the published La cetra appeared earlier, in 1727.) The pioneering flute concertos of op.10 and the string concertos of opp.11 and 12 were issued by Le Cène in 1729. Although the publisher bore the costs of all five collections, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was evidently dissatisfied with the financial returns, for in 1733 he told the English traveller Edward Holdsworth of his decision not to have any more concertos published as this inhibited his more profitable trade in manuscripts, for which the current price was a guinea per concerto; and indeed no work of his published after op.12 appeared with his proven consent (op.13, Il pastor fido, is a clever pastiche by the French musette player Nicolas Chédeville, while a presumably equally spurious op.14 was announced in Paris but never appeared).
Between late 1729 and early 1733 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi travelled widely. Perhaps the invitation to Vienna cited in a letter of 1737 relates to this period. He may well have visited Prague (where since 1724 an opera company headed by the Venetian singer Antonio Denzio had been active at the court of Count Sporck), as two new operas were given there in autumn 1730 (Argippo) and spring 1731 (Alvilda). By his own account, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi liked to oversee productions of his new operas, so the dates and places of their premières provide valuable clues to his movements.
During the period 1733–5 he wrote several operas for S Angelo and the Grimani theatre of S Samuele to which Goldoni was attached. His entrepreneurial activities in Venice seem mainly to have petered out; instead, he increasingly promoted opera in smaller mainland centres like Verona, Ancona, Reggio nell'Emilia and Ferrara. From L'Adelaide (1735, Verona) onwards Antonio Lucio Vivaldi styled himself maestro di cappella of François III, Duke of Lorraine and (from 1737) Grand Duke of Tuscany, the future Emperor Francis I. This title was doubtless little more than honorific. Meanwhile, he was reinstated at the Pietà as maestro di cappella in August 1735. The governors now wished to take a firmer line on his travelling, and his renewed absences probably contributed to his failure to gain reappointment in March 1738. His links were not severed, however: when Friedrich Christian, Crown Prince of Saxony-Poland, visited the Pietà on 21 March 1740 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was asked to supply and direct the performance of three concertos (rv540, 552, 558) and one sinfonia (rv149); the scores, mostly autograph, were taken back to Dresden. During the interregnum between maestri di coro Giovanni Porta (1726–37) and Gennaro d'Alessandro (1739–40) he also sold the Pietà numerous sacred vocal works.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was on close terms with Guido Bentivoglio d'Aragona, a marquis from Ferrara. He enlisted Bentivoglio's support to stage operas at Ferrara during the carnival seasons of 1737, 1738 and 1739; 13 letters by Antonio Lucio Vivaldi to Bentivoglio and copies of several replies by the marquis, most of which are in the Bentivoglio archives, provide, among other things, an illuminating record of these three essays (all of them less than successful in their different ways) in opera promotion. In 1737 there were wrangles over a singer's contract and the choice of operas, and an unseemly attempt by Antonio Lucio Vivaldi to exact the maximum payment. In 1738 Cardinal Tomaso Ruffo, Archbishop of Ferrara (a papal domain), forbade Antonio Lucio Vivaldi to enter Ferrara, ostensibly on account of his relationship with Anna Girò and his refusal to say Mass, so that he was compelled to put the enterprise in the hands of local impresarios in whom he had little confidence. In 1739 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, who was in Venice supervising the performances of Feraspe, paid dearly for his absence from Ferrara. The first opera, Siroe, was criticized for faults in its recitatives (because, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi bitterly claimed, of alterations arbitrarily introduced by the harpsichordist, Pietro Antonio Berretta) with the result that the theatre's patrons refused to mount Farnace, the second opera. Bentivoglio was sympathetic but too diplomatic to intervene.
