VIVALDI: Flute Concertos
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Famous Flute Concerti
Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation thatequals the international fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678,the son of a barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in theservice of the great Gabrielis and Monteverdi at the basilica of San Marco, hestudied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time heestablished himself as a violinist of remarkable ability. A later visitor to Venicedescribed his playing in the opera?¡-house in 1715, his use of high positions sothat his fingers almost touched the bridge of the violin, leaving little roomfor the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. Theexperience, the observer added, was too artificial to be enjoyable.
Nevertheless Vivaldi was among the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well asbeing a prolific composer of music that won wide favour at home and abroad andexercised a far-reaching influence on the music of others.
For much of his life Vivaldi was intermittently associated with theOspedale della Piet?á, one of the four famous foundations in Venice for theeducation of orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whomwere trained as musicians. Venice attracted, then as now, many foreigntourists, and the Piet?á and its music long remained a centre of culturalpilgrimage. In 1703, the year of his ordination, Vivaldi, known asil preterosso, the red priest, from the inherited colour of his hair, was appointedviolin-master of the pupils of the Piet?á. The position was subject to annualrenewal by the board of governors, whose voting was not invariably in Vivaldi'sfavour, particularly as his reputation and consequent obligations outside theorphanage increased. In 1709 he briefly left the Piet?á, to be reinstated in1711. In 1716 he was again removed, to be given, a month later, the titleMaestro de'Concerti, director of instrumental music. A year later he left thePiet?á for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestro di Cappella daCamera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German nobleman appointed bythe Emperor in Vienna to govern the city.
By 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship withthe Piet?á was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi wascommissioned to write two new concertos a month, and to rehearse and direct theperformance of some of them. The arrangement allowed him to travel and he spentsome time in Rome, and indirectly sought possible appointment in Paris throughdedicating compositions to Louis XV, although there was no practical result.
Vienna seemed to offer more, with the good will of Charles VI, whoseinopportune death, when Vivaldi attempted in old age to find employment there,must have proved a very considerable disappointment.
In 1730 Vivaldi visited Bohemia; in 1735 he was appointed again to theposition of Maestro de'Concerti at the Piet?á and in 1738 he appeared inAmsterdam, where he led the orchestra at the centenary of the SchouwburgTheatre. By 1740, however, Venice had begun to grow tired of Vivaldi, andshortly after the performance of concertos specially written as part of aserenata for the entertainment of the young Prince Friedrich Christian ofSaxony his impending departure was announced to the governors of the Piet?á, whowere asked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos.
The following year Vivaldi travelled to Vienna, where he arrived inJune, and had time to sell some of the scores he had brought with him, beforesuccumbing to some form of stomach inflammation. He died a month to the dayafter his arrival and was buried the same day with as little expense aspossible. As was remarked in Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats ayear, but through his extravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi's expenditure was presumably in the opera-house. He wasassociated from 1714 with the management of the San Angelo Theatre, a second?¡-ratehouse which nevertheless began to win a name for decent performances, whateverits economies in quality and spectacle. Vivaldi is known to have written some46 operas, and possible some 40 more than this; he was also involved ascomposer and entrepreneur in their production in other houses in Italy. It washis work in the opera-house that led to Benedetto Marcello's satirical attackon him in 1720 in Il teatro alla moda, on the frontispiece of whichAldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen as an angel with a fiddle, wearing a priest'shat, standing on the tiller with one foot raised, as if to beat time. It hasbeen suggested that "on the fiddle" had similar connotations inItalian to those it retains in English. Vivaldi had his enemies.