Antonio Vivaldi is a name that has become synonymous with the Baroque concerto. His style and massive output has influenced composers for almost 300 years.
Antonio was the oldest of 6 children born to a baker turned professional violinist, Giovanni Battista. Giovanni was employed at St. Mark’s in Venice but there he took on a different surname, “Rossi”. It’s thought that the name Rossi referred to the color of Giovanni’s hair. Red hair is something that Vivaldi most likely inherited from his father which earned him the nickname, “The Red Priest”. Vivaldi trained for the priesthood starting at the age of 15. He remained devoted to this calling throughout his life.
Vivaldi was also a controversial figure. He had a reputation as a braggart and boasted of his fame and abilities to all who would listen. He was a sought after violinist, one of the greatest in his generation. But Vivaldi wanted to make a name for himself as a composer. His compositional output runs the gamut of Baroque genres. However, it is his contribution to the concerto that has made him the most influential Italian composer of the Baroque.
Vivaldi composed more than 500 instrumental concerti, 230 of these for the violin. His most enduring work is a set of violin concerti entitled “The Four Seasons”. These concerti are an early example of instrumental program music; music that tells a story.
In the finale of the concerto “Autumn” we hear the call and ride of the huntsman pursuing their quarry.
In the 2nd movement of “Spring” we hear a sleeping shepherd (solo violin), a babbling brook (orchestral violins) and a faithful sheepdog (viola) watching over this pastoral setting.
Vivaldi’s influence on the concerto was felt throughout Europe. Even composers many years his senior began taking on his particular melodic and harmonic style. J.S. Bach was greatly influenced by Vivaldi and Bach’s sons Carl Philippe Emmanuel and Johann Christian took the techniques and romanticism championed by Vivaldi further as the Baroque came to a close.