De Brosses, who met Antonio Lucio Vivaldi in autumn 1739, found his stock low with the Venetian public. That may be one reason why Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was persuaded to undertake his last journey in 1740 (the ground for which may have been prepared by Anna Girò's visits to Graz in 1739 and 1740 to sing in operas presented by Angelo Mingotti's company). On 29 April (not August) 1740 the Pietà governors, having got wind of his imminent departure, rejected a motion to buy ‘a certain portion of concertos’ from him; they must have relented, however, as on 12 May he was paid for 20 concertos. It appears that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's departure was connected with the intended production of one or more operas at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. The death of Charles VI in October 1740 and the ensuing closure of all Viennese theatres for the duration of the following carnival must have frustrated this plan, but Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, perhaps too ill or too poor to return to Venice, lingered on in the city. On 28 June 1741 he signed a receipt for the sale of several concertos to Count Antonio Vinciguerra di Collalto. On 27 or 28 July he died in a house owned by the widow of a Viennese saddler named Waller and was given a pauper's burial on the latter day at the Hospital Burial Ground (Spettaler Gottesacker), confirming a statement in a contemporary Venetian commonplace book (Commemoriali Gradenigo) which notes that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, who had once earned 50,000 ducats (presumably annually), died in poverty through his prodigality. Anna Girò, who had accompanied him, returned to Venice and continued her career; his opera L'oracolo in Messenia was produced posthumously at the Kärntnertortheater in 1742.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was so unconventional a man and musician that he was bound to elicit much adverse comment in his lifetime. His vanity was notorious: he boasted of his fame and illustrious patrons, and of his fluency in composition, asserting before De Brosses that he could compose a concerto in all its parts more quickly than it could be copied. In many cases these claims were clearly exaggerated. He told Holdsworth, for example, that 17 (not 12) collections by him had been published, rather deceitfully counting double each opus divided into two volumes. His claim to Bentivoglio in 1739 that he had composed 94 operas (fewer than 50 are known) needs to be interpreted in this light. Along with his vanity went an extreme sensitivity to criticism, which comes out even in the dedications of his opp.1 and 4, where one sees a phrase such as ‘i miei sudori forse malignati dalla critica’ (‘my efforts, which are perhaps spoken ill of by the critics’). His preoccupation with money was excessive by most standards: it is a subject that surfaces continually in his letters to Bentivoglio. Holdsworth and De Brosses found that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi drove a hard bargain with foreign visitors. Yet the sheer zest of the man compelled admiration. De Brosses wrote of his ‘furie de composition’, and Goldoni painted a charming picture of the old man's enthusiasm on seeing the aria text his visitor had penned before his very eyes. His egotism must have been redeemed by higher qualities for him to have retained the loyalty of the Girò sisters and several patrons. If the well-known engraving of him by François Morellon La Cave (and its imitation by James Caldwall) conveys all too successfully his self-satisfaction, the anonymous painting in Bologna of an unnamed violinist believed to be Antonio Lucio Vivaldi shows a more sympathetic, pensive side.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was praised more readily by his contemporaries as a violinist than as a composer, though few went as far as Goldoni, who categorized him as ‘excellent joueur de violon et compositeur médiocre’. Uffenbach's report of his ending the accompaniment to an operatic aria with ‘a fantasy [i.e. cadenza, or ‘capriccio’] which really terrified me, for such has not been nor can ever be played; he came with his fingers within a mere grass-stalk's breadth of the bridge, so that the bow had no room – and this on all four strings with imitations and at incredible speed’ vividly captures his predilection for extremely high positions, cadenza-like passages and multiple stopping. Such pyrotechnics undoubtedly hindered his acceptance as a serious composer. Avison found his compositions ‘equally defective in various harmony and true invention’, an opinion found too sweeping by William Hayes, who, attributing the composer's faults ‘to his having a great command of his instrument, being of a volatile disposition (having too much mercury in his constitution) and to misapplication of good parts and abilities’, nonetheless thought that the 11th concerto in L'estro armonico (rv565) gave evidence of his ‘capacity in solid composition’. Hawkins admitted the ‘peculiar force and energy’ of his concertos, though he found them ‘wild and irregular’ and disparaged their part-writing.
Quantz had turned against Antonio Lucio Vivaldi by the time his Anweisung appeared in 1752, reproaching him for too much routine composing and for falling under the bad influence of opera. Further, many of Quantz's criticisms directed towards particular features of the contemporary Italian style, such as its fondness for simple, functional bass parts thematically unrelated to the upper parts, apply a fortiori to Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, their originator or popularizer. C.P.E. Bach taxed ‘a certain master in Italy’ (obviously Antonio Lucio Vivaldi) with initiating the custom of writing the bass in a high register and assigning it to violins, a usage already deplored by Benedetto Marcello in his satire Il teatro alla moda (1720), which targets Antonio Lucio Vivaldi in particular. Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's kindest German critic was the italophile Johann Mattheson, who commended him for his observation of the distinction between apt vocal and instrumental writing (the first avoiding the leaps of the second). Ironically, Tartini was reported by De Brosses to have instanced Antonio Lucio Vivaldi as one of those men gifted in instrumental composition who met with failure when they essayed opera – perhaps a case of sour grapes, for Goldoni wrote that most of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's operas were successful.
