Antonio


Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice on March 4th, 1678. Though ordained a priest in 1703, according to his own account, within a year of being ordained Vivaldi no longer wished to celebrate mass because of physical complaints (“tightness of the chest”) which pointed to angina pectoris, asthmatic bronchitis, or a nervous disorder. It is also possible that Vivaldi was simulating illness – there is a story that he sometimes left the altar in order to quickly jot down a musical idea in the sacristy…. In any event he had become a priest against his own will, perhaps because in his day training for the priesthood was often the only possible way for a poor family to obtain free schooling.
Though he wrote many fine and memorable concertos, such as the Four Seasons and the Opus 3 for example, he also wrote many works which sound like five-finger exercises for students. And this is precisely what they were. Vivaldi was employed for most of his working life by the Ospedale della Piet. Often termed an “orphanage”, this Ospedale was in fact a home for the female offspring of noblemen and their numerous dalliances with their mistresses. The Ospedale was thus well endowed by the “anonymous” fathers; its furnishings bordered on the opulent, the young ladies were well looked-after, and the musical standards among the highest in Venice. Many of Vivaldi’s concerti were indeed exercises which he would play with his many talented pupils.
Vivaldi’s relationship with the Ospedale began right after his ordination in 1703, when he was named as violin teacher there. Until 1709, Vivaldi’s appointment was renewed every year and again after 1711. Between 1709 and 1711 Vivaldi was not attached to the Ospedale. Perhaps in this period he was already working for the Teatro Sant’ Angelo, an opera theater. He also remained active as a composer – in 1711 twelve concertos he had written were published in Amsterdam by the music publisher Estienne Roger under the title l’Estro armonico (Harmonic Inspiration).
In 1713, Vivaldi was given a month’s leave from the Ospedale della Piet in order to stage his first opera, Ottone in villa, in Vicenza. In the 1713-4 season he was once again attached to the Teatro Sant’ Angelo, where he produced an opera by the composer Giovanni Alberto Rostori (1692-1753).
As far as his theatrical activities were concerned, the end of 1716 was a high point for Vivaldi. In November, he managed to have the Ospedale della Piet perform his first great oratorio, Juditha Triumphans devicta Holofernis barbaric. This work was an allegorical description of the victory of the Venetians (the Christians) over the Turks (the barbarians) in August 1716.
At the end of 1717 Vivaldi moved to Mantua for two years in order to take up his post as Chamber Capellmeister at the court of Landgrave Philips van Hessen-Darmstadt. His task there was to provide operas, cantatas, and perhaps concert music, too. His opera Armida had already been performed earlier in Mantua and in 1719 Teuzzone and Tito Manlio followed. On the score of the latter are the words: “music by Vivaldi, made in 5 days.” Furthermore, in 1720 La Conduce o siano Li veri amici was performed.
In 172O Vivaldi returned to Venice where he again staged new operas written by himself in the Teatro Sant’ Angelo. In Mantua he had made the acquaintance of the singer Anna Giraud (or Giro), and she had moved in to live with him. Vivaldi maintained that she was no more than a housekeeper and good friend, just like Anna’s sister, Paolina, who also shared his house.
In his Memoires, the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni gave the following portrait of Vivaldi and Giraud: “This priest, an excellent violinist but a mediocre composer, has trained Miss Giraud to be a singer. She was young, born in Venice, but the daughter of a French wigmaker. She was not beautiful, though she was elegant, small in stature, with beautiful eyes and a fascinating mouth. She had a small voice, but many languages in which to harangue.” Vivaldi stayed together with her until his death.

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