The Life and Works of Antonio Vivaldi

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The Life and Works of Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi came to the arena of European art at the end of a long period of development, known as the Baroque. Literally, it translated as “artsy”; however, the concept is much broader than baroque in its content. It covers many different artistic phenomena from the end of the sixteenth century, which marked a community’s majestically solemn style and a wealth of ornamental decorations. Baroque art prepared by the development of the Renaissance is a decisive break with medieval Gothic austerity, which is more filled with a powerful charge of life in all its manifold manifestations. Gigantic figures of Raphael and Michelangelo, who have spearheaded the Baroque, long defined the character of development in painting and sculpture, in spite of some considerable deviations from the ideals bequeathed to them. The most striking, distinguishing, and creative persons in the musical art of the Baroque were nominated not in the beginning, but also in the end of the period. They summed up the development of this period – J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel – in Germany, Vivaldi – in Italy, etc.

Vivaldi made a significant contribution to a variety of musical art of his time. However, the most significant of his achievements are associated with the development of the musical instruments, especially the Violin Concerto. He surpassed the genre in quantitative terms not only of his contemporaries but everyone whoever wrote for violin. Vivaldi was not the first, in whose work violin took the center stage. In his time, the Italian masters demonstrated traditional superiority in this area. Violin became known as the new professional instrument in the middle of the sixteenth century. Being purely traditional in origin, it acts as a carrier of the new democratic culture. The situation of the “open-air music” violin goes into an aristocratic salon or a church without losing connection with the people’s life. Sonority and even sharpness sound distinguish it from the languid, aristocratic tone of viola da gamba. In the urban culture, the violin gets rapid spread. In the seventeen century, Italian violin and its family of strung, such as viola, cello, and double bass, nominated in the first place. The new instrument with its rich colors and individual timbre sound opened unprecedented opportunities for the realization of the variety of emotional states.

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The honor of creating the Italian violin school belongs to A. Corelli, whose activity was most closely associated with Rome. The melodic nature of the instrument was revealed in the work of this violinist-composer with such force for the first time. Corelli’s contemporary admirers called him “the new Orpheus” and “Columbus in the music.” In the days of Corelli, several professionals were accompanied by a group of amateurs when performing instrumental music. Given the practice of playing music, the composers isolated soloist’s party in their writings, as the most responsible and contrasting it with the sonority of the orchestra. Thus, a form of “Concerto grosso” also found expression in the first classical composition of Corelli. His opus, which included twelve concerts, was published only in 1714, after the composer’s death. Though there is no doubt that it became well-known a long time before the tragic event. Solo violin concerto form originated in the late seventeenth century. Aria served as its prototype. The founder of this new form is an Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Torelli.

Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice on March 4, 1678. The son of a great violinist and teacher, member of the choir of the San Marco Giovanni Battista’s Cathedral, Vivaldi inherited the talent from his father. Since childhood, he suffered from a serious defect of the chest. That is why he lived the life of a semi-handicapped and suffered from severe asthma. However, it is possible this disease contributed to the development of his talent. From early childhood, his father taught him to play the violin, took him to the rehearsals. Being ten years old, the boy started replacing his father, who worked in one of the conservatories of the city. Head Chapel G. Legrenzi was interested in the young violinist and taught him to play the organ and make a composition. Vivaldi visited the concerts in Legrenzi’s house, where the audience listened to new works of the owner and his students. Unfortunately, Legrenzi died in 1690, thus ceasing the activities.

At this time, Vivaldi’s father had to choose the fate of his son. He considered the best option was to give his son a religious education, which would provide him with an opportunity to teach in the women’s Conservatory. When the composer was ordained a priest, he was granted a right to conduct the church mass. However, because of the illness, Antonio Vivaldi could not finish any mass he started. Soon he was removed from the church service on health grounds. However, Vivaldi continued teaching in the women’s Conservatory. He liked to lead an orchestra. The work fascinated him and gave him space to fulfill various ideas. In 1705, he published his first collection of chamber music trio sonatas. Despite the youth of the composer, his art compositions were quite mature and attracted by fresh and fine music. Soon, Vivaldi became the main composer of the Conservatory with a duty to compose two concerts a month, even if it was on the road. The composer wrote music rapidly; his operas were created in just a few days. He was gradually perfecting his orchestra. He was greatly admired not only in Italy but also abroad.

In his work, Vivaldi reproduced the new progressive tendencies of the Italian instrumental music and developed them further. Vivaldi’s concerts made a great impression on his contemporaries with his style novelty, which opened an unprecedented wealth of compositional inventiveness. Still, during Vivaldi’s life, recital became, in the words of one scholar, “the leading form of instrumental music of the late Baroque.” Modeled on the 3-part opera “Sinfonia”, a concert consisted of two parts. The first and third parts were fast, and the second part was slow. Under the influence of the instrumental dance suite, the final part was similar to nature jig, i.e. rapid three-partite dance. The first part was defined for the entire cycle, repeating the orchestral ritornello that connected its shape like an opera aria. Ritornello was repeated four or five times, forming a kind of “sound scenes” for soloists. The initial part was held in the same ritornello tone until the end of the seventeenth century. There was a certain tonal plan, which, as a rule, was followed by all the concerts’ authors. The solo sections, which were much more free in a sense of harmony, were modulation characters. This form was based on the alternation of ritornello tutti and solo episodes and was also used at the end of the concert. However, the composers did not follow it mechanically, trying to diversify the presentation with various options. In particular, the second and third ritornellos were usually given shortened. The middle part of the concert was different with significantly greater simplicity of the structure, providing a private 3-song form, and sometimes it was framed by the orchestral ritornello. Cantilena solo, which was accompanied by a group of instruments, usually continuos, such as the cello or double bass with the harpsichord, reigned unhampered.