A few decades passed, and Antonio Lucio Vivaldi fell into virtual oblivion, except among a few music historians and lexicographers – to be rescued, like so many of his contemporaries, via Bach scholarship. The influence of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi on Bach had been acknowledged by Forkel; now Rühlmann and Waldersee unearthed the Antonio Lucio Vivaldi originals of the Bach transcriptions and made their comparisons – always, at that time, to the Italian's disadvantage. His unequivocal importance to the history of the concerto was first demonstrated by Arnold Schering in 1905. The steady growth of interest in him received a tremendous spur from the discovery by Alberto Gentili in the 1920s of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's personal archive of scores (the great variety of genres, both sacred and secular, and the preponderance of autograph scores make it impossible that the collection originally belonged to the Pietà, as some have suggested): the Foà and Giordano collections, now in the Biblioteca Nazionale, Turin. These were once, before their arbitrary division as a legacy into two collections, the property of the Venetian bibliophile Jacopo Soranzo, and later of Gluck's patron Count Giacomo Durazzo. The seal was set on Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's rehabilitation by the inauguration in 1947 of a collected edition of his instrumental works published by Ricordi in association with the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi and the appearance of Marc Pincherle's famous study in the following year.
The cataloguing of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s large and diverse output has proved a difficult task, especially as works having thematic incipits in common often prove on closer examination to be different (conversely, works with different incipits often share secondary material). With the rapid progress of Vivaldi research in recent years the two principal older catalogues, by Pincherle and Mario Rinaldi, have largely fallen into disuse, while the catalogue by Antonio Fanna, though still used, functions mainly as a finding list for the instrumental works published by Ricordi. The most recent and currently preferred catalogue by Peter Ryom, which exists in several versions published from 1973 onwards, is the only one that can claim to be complete. Although much more rationally organized than its predecessors, it has begun to show signs of its age, not least in the mass of recently discovered works untidily occupying the numbers from rv754 onwards and the confusing transfers of works (in both directions) between the main series (rv) and the one containing works of disputed or uncertain authorship (rv Anh).
No brief description can do justice to the variety of form, scoring and imaginative conception in Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's 500-odd concertos. If he did not invent ritornello form – the form in which varied restatements in different keys of a ritornello (refrain), usually scored for the full ensemble, alternate with modulating episodes of free thematic character, where a soloist predominates – he was at least the first composer to use it regularly in the fast movements of concertos, so providing his contemporaries with the models they were seeking. The same is true of the standard three-movement plan. Several occasional features of Vivaldi concertos were taken further and made normative by his successors: the northern Italians, including Tartini and Locatelli, copied his reference to the ritornello opening at the start of the first solo episode, the infiltration of solo writing into the ritornello, and the provision of a cadenza; the Germans, notably Bach, developed his techniques of thematic integration – the reprise of the first solo idea in the final episode and the use of ritornello fragments to accompany the soloist. Very often, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi has a double statement of the ritornello in the tonic at the end of the movement (which facilitates the matching of the openings of the first and last episodes) or a single statement of the ritornello interrupted by one or more solo excursions generally either reminiscent of earlier solo material or in the nature of a cadenza. G.M. Alberti and Telemann were among the composers who often copied this feature. One Vivaldian idiosyncrasy – the tendency to make ritornello restatements progressively shorter and less complete, while the length of episodes increases – was not taken over by his imitators, who preferred more symmetrical proportions. This peculiarity was accentuated by Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's impulsive way of composing: certain ideas in the opening ritornello, it seems, captured his imagination and recur almost automatically, while others, equally fertile in possibilities, are passed over, allowing the ritornello to become whittled down by a process akin to natural selection. It also happens that spontaneous modifications devoid of specific purpose are made to the ritornello in the act of writing it out again, as if the composer disdained to refresh his memory by consulting earlier pages. A simplified version of ritornello form is often used in slow movements, though binary form or through-composed form (sometimes employing a ground bass) also occur. Binary and variation form are occasionally found in finales.
