Vivaldi – beyond the Four Seasons


ANTONIO Vivaldi is well known as the composer of the violin concertos known as the Four Seasons, but he left at least 500 other concertos including some for less usual instruments such as mandolin and lute.

He was born in Venice in 1678 and baptised by the midwife at once, either because he was in fragile health or because there was an earthquake that day.

He learned the violin, becoming known as a virtuoso performer, and composition but could not play wind instruments because he had asthma. At 15 he started training to be a priest and was ordained in 1703 at the age of 25. He was soon known as il Prete Rosso, ‘the Red Priest’, because of his red hair. After only a year he was granted a dispensation from celebrating Mass because of his ill health, though he formally remained a member of the priesthood.

Around the same time he started work as a violin teacher at an orphanage for girls called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice. The most talented pupils stayed and became members of the Ospedale’s renowned orchestra and choir. Vivaldi composed many of his works for this all-female ensemble.

He wrote the Mandolin Concerto in C major, RV 425, in 1725, the same year as the Four Seasons.

Here are two performances by Avi Avital (b 1978), who is quite a rock star in the classical world. The first is with the Venice Baroque Orchestra:

The second is an arrangement for a mandolin orchestra, the sole exception being a double bass.

Here is a most enjoyable performance in an arrangement for guitars:

And here is the score for the first movement:

It is not certain when Vivaldi composed his concerto for two mandolins (RV 532) but it would have been around the same time.

Here it is in an arrangement for mandolin orchestra, again with double bass.

And here is the autograph score. When you see these original manuscripts it seems to highlight the genius of the composer.

Finally, one of my all-time favourites which is too short to make a blog on its own: the opening chorus of Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589. This was possibly written in 1715, while he was working at the Pieta.

Here is a sprightly version I found on YouTube. It looks as if it is from a film – does anyone know about it?

Here it is in score form, sung by the John Alldis Choir with the English Chamber Orchestra under Vittorio Negri.

Vivaldi was popular and renowned for many years, but musical tastes changed and he fell from fashion. In 1740 he sold many of his manuscripts to pay for a move from Venice to Vienna in the hope of support from Emperor Charles VI, who was an admirer of his work, but soon after his arrival the emperor died. Vivaldi himself died less than a year later in a lodging house at the age of 63. He was given a simple burial with no music.

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