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For the first time, the works of Vivaldi’s Concerto showed a complete form that expressed hidden features of the genre. This is particularly evident in the handling of early solo. If brief solo episodes of the Corelli Concerto grosso formed a closed unit, then Vivaldi soloists have born unlimited imagination. Free and sometimes improvised presentation of parties disclosed the virtuosic nature of the instrument. Accordingly, the scope of orchestral ritornello increased, and the entire form has acquired whole new dynamics. It was emphasized the functional definition of harmonies and rhythms sharply accentuated. Contemporaries were particularly impressed by typical Vivaldi’s concerts, which began with the three chords of the orchestra and were tightly marked. This technique was called “the hammer of Vivaldi.”

Vivaldi created a large number of concerts for various instruments, especially for the violin. Now it is known to be 220 concerts for one violin accompaniment. The total heritage of Vivaldi includes over 450 works called genre. However, a relatively small part of his works has been published. List of published works include nine opuses, five to twelve opuses include from four to six concerts. All those, except for six concerts, dozens of opuses for flute and orchestra were designed for one or more violins and accompaniment. Thus, less than one-fifth of Vivaldi’s concerts was published, and not only because of the underdeveloped publishing business. It is possible that Vivaldi allowed the publication of his most complex and technically winning concerts in purpose to keep his mastery secrets confidential. Later, Paganini behaved in a similar way. It is significant that the vast majority of Vivaldi’s published opuses consists of the easiest in performing on violin concertos. Famous opuses 3 and 8 are exceptions. Opus 3 includes Vivaldi’s first-published and important concerts, whose popularity he was hoping would build his reputation as a composer. Seven out of twelve concerts from the eighth opus have program titles and hold a special place in the composer’s work. Twelve concerts from Opus 3, called “Harmonic inspiration” (“L’Estro Armonico”), were obviously well-known long before its publication in Amsterdam in 1712. Handwritten copies of the individual concerts can be found in many European cities. This confirms the fact of its distribution before the publication of opus as a whole. Style and features of the orchestra’s division into two choirs can connect the appearance of the design cycle to the beginning of the 1700s. At this time, Vivaldi was playing at St. Mark’s Orchestra. Each show’s parts are designed in the 8-voice presentation, which includes four violins, two violas, a cello, and double bass with a harpsichord or organ. Thus, orchestral sonority is divided into two “in the due core”, which would rarely be found in Vivaldi’s works. Creating two-choir compositions, Vivaldi followed a long tradition, which already completely exhausted itself at that time. Opus 3 represents a transitional stage in the development of the instrumental concerto when traditional methods were side by side with the new trends.

Cruel fate dictated Vivaldi’s life. At the end of his life, the famous composer was forced to sell his concerts at a very low price due to the poor financial situation. He was not useful to his country anymore. Italy has acquired a new talented violinist and composer, and Vivaldi’s music became boring and got out of fashion. It no longer brought him a stable income. The clergy also helped this happen. Apparently, it was angry because of the composer’s non-compliance to his spiritual duties. Antonio Vivaldi decided to go to another country in order to try luck there. However, he was not destined to enjoy all the delights of fame once again. The great composer died from the aggravated disease on July 28th, 1741, in Vienna.

Some would think that Antonio Vivaldi’s legacy is fully available to the classical music fans, but it has some parts missing, as it turns out. In 2010, the staff of the National Archives of Scotland has found the missing cut of Vivaldi’s concerto for flute, viola, two violins, and bass. Third Marquess, Robert Kerr, was an amateur flutist, and apparently acquired the manuscript during his “big trip” in Europe. “Great Mogul” is one of four “national” concertos, three of which (“France”, “Spain”, and “England”) have not yet been found. It is interesting that one of Vivaldi’s operas has been found two years earlier in an anonymous music collection in Bavaria. “Agrippa” was performed in 1730 in Prague and has not been performed since. The record was lost, and the Czech researcher Ondrej Macek had only a booklet with the libretto to prove it existed. Founded opera was performed in Prague for the first 278 years. There are still a lot of discoveries awaiting us in the most unexpected places. Not so long ago, the Museum of London’s staff found some abandoned things, including previously unknown Vivaldi’s violin sonatas, where they stayed in a thick folder of manuscripts for the entire 270 years.

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The study of the composer’s life and work helps people learn features of the previously popular musical styles and match them with a certain period of time. This is a unique and necessary preparation for the original creation. Knowledge creates new ideas and helps create something new. After listening to the unique fascinating opus, people get charged by its simplicity and get inspired. Identifying the writing style of the work, they begin to understand the cycle, temperature, power, sound, character, which manifest themselves in the music. They begin perceiving the work in new ways. Playing the opus or creating own musical masterpieces are getting easier and more understandable. The man acquires an ability to explain what music expresses in this composition, what the composer put into a particular fragment.

The most interesting and inspiring fact about the life of Antonio Vivaldi is that his spiritual father did not encourage his musical passions. Yet, despite the seriousness of the received priest’s authority, Vivaldi decided to devote himself to music, sacrificing his achievements in the spiritual world. People even spread the rumor that one day during the solemn mass of the church the composer was so strongly fascinated by his opus that he could not wait till the end of the service. He promptly left to quickly capture a newly born fugue on paper. Regardless of whether it is true, the life of Antonio Vivaldi took a path of a truly great composer, and his work inspires and continues bringing joy to new generations.

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