Roughly 350 concertos are for one solo instrument and strings, over 230 of them for violin. Other solo instruments are (in descending order of frequency) bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d'amore, a violin adapted to sound like a trumpet marine, recorder (including the so-called ‘flautino’) and mandolin. There are 40-odd double concertos, mostly for two similar instruments but including such rare combinations as viola d'amore and lute (rv540). Multiple concertos, in which three or more soloists participate, number over 30 and introduce, among other instruments, clarinets (making one of their earliest orchestral appearances), chalumeaux, theorbos, horns and timpani. A very important group of works is constituted by nearly 60 ripieno concertos (or string concertos without soloist), stylistically often very close to operatic sinfonias, with which they can be virtually interchangeable; some of them demonstrate an impressive sense of thematic economy and a flair for fugal writing that should give pause to those who consider Antonio Lucio Vivaldi an arch-instigator of the ‘flight from counterpoint’. Over 20 concertos are for a small group of solo instruments without string ripieno; the tutti is formed by the united soloists, as in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no.3. Finally, there are a small number of works for double string orchestra with soloists, continuing an old Venetian and Italian tradition.
Many of the concertos received descriptive titles of various kinds. Some refer to the original performer or performers (e.g. Il Carbonelli rv366), while others recall the particular feast on which the work was performed (as in the concertos ‘per la Solennità di S Lorenzo’). Some allude to an unusual technical feature; in L'ottavina (rv763), for instance, all the solos are directed to be played an octave higher than written. Other titles (e.g. L'inquietudine rv234) characterize the pervading mood of the work. Lastly, some programmatic or onomatopoeic concertos have appropriate titles (e.g. Il Gardellino rv90, 428; La tempesta di mare rv98, 433, 570). In these, the elements in the ‘programme’ that remain constant (e.g. the huntsmen in the finale of the ‘Autumn’ concerto from the ‘Four Seasons’) are, quite logically, incorporated in the ritornello, while transitory events (e.g. the death of their quarry) are depicted in individual episodes. The slow movements are mostly static tableaux in which instrumentation is sometimes skilfully used to differentiate parts of the scene: in the central movement of the ‘Spring’ concerto, for instance, we hear simultaneously a sleeping shepherd (solo violin), a rippling brook (orchestral violins) and a vigilant sheepdog (viola).
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was a deft and enterprising orchestrator. In general, the number of real parts is reduced and the texture lightened in solo passages, but the ways in which that is achieved are so varied as to defy enumeration. Single-line accompaniments on continuo or ripieno violins are the most common. He employed many special colouristic effects, such as muting and pizzicato, and paid exceptional attention for his time to the nuances of string articulation and bowing. The well-known passage in op.3 no.10 (rv580) where each of the four solo violins arpeggiates in a different manner is a representative instance. In particular, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was fond of syncopated bowing in which the change of bow occurs on a note off the beat. Occasionally he seems to call for a true crescendo or diminuendo, anticipating early Classical style.
His approximately 90 sonatas are by comparison conservative in form and style, reflecting the special role of the genre in Italy as the repository of traditional technique. The trio sonatas of opp.1 and 5 are firmly in the chamber style, paying due homage to Corelli, while the solo sonatas, variously for violin, cello and wind instruments, are mostly in a composite church–chamber style where da camera elements have the upper hand, as shown by the supremacy of binary form, even in slow movements. The most interesting sonatas are perhaps a group of four for two violins performable without bass support (rv68, 70, 71, 77), which probably antedate Leclair's op.3 duets.
