Antonio Vivaldi was born March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy. Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, who was a violinist, taught him to play. He took his vows as a priest in 1703, but, because of a respiratory problem, was unable to continue doing masses. Because of his red hair, he became known locally as "the red priest". He became a violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta (Devout Hospital of Mercy), which was an institution where orphans or children of noblemen and their mistresses could receive an education. By 1716, he was the music director there, and, in that position, he was able to advance the institution to becoming known as one of the best of its kind in the musical scene.
During this time, he composed operas, instrumental music, and some choral music. His famous The Four Seasons concerto was written between 1717 and 1721, the patronage for this work being in Mantua. He traveled there and to other cities in Europe to both compose and produce operas including Ottone in villa, which debuted in 1713 in Vicenza. He composed prolifically, making money in his later years by selling manuscript copies of his music. He left his position at the Ospedale in 1740 when he traveled to Vienna where he hoped to acquire the patronage of Charles VI; however, the monarch who had liked his music died just after Vivaldi's arrival. He died in that city on July 28, 1741. He didn't have a wife, though it was rumored he had a serious relationship with a singing protege Anna Giraud, and he left no children. He must have been quite poor when he died because his funeral was incredibly small and included no music.
Of Vivaldi's instrumental music Michael Talbot wrote, "Almost 500 concerti by Vivaldi survive. More than 300 are concerti for a solo instrument with string orchestra and continuo. Of these, approximately 230 are written for solo violin, 40 for bassoon, 25 for cello, 15 for oboe, and 10 for flute. There are also concerti for viola d’amore, recorder, mandolin, and other instruments. Vivaldi’s remaining concerti are either double concerti (including about 25 written for two violins), concerti grossi using three or more soloists, concerti ripieni (string concerti without a soloist), or chamber concerti for a group of instruments without orchestra.Vivaldi perfected the form of what would become the classical three-movement concerto. Indeed, he helped establish the fast-slow-fast plan of the concerto’s three movements. Perhaps more importantly, Vivaldi was the first to employ regularly in his concerti the ritornello form, in which recurrent restatements of a refrain alternate with more episodic passages featuring a solo instrument. Vivaldi’s bold juxtapositions of the refrains (ritornelli) and the solo passages opened new possibilities for virtuosic display by solo instrumentalists. The fast movements in his concerti are notable for their rhythmic drive and the boldness of their themes, while the slow movements often present the character of arias written for the solo instrument.
"The energy, passion, and lyricism of Vivaldi’s concerti and their instrumental colour and simple dramatic effects (which are obtained without recourse to contrapuntal artifice) rapidly passed into the general language of music. His concerti were taken as models of form by many late Baroque composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who transcribed 10 of them for keyboard instruments. The highly virtuosic style of Vivaldi’s writing for the solo violin in his concerti reflects his own renowned technical command of that instrument.
Several of Vivaldi’s concerti have picturesque or allusive titles. Four of them, the cycle of violin concerti entitled The Four Seasons (Opus 8, no. 1–4), are programmatic in a thoroughgoing fashion, with each concerto depicting a different season of the year, starting with spring. Vivaldi’s effective representation of the sounds of nature inaugurated a tradition to which works such as Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony belong. Vivaldi also left more than 90 sonatas, mainly for stringed instruments. Their form and style are conventional by comparison with the concerti, but they contain many fluent, attractive works."
We have nearly 50 of Vivaldi's sacred vocal works and have identified nearly 50 of his operas, 16 of which have survived in their entirety. His operas are not often performed now because the dramatic style doesn't seem to resonate with modern audiences.
The information on this very short biography is from the following websites, which I accessed on July 18, 2016: biography.com, wikipedia.org, baroquemusic.org, and britannica.org (This article was written by Michael Talbot, whom I quoted above.). These sites contain so many more interesting facts and information on some of his most important or successful works, so I recommend your perusing them.
Spring from The Four Seasons
Itzhak Perlman, violinist and conductor
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Violin Concerto in a minor, Op. 3, No. 6
Henryk Szeryng, violin
English Chamber Orchestra
(There are a bunch of recordings of this concerto, each with varying interpretations, so feel free to look for more of these.)
Music College of Tver
Music College of Tver