Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian Baroque composer, violin virtuoso, teacher and later a priest.
He was born in 1678 in Venice. There was an earthquake that shook the city that day. It has been speculated that this may have been the reason his mother, being on the superstitious side, later pushed him toward the priesthood.
His father Giovanni was a barber turned professional violinist and gave young Antonio his first violin lessons and toured Venice playing with his young son.
Vivaldi’s health, from a young age, was problematic. He developed what we think was probably asthma, which although didn’t stop him from his violin study, did stop him from playing any wind instruments.
At the age of 15, he began studying for the priesthood, even becoming ordained ten years later and soon was nicknamed The Red Priest due to the family trait of red hair being passed down to Antonio. His priestly duties were very brief, lasting only about a year, though he remained a priest.
Around this same time, he became violin master at an orphanage in Venice, where over the next thirty years, he would go on to compose the majority of his works. This appointment kept him very busy. In addition to teaching many of the orphans technique and music theory, he was also required to compose an oratorio or concerto for every ecclesiastical feast.
The first collection of his works was published in 1704 in his middle 20s which included a collection of 12 violin sonatas.
In February of 1711, he and his father travelled to Brescia where he would compose one of the first of his masterpieces, the Stabat Mater.
His first forays into opera were slow in grabbing the public’s attention. But after a couple of years of attempts, he began to hit his stride with subsequent stage works achieving great success. He also began to get his feet wet in liturgical works, including some of his first oratorios around this time.
Vivaldi’s 30s saw an increasingly prolific output, including, in his late 30s, his seminal Four Seasons. They were published as the first four in a collection of 12 concertos.
In his 40s, he became acquainted with an aspiring young singer named, Anna Giro, who would become his student, protegee and favorite prima donna. She became part of his entourage and accompanied him on his many travels. There was speculation that the relationship was something more than professional, but Vivaldi adamantly denied this.
As with many composers of the time, the final years of Vivaldi’s life found him in increasing financial difficulty. Charles the VI had died leaving him without a royal post or steady source of income. He soon became impoverished and destitute and died July 28, 1741 at age 63.
Only two, possibly three original portraits of Vivaldi are known to survive, an engraving, an ink sketch and an oil painting, although the artist who did the oil never signed the work. But it is thought to be of Vivaldi due to the resemblance of the other two.