In his instrumental music Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was an uninhibited self-borrower. The extent to which material, including whole movements, was not merely re-used in works of the same genre but even transferred from one genre to another is remarkable. The slow movement of a solo sonata (rv12) can reappear in a solo concerto (rv582). A binary sonata finale (rv755) can be converted into ritornello form and used in a concerto (rv229). More subtly, the opening of the Allemanda finale of rv3 supplies the material of the episodes in the first movement of rv101 and its later version rv437. In those cases the sequence of borrowing is fairly clear, but in many others guesses are hazardous on present evidence. Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was also prone to modify existing works when they were required for new purposes; it is unlikely that he would ever have considered any version definitive. In recent years it has become evident that many of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's movements in the stile antico are borrowed, usually with only slight adaptation, from older composers, including Giovanni Maria Ruggieri and Antonio Lotti.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's sacred music, less well known outside Italy, was subject to the operatic influences of his age, although many individual movements remain close to the stile osservato. His numerous solo motets, well described by Denis Arnold as ‘concertos for voice’, have frankly exhibitionistic vocal parts. Antonio Lucio Vivaldi left eight ‘introductory’ motets (introduzioni) designed to preface a large-scale setting of a liturgical text (Gloria, Dixit Dominus, Miserere). Few examples of this subgenre are known from other composers. It is noteworthy how frequently the principal melodic interest in choral movements is allotted to the violins, leaving the choir to declaim homophonically in the background (as in the outer movements of the Credo rv591), thus anticipating the symphonic mass of Franz Joseph Haydn's generation. Alongside operatic influence, that of the concerto is rarely absent. An extreme case is the Beatus vir rv598, conceived as a vast span of 420 bars in ritornello form; here the vocal soloists are heard in the episodes and the choir fulfils tutti and solo functions by turns. In his church music Antonio Lucio Vivaldi succeeded admirably in conveying the general sense of the text, but his word-setting can be cavalier (as, indeed, in his secular vocal music) and his attentiveness to the individual word or phrase disappointingly slight. It is the factor of a strong musical personality rather than artistic refinement that has brought deserved popularity in recent times to the Gloria rv589, the Magnificat rv610 and 611, and the oratorio Juditha triumphans.
His cantatas and serenatas are written in the style often misleadingly termed ‘Neapolitan’ after Alessandro Scarlatti. Their backbone is a series of two or more da capo arias, with which recitatives alternate. Over three-quarters of his cantatas are for solo voice (soprano or alto) and continuo alone, the favoured combination of the time. They constitute the least innovatory portion of his output, but by no means the least expertly written. There is a hint in one cantata (Nel partir da te mio caro rv661) that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi sometimes wrote the poetic text himself, for whereas three rejected openings of one recitative there have one text, the successful fourth version has a similar but not identical text. (Antonio Lucio Vivaldi is also suspected of having penned the sonetti dimostrativi explicating the ‘Four Seasons’.) The serenatas are more extended works, intermediate in style between cantata and opera and commissioned to celebrate an event or eulogize some person. Lacking the length and bombast of the operas, while furnishing more interesting sonorities than the cantatas, they fully deserve revival.
The scores of 21 operas, some lacking one or more acts, have survived. They include his first opera (Ottone in villa) and one of his last (Rosmira). Viewed dramatically, the operas merely supply what was expected of a composer working within narrow and at the time universal conventions; that apart, the music is as vital and imaginative as any he wrote. Obbligato instruments are introduced from time to time: for example, Armida calls for a solo violin, Giustino a psaltery and L'olimpiade a horn. It is interesting that some of the later scores include a few arias by Leo, Hasse, Handel, Pergolesi and other composers of the moment. Antonio Lucio Vivaldi may have wished to lend a veneer of fashion to the operas, no longer confident of his ability to satisfy public taste; or perhaps he borrowed simply for convenience or at a singer's behest.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's musical language is so distinctive that it is worth mentioning a few of its peculiarities. His melody shows a penchant for Lombardic rhythms (which, according to Quantz, he was the first to introduce) and for syncopation – betraying, perhaps, Venice's connections with Dalmatia and the Slavonic hinterland. His treatment of the variable sixth and seventh degrees of the minor scale was amazingly flexible, admitting the augmented 2nd as a melodic interval even in an ascending line. Compound intervals, including the octave, could assume an expressive melodic value hitherto barely exploited. He transported ideas from the major into the minor mode (and vice versa) with almost Schubertian freedom. He formed melodies from mere cadential fragments (a phenomenon well described by Kolneder as ‘Kadenzmelodik’). His harmony abounds in 7th chords, and he used the higher dominant discords (9th, 11th, 13th) over pedals with near recklessness. He can modulate extremely abruptly, often through a VII–I rather than V–I progression. Juxtapositions of very slow and very fast harmonic rhythms are frequent. His phrasing often includes irregular groups (e.g. of one and a half bars' length). His two violins frequently toss a pair of contrapuntally contrasted motifs back and forth over several bars, either at one pitch (producing a quasi-canonic effect) or at different pitches in a sequential pattern; sequence, incidentally, was a device whose attractiveness to Vivaldi could be dangerous in his more facile moments. Ostinato phrases in one part which contradict the changing harmonies of the other parts are typical.
