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Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Born in 1678, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi is closely associated with his native city of Venice. He studied music as a child with his father, a violinist. At the age of 15, he began to study for the priesthood, and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1703.

Vivaldi spent most of his career at a single institution – the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for the illegitimate children of Venetian noblemen and courtiers. Starting as a teacher in 1703, Vivaldi had as his pupils the girls at the Ospedale, for whom music was a key part of their curriculum. Vivaldi was tasked with composing new works for every major church feast, as well as teaching music and voice, and instructing the girls to play various instruments. He proved himself to be indispensable to the school, and was given the position of maestro di concerti in 1716. Under his tenure, the Ospedale’s choir and orchestra built a strong reputation.

Vivaldi wrote over 500 instrumental concertos and sacred choral works. He also composed some 40 operas, not for the school, but for public performance in Venice. Although Vivaldi remained with the Ospedale through virtually his entire life, his music became known throughout Europe. Vivaldi’s influence may have helped to lighten the darker aspects of the northern European baroque by infusing it with a joyful, Mediterranean tone.

In 1740, Vivaldi moved to Vienna. It is thought that he may have hoped to gain a position with the Austrian court, but seems to have found no success. He died in Vienna as a pauper in 1741. In a curious coincidence that illustrates the intertwined relationships throughout the baroque world, a young Franz Joseph Hayden was at this time a choir boy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where Vivaldi’s funeral was conducted.

At the time of his death, Vivaldi’s music was already falling out of favor and few of his compositions were available. He would be virtually ignored until after 1926, when a large cache of original manuscripts was discovered (including his now-beloved Four Seasons). Forgotten works by Vivaldi continue to appear from time to time, most recently in 2003 and 2005.