Thursday, July 28, 2016

An almost forgotten giant. . .

We often forget that gift and skill do not always result in fame, fortune, or a memory.  Some of our most gifted composers were largely forgotten after their deaths.  I think first of Bach in this regard but not only Bach, also a composer to greatly influenced Bach -- Antonio Lucio Vivaldi.

Born into a musical family on March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy, Antonio Vivaldi was to end up as a priest whose musical genius was the fruit of a life spent mostly in an orphanage.  He composed hundreds of works and is well known today though it was not always so.  On July 28, 1741, he died in poverty and was buried, oddly enough, in a funeral service devoid of music.

His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was a professional violinist who taught his young son to play as well. Through his father, Vivaldi met and learned from some of the finest musicians and composers in Venice at the time. While his violin practice flourished, a chronic case of asthma shadowed his every accomplishment.
It was not unusual to marry music and religion since the priesthood gave the student access to an education that might otherwise have escaped him.  Vivaldi was ordained a priest in 1703, known as  "il Prete Rosso," or "the Red Priest" for his red hair.  At the age of 25, Antonio Vivaldi was named master of violin at the Ospedale della Piet√† (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice, where he fulfilled both priestly responsibility and composed most of his major works in this position over three decades. The Ospedale was an orphan school -- the boys in trades and the girls in music. The most talented musicians joined an orchestra that played Vivaldi's compositions, including religious choral music. 
In addition to his choral music and concerti, Vivaldi wrote opera scores (about 50 remain) with his two most successful being La constanza trionfante and Farnace.  In addition to the orphan school work, Vivaldi accepted commissions from patrons in Mantua and Rome. In Mantua, from around 1717 to 1721, he wrote his secular masterpiece, The Four Seasons.  His cantata, Gloria e Imeneo, was written for the wedding of King Louis XV.

That said, Vivaldi's success as composer and musician did not translate into great financial success or long memory. When he left Venice for Vienna, other composers and musicians had already caught the public eye.  Without a patron after the death of Charles VI, Vivaldi died in poverty in Vienna on July 28, 1741, and was buried in a simple grave after a funeral service without music.

It was not until the early 20th century that interest in Vivaldi's music was rekindled and his scores rescued from obscurity.  Alfredo Casella organized a Vivaldi Week in 1939 and following WWII the world rediscovered this musical genius. His Gloria remains a staple of Christmas celebrations -- just a few of his nearly hundreds of compositions that attest to his skill and gift.

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