It is rare that such an individualist attracts many followers. Yet during the period 1710–30 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's influence on the concerto was so strong that some established composers older than him like Dall'Abaco and Albinoni felt obliged to modify their style in mid-career. In most of Italy, and in France after about 1725, the Vivaldian model was enthusiastically adopted. Only in conservative Rome and certain other parts of Europe (notably England) where the Corellian style had taken firm root was its hegemony resisted, and even then a Vivaldian spirit informs many concertos whose form is more Corellian than Vivaldian. Because the influence of the concerto permeated all forms of composition Antonio Lucio Vivaldi can legitimately be regarded as a most important precursor of G.B. Sammartini and the Bach sons in the evolution of the Classical symphony. Equally, he can be seen as a harbinger of musical Romanticism, not just on account of the pictorialism of certain programmatic concertos, but in more general terms because of the higher value he placed on expression than on perfection of detail.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was one of the most important figures in the Baroque era. As a violin virtuoso and composer of instrumental music (particularly for the violin), he was to establish a reputation not only in Italy but throughout the whole of Western Europe.
We know little about Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's early musical training. His father, from 1685 employed as a violinist at San Marco, presumably gave him his first lessons; Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-90), director of music at San Marco, may also have coached him whilst he was still very young. At the age of fifteen, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi began his training for the priesthood. This extended over ten years, 1693 to 1703, during which time Antonio Lucio Vivaldi does not appear to have attended a seminary, at least not on a regular basis. Shortly after becoming a priest in 1703, he ceased saying Mass, complaining of a chest ailment which had caused him on several occasions to leave the altar in mid-celebration. His more fanciful biographers have imagined in these abrupt departures an impatient scramble to note down a musical idea whilst it was still fresh in the mind. They may not be so far from the mark. From all accounts, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi did not suffer from the same seizures when he was directing an orchestra or playing the violin. Nor, although in this respect he claimed the need of constant attention from his travelling companions, was he prevented from undertaking numerous journeys, some leading him far from Italy. In brief, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that he wished as a matter of preference to devote his life to music, and not to the Church. He did however remain indebted to the Cloth, and of course to his remarkably red hair, for the widely used nickname Ml prete rosso'.
From the same year as he was priested dates his association, which was to continue almost until his death, with the 'Ospedale della Pieta'. 'La Pieta' was one of four important charitable institutions in Venice which lodged and educated the numerous female foundlings with which city appeared to teem. The cultivation of musical skills had become by the end of the 17th century the predominant activity in these orphanages. By Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's day, such was the attainment of the foundlings that their musical performances on Sundays and feast days drew large and appreciative crowds. Indeed, such were the resources, both musical and financial, of the Venetian Ospedali that they were able to attract into their service some of the most eminent musicians of the time, amongst others Antonio Lotti (1666-1740), Antonio Caldara (1670-1736), Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783), and, in 1703, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. He began at La Pieta as maestro di violino, but there is no doubt that his activities were not confined to playing and teaching the violin, but extended also to composing. His Op. 1 trio sonatas were published in Venice in 1705, and his Op. 2 solo violin sonatas in 1709.
The second decade of the 18th century saw an enormous increase in the scope of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's activities and his reputation, both as a violin virtuoso and as a composer. It was this decade in which he made his debut as an opera composer with the production in Vicenza in 1713 of Ottone in villa. This was the first of nearly 100 operas Antonio Lucio Vivaldi claimed to have written, and one of 46 which can now be traced. The composition and production of his stage works was an occupation which soon cut into his duties at La Pieta. There was hardly a year between 1713 and 1738 which passed without the presentation of at least one, and more often three or four, new operas in some Italian city or other; and for many of these productions Antonio Lucio Vivaldi took upon himself the responsibility of rehearsing and - directing performances. This decade also saw the publication of his Op. 3-7, first in Amsterdam, and then throughout Europe. These publications, containing exclusively instrumental music (and including the famous Op. 3 set of concerti L'Estro Armonico), fully established Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's reputation, beside Corelli's, as the foremost Italian composer of instrumental music of his day. In 1716, the directors of La Pieta officially designated him maestro del concerti, a title Antonio Lucio Vivaldi had sported since the appearance of his Op.2.
