Antonio Vivaldi occupies a unique place in classical music. He is presently one of the most popular of classical composers, something aided by the ubiquitousness of recording. His Four Seasons is quite possibly the most popular piece ever recorded, given that there are over 400 different recordings. The British violinist Nigel Kennedy sold over a million copies of The Four Seasons. The Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki (西崎 崇子) made a recording in 1987 that has sold over a million copies, too. I’ve also seen versions of The Four Seasons for solo piano and for an ensemble of recorders.
Vivaldi probably would have wanted to be remembered as a composer of operas. He claimed to have composed 94 of them, though only manuscripts of 50 of them have been found. His operas aren’t staged much anymore. It is in some of his choral work and above all in his concertos that he is remembered.
He was one of the greatest violinists of his time. He was a priest who taught for some years in an orphanage for abandoned girls in Venice. He never really functioned much as a priest, claiming that his chronic asthma made it impossible for him to regularly celebrate Mass. The excellence of their musical performances was famed throughout Europe. He had a brilliant career. However, the end of his life was quite sad. He lived in a period of changing tastes in music. His music came to be seen as outmoded by the Venetians. So, he went to Vienna where he hoped to win the patronage of Emperor Karl VI. He had met the emperor in Venice and apparently the meeting was quite successful. Musicians at the time needed a patron in order to survive. Unfortunately, the Emperor died not long after Vivaldi’s arrival in Vienna, leaving him pretty much destitute. He died not long after and was buried as a pauper.
Vienna, which has so many monuments and graves of great composers, does remember Vivaldi. He has a star on Vienna’s Music Mile. Likewise, there are memorial plaques on the place where he lived, long since demolished and now the site of Vienna’s Sacher Hotel. His grave was lost when Vienna’s Technical University was built over the graveyard. Nobody knows quite where he is buried, much like with Mozart.
Vivaldi wrote a lot of music. He wrote about 500 different concertos for different instruments. While Vivaldi’s fame was that of a violinist and his chronic asthma prevented him from playing wind instruments, it did not stop him from writing for them. Here’s a lovely piece he wrote for the guitar.
The guitarist is Sharon Isbin and the orchestra is the Salomé Chamber Orchestra.