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Musical Tidbit: Viva Vivaldi

Concerto in F Major, arr. M. Starke
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The son of a Venetian church violinist, Antonio Vivaldi represents a turning point in the history of Western music, perhaps surpassed only by his younger contemporary J.S. Bach. Ordained to the priesthood in 1703, he was appointed musical director of the Pieta, one of four ospedali grandi dedicated to the care and nurturing of unwanted, but not necessarily orphaned, infants. It was here that Vivaldi earned celebrity status throughout Europe, the girl-musicians-- figlie di coro as they were known--a staple of 18th century Venetian culture. Vivaldi also taught outside the Pieta, and published a great deal of music independently--the ubiquitously admired "Four Seasons" were published as part of a larger group of concerti at Amsterdam in 1725. His virtuosity on the violin captivated the public, and his exploitation of the higher ranges of the instrument far surpassed contemporary technique. His fame as a violinist and composer now secure, he ventured into the world of opera, although in this area he was shadowed by other, nearly forgotten, contemporaries. The wealth he thought he would realize as a result of opera production never was, and he lost a great deal in his own effort to popularize them. Nevertheless, Vivaldi preoccupied himself with opera and vocal music, and no instrumental music survives from the period after 1730. In 1740, Vivaldi left his position at the Ospedale, hoping to travel to Vienna and work under the patronage of Charles VI, an avid admirer of Vivaldi's music. Vivaldi took ill, however, in 1741 and died later in the year on July 28, nine years to the day before Bach. He was buried in a common grave and lapsed into relative obscurity for two centuries, until his rediscovery in the 1940s.
Antonio Vivaldi was the last great composer of Italian instrumental music and doubtless forged the beginnings of a musical revolution. That Vivaldi influenced Bach is by far an understatement, the towering Teutonic titan having dissected and reworked volumes of music by the Venetian priest to whom he was so indebted. Vivaldi introduced the modern three movement concerto format (fast-slow-fast), which was taken up universally during the 1760s, and had been followed by such esteemed contemporaries as Torelli, Bach, and Heinichen. Much of his music is characterized by a driving rhythmic impetus that was successfully duplicated by few, and his concerti are full of brilliantly showy passages that rival some of the most technically demanding products of the Romantic era. The fascination with Vivaldi that began with Bach in the 1710s continued into the 1920s with Kreisler, who penned a series of violin concerti under Vivaldi's name--interesting examples of how Baroque music was heard through Victorian ears. Today, composers such as Starke (click here to listen) have successfully followed Vivaldi's example, with a more authentic approach and a more convincing result.

-Mark Moya (August, 2000)