Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, and cleric. Born in Venice, he is recognized as one of the greatest baroque composers of the period, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread across all of Europe and the Western world. He is particularly well-known for composing his many instrumental concertos for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as sacred choral works and more than forty operas. To say that Vivaldi’s music was innovative does not begin to speak to his importance or legacy within the classical music world. His innovations forever after brightened the formal and rhythmic structures of the concerto and his renown for harmonic contrasts and innovative melodies and themes has never been matched since. Many of his compositions are flamboyantly, almost playfully, exuberant. If one need any more proof of Vivaldi’s influence, one need not look any further than the great Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was deeply influenced by Vivaldi’s concertos and arias, and he even went so far as to transcribe six of Vivaldi’s concerti for solo keyboard, three for organ, and one for four harpsichords, strings, and basso continuo. Despite his incredible importance, however, Vivaldi’s legacy has not always been certain or secure.
During his lifetime, Vivaldi’s popularity grew exponentially making him famous throughout Europe. At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from nearly every European house of nobility and royal court. But like many composers of that day, the final years of Vivaldi’s life were plagued with severe financial difficulties. In the waning years of his life, his compositions were no longer held in high esteem as they once were in Venice and even when he did succeed at briefly recapturing his old glory, changing musical tastes quickly made his compositions outdated. By the time of his death in July 1741, he was an extremely poor, destitute man whose popularity as a composer had dwindled to almost nothing. After the baroque period, Vivaldi’s published concerti became almost entirely unknown and all but ignored. Even Vivaldi’s most famous work, The Four Seasons, was completely unknown in its original edition during the Classical and Romantic periods.
During the early 20th-century, however, things began to change. Fritz Kreisler’s Concerto in C, in the Style of Vivaldi (which he passed off as an original Vivaldi work), helped to begin a revival of Vivaldi’s reputation. This spurred the French scholar Marc Pincherle to begin an academic study of Vivaldi’s oeuvre in 1911. Simultaneously during this renaissance, many Vivaldi manuscripts were fortuitously rediscovered across Europe. In 1926, in a monastery in Piedmont, researchers made one of the most significant discoveries which included fourteen folios of Vivaldi’s work that were previously thought to have been lost during the Napoleonic Wars.
The resurrection of Vivaldi’s works in the twentieth century is mostly due to the efforts of Alfredo Casella, who in 1939 organized the historic Vivaldi Week, in which the rediscovered Gloria and l’Olimpiade were debuted to a nearly fanatic frenzy. Since World War II, Vivaldi’s compositions have increasingly enjoyed widespread success. Historically informed performances, often on “original instruments,” have increased Vivaldi’s fame still further. These developments have led to a renewed interest in Vivaldi by, among others, Mario Rinaldi, Alfredo Casella, and Ezra Pound, all of whom were instrumental in the larger Vivaldi revival of the 20th-century that led to his works’ contemporary fame possibly eclipsing even that which he achieved in life over two hundred and fifty years ago.
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