An Outline of his Life

Born in Venice on March 4, 1678, Vivaldi was given an emergency baptism due to “danger of death.” but the reason is not known for certain. It could be due to the fact that he was born frail and sickly and thought to have contracted angina pectoris or asthma.

Vivaldi was born into a large family, with four brothers and four sisters. He began studying to be a priest at the age of fifteen, and became a priest in 1703, when he was 25 years old. He became known as “the red priest” because of his bright red hair, which may well have been inherited from his father, Giovanni Battista.

His illness
Vivaldi had a medical problem - "tightening of the chest", which is what we would commonly known as asthma today. His medical problems did not deter him from his engagement in the many musical activities. However, as a result of the condition of his illness, he gave up celebrating Mass and became a simple abbe with no pastoral duties. He also received permission to remain at home with his parents. 


At the Pietà

Composition published

In 1703, Vivaldi was engaged as a violin master at the Conservatory of the Ospedale della Pietà (Hospital of Mercy, so called because it was attached to a hospital), one of the best in musical reputation and the highest in musical standards of the four such hospitals in Venice.

Though they were charitable institutions originally founded to receive orphaned, illegitimate and abandoned girls, they were infact homes for the female offspring of noblemen with their numerous mistresses. They were thus well endowed by the ‘anonymous’ fathers and they were very well looked-after.

The girls were divided into two categories: those who received a general education and those who were trained exclusively in music. The latter categories received excellent training in singing and instrumental techniques. Many of them were extremely talented and these were brought up at the State’s expense.

Vivaldi remained at the Pietà for most of his professional life. There he wrote some of his finest music, experimented with form and instrumentation, and hundreds of compositions for the girls to perform in the orchestra or to sing in the choir.

Concerts were only held on every Sunday and feast-day, but the level of general music-making that went on within the Pietà made it seem as if there was a concert every day.

Vivaldi's orchestra was largely made up of the girls from the Pietà. His music was written for this talented group, which was famous throughout Europe. Visitors were surprised that young women could play such large or "unusual" instruments as the bassoon and clarinet. It was not considered proper for women to perform in public so they played from a gallery, or from behind an iron lattice, to protect their privacy. Similar institutions provided musical training for young men.

In 1705, two years after his ordination as a priest, Vivaldi published his first music, a set of 12 Trio-sonatas. In 1713, he staged his first opera and in 1716, the peak of his theatrical activities , he staged his first oratorio.

Also, in 1716, at 38 years old, Vivaldi was elected as a Concert Master at the Pietà – a position with higher responsibility. This new position had given Vivaldi the opportunity to composer sacred music for the Pietà.

Growing Fame
Vivaldi’s growing fame began when he moved his publishing activities from local firms to an Amsterdam publisher Etienne Roger, whose new publishing technique allows his music to reach a wider audience. A set of 12 concertos for various combinations of strings were published using this new technique.

It was not long before Johann Sebastian Bach obtained a copy of this new set of concertos and was so fascinated by them that he transcribed a large number of them for keyboard instruments. Ironically, it was the renewed interest in Bach in the 19th century which led to the first investigations into Vivaldi’s work.

Vivaldi’s Opera
From 1710, Vivaldi developed the interest in Opera that he had inherited from his father. His first opera, Ottone in Villa, was staged in 1713.  

Travelling composer
The year 1718 marked the beginning of a long period of travel for Vivaldi, connected mainly with his operatic commissions in northern Italy.

His role and activities as an instrumental and operatic composer remained. His instrumental works were continued to be published by Roger, via his new publishing technique, ensuring the spread of his international reputation.

“The contest between Harmony and Invention” Op. 8 was published in 1725 and was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a Bohemian nobleman. Op. 8 includes The Four Seasons which has since, become one of the most poupular pieces of 18th-century  music.

In 1728, Vivaldi dedicated another of his opus La cetra to the Austrian Emperor, Charles VI, whom he met in 1728. Charles thought highly of Vivaldi.

Departing Venice
In 1739, Vivaldi was back in Venice producing operas. In December of the same year, Prince Friderick Christian, King of Poland visited Venice and Vivaldi was to have a final triumph by presenting a series of new works, which we now known as the ‘Dresden’ concertos, a valuable part of the Vivaldi archive.

After forty years of service, Vivaldi left the Pietà. In 1740, Vivaldi left Venice and set off for Vienna, hoping to work for for Charles VI. But Charles died suddenly from food poisoning and no one else in Vienna was interested in hiring Vivaldi. Sadly, within a year, Vivaldi also died on 28 July, 1741. The cause was diagnosed as "internal inflammation". He received the cheapest possible funeral. At the funeral six choirboys of St Stephen’s cathedral, including the young Joseph haydn, sang the Requiem Mass.

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~Written by Boon Sin Ler