Antonio Vivaldi

Composer Antonio Vivaldi

Possibly the best-known Italian Baroque composer, Vivaldi wrote more than 400 concertos (such as his famous Four Seasons), thus cementing the basics of this now-standard musical form.

Vital Statistics
March 4, 1678, Venice
July 28, 1741, Vienna
Performed As:
During Lifetime:
Venice’s preeminence in musical life begins to decline. Age of “absolute” monarchs: Louis XIV and Louis XV of France, Peter “the Great” of Russia, Charles XII of Sweden, and Leopold I of Austria, among others.
Biographical Outline
  • Theological training: Vivaldi started as a priest in Venice, but in 1706 he was kicked out for preferring music to Mass.
  • First gig, 1703-1716: Appointed director of the string orchestra at Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Pious Hospital of Mercy), a prestigious girls’ orphanage in Venice famous for its musical training program. Visitors would attend its church services because of the music and the concerts afterward.
  • Turning point, 1711: Vivaldi’s set of 12 concertos titled L’estro armonico  (Harmonic invention), became a best-seller, possibly the most influential music publication of the early 18th century. His next publication, La stravaganza, another set of 12 concertos, confirmed his reputation.
  • Opera and church: Vivaldi wrote many religious works for the Pietà orphanage, culminating in his second oratorio, Juditha triumphans (Judith triumphant, 1716). Meanwhile, he got into opera as a theater manager and a composer.
  • Publishing wizard: Between 1723 and 1729, Vivaldi was contracted to supply two concertos per month to the Pietà hospital. He wrote at least 140 and published some of them. The Op. 8, Il cimento dell’ armonia e dell’ inventione (The contest between harmony and invention, 1725), contains his famous Four Seasons.
  • On the move: Vivaldi spent most of the 1730s producing his operas in various cities. At the time of his death, his fortunes had reached a low ebb. He died in Vienna, too sick and too poor to return to Venice.
Fun Facts
  • The “Red Priest”: Like his father, Vivaldi had flaming red hair, hence his nickname.
  • Notorious: Vivaldi was reputedly vain and conceited, yet energetic and talented.
  • Spin Master: Vivaldi claimed to have composed 94 operas, but less than 50 are confirmed. He also claimed to compose music faster than it could be copied.
  • The formula: The common criticism that Vivaldi’s music repeats itself too much originated with musicians and writers in the 18th century.
  • Traveler: Although Vivaldi suffered from a serious lifelong condition (probably asthma), he took frequent trips abroad, often with a large entourage.
  • Influence: Vivaldi was enormously popular in Germany. Bach transcribed some of the Opus 3 concertos, which influenced both the style and the form of his own concertos.
Recommended Biography
Explore the Music
  • Vivaldi wrote more than 400 concertos, which are the basis of his fame. Beyond them lie the vocal works, which are beginning to be recorded more often. The most famous of these is the choral Gloria in D, RV 589.
Recommended Websites
  • Vivaldi wrote more than 400 concertos, which are the basis of his fame. Beyond them lie the vocal works, which are beginning to be recorded more often. The most famous of these is the choral Gloria in D, RV 589.
  • RV number: “Ryom Verzeichnis” (meaning "Peter Ryom Catalog") is still the preferred catalog of Vivaldi’s work.
  • Concertos
    • The Four Seasons
    • There are so many excellent recordings and performances of this quartet of concertos that recommending just one or two seems a bit absurd. You might want to listen to a variety of approaches. Here are two quite different possibilities to get you started:
    • Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante (EMI, 2003). Period instruments and style. Fabulous Fabio improvises ornamentation, and his interpretive choices are fresh and distinctive (some would say eccentric). The orchestra plays with fire and panache. Also featured: La tempesta dell’ mare (The storm at sea), the next concerto in the Op. 8 collection, which is almost as famous as The Four Seasons.
    • Joshua Bell and The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Sony 2008). Bell’s take on these works is Romantic, emphasizing their modern qualities. Modern instruments, but influenced by historically informed performance.
    • Other concertos from Il cimento..., Op. 8:
    • Enrico Onofri and Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini, cond. (Teldec, 1995)
    • Concert for the Prince of Poland, Andrew Manze and The Academy of Ancient Music (Harmonia Mundi, 1997)
    • L’estro armonico, Op. 3
    • The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood (London Double Decker, 1998)
  • Classical guitar lovers:
    • Vivaldi wrote for both lute and mandolin, and several of his concertos have been transcribed for guitar.
    • Vivaldi Guitar Concertos: ,os Romeros (Pepe Romero and family)/San Antonio Chamber Orchestra (Philips, 1991)
    • Vivaldi: Concertos, Angel Romero/Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (RCA, 1995)
  • Vocal Music
    • Gloria in D Major, RV 589
    • Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury (EMI 2002). In Venice, in Monteverdi's day, church music was done in a splendid, extravagant way. On this disc, the famous Gloria is joined by two equally celebratory works done the Venetian way, the Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110), RV 594, and the Magnificat, RV 610.
  • Opera Arias
    • The Vivaldi Album, Cecilia Bartoli/Il Giardino Armonico (Decca, 1999)
  • Oratorio
    • Juditha triumphans
    • Magdalena Kozena, Maria Josè Trullu/Coro di Accademia di Santa Cecilia/Academia Montris Regalis/Alessandro di Marchi (Naïve, 2001)
    • Ann Murray, Maria Cristina Kiehr/King’s Consort/Robert King (Hyperion, 1998)