The following years were accompanied by even more travelling and long periods of absence from La Pieta. Between c. 1718 and 1721, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was in the service of Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, governor of Mantua from 1714 to 1735. It was during this Mantuan period that he met Anna Giraud (La Giro), who was to take so many of the leading soprano roles in Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's operas, and who, with her sister, became the composer's constant travelling companion. In 1723 and 1724, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi visited Rome, and on one occasion had the honour of playing before the Pope. In 1728 he equalled this signal recognition of his accomplishments with several audiences with the Emperor Charles VI. It is reported that the music-loving Charles spoke more with Antonio Lucio Vivaldi during two weeks than with his ministers in the course of two years. About this time Antonio Lucio Vivaldi dedicated two collections of his music to the Emperor, La Cetra (Op.9), and a manuscript collection of twelve miscellaneous concern. In 1729 he embarked upon a tour of Germany, including in his itinerary a visit to the Imperial Court at Vienna, and perhaps also to Prague.
If the 1720s marked the summit of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's career (the Op. 8 concerti numbered amongst them the uniquely famous Four Seasons), the 1730s witnessed a slow decline. First the fickle Italian public began to show signs of tiring of his music; his powerful patron Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt died in 1736; the following year, 1737, the Church authorities, sensing perhaps their moment, banned Antonio Lucio Vivaldi from mounting his operas in Ferrara (a papal territory) on account of his lapsed priesthood and his association with Anna Giraud; and finally, the year after that, the directors of La Pieta refused to renew his contract. Towards the end of 1740, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi left Italy and travelled to Vienna. Was he seeking employment in the Imperial Court? We do not know; and in any case it was too late: Charles VI had died in October 1740, and the War of Austrian Succession was distracting Vienna from artistic pursuits. It was in Vienna that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi languished and died. He was buried on the 28th July 1741 in a pauper's grave attached to St Stephen's.
The number of known works by Antonio Lucio Vivaldi has risen dramatically this century with the discovery of two large manuscript collections now in the Turin State Library (the Foa andGiodarno collections). The figure now stands at 750 (total established by P. Ryom in 1971). Antonio Lucio Vivaldi belonged to an age of prolific composers, but there is still something extremely impressive about this achievement, not least because so much of his music is of such first-rate quality.
Today Antonio Lucio Vivaldi is known chiefly through his concerti; in his own day these works were no less responsible for his international reputation. The published concerti (Op. 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1 1 and 12- almost the complete range of his opus numbers) represent but a quarter of his total output in the concerto genre. This numbers over 400, including 220 solo concerti, some 60 concerti ripieni (or sinfonie), 48 bassoon concerti, 25 'cello concerti, plus divers works for flutes, oboes, clarinets (!), horns, trumpets and even mandolins. Pride of place must go to the solo violin concerti. In these works, including the famous Op. 3 set (L'Estro Armonico) and the Four Seasons from Op. 8, Vivaldi established and stabilised the 18th-century plan. These works contain no less the seeds of the 18th-century symphony: a strong sense of tonality, of harmonic thrust, and, most of all, drama. Many of the stylistic attributes associated with the early symphonists of the Mannheim school, and G. B. Sammartini, are also present: the rocketing scales and arpeggios, the graded dynamics, themes based on tonic triads and propelled by assertive, vigorously declamed rhythms, and a classically conceived use of wind, even to the inclusion of horns in some sinfonie. It should be noted that in his concerti Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was possibly the first composer to conceive of l an essentially dramatic conflict between the virtuoso and the orchestra' and also the first 'to bring the pathos of the most impassioned Venetian opera arias into the slow movement' (Pincherle). It is not only works like Bach's Italian Concerto (BWV 971) which reveal the progeny of such pieces, but the piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Perhaps nothing speaks more eloquently for Antonio Lucio Vivaldi than the number of times Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed and arranged his concerti for organ and harpsichord, and indeed the evident debt he owed Vivaldi, particularly in the formal organisation and the thematic construction of his ritornello movements.)
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi's vocal music includes various settings of items from the Ordinary of the Mass, numerous psalm settings (for Vespers) and Hymns, as well as three large-scale oratorios, Moyses deus Pharaonis (1714), Juditha triumphans (1716) and L'Adorazione delli tre Re Magi (1722). Of these works, his Gloria in D major has rightly become popular in recent years. The operas, which still remain largely buried in archives, and which contain much that was written hastily, and much that will remain locked in an irretrievable culture, reveal nevertheless that Antonio Lucio Vivaldi possessed considerable dramatic insight, and could write for the stage with the same degree of skill and fecundity as for the purely instrumental media.
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