Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741), known as “the red priest” for his red hair, was an Italian composer and violinist, is recognized by some as one of the greatest of the Baroque composers, and criticized by others who consider that because of his characteristic style, he had little originality, and that each major composition tended to be a variation on the patterns of others. Perhaps each position could be analogized to Elton John.
Certainly, Vivaldi has become one of the most popular and recorded of the Baroque composers in the 20th century. He is most known for his violin concerto, The Four Seasons, in which he dedicates a movement to each of the seasons – more descriptive music, which was in vogue in the latter Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. His red hair was sufficiently remarkable that he became known as “the Red Priest.”
Much of his music was written specifically for a young girls’ orchestra at an orphanage, which he served for a number of years. He is best known for his instrumental works, particularly, but he also wrote operas and sacred music, including oratorios, contatas and masses. Although his style, to me, is more homophonic, nonetheless it has energetic rhythmic drive, and had a great influence upon Johan Sebastian Bach, who transcribed some of his works for other instruments or groupings.
Vivaldi is one of the earliest composers that remains en vogue today. When I taught music in the 70s, my students could relate to Vivaldi’s rhythmic and harmonic drive, because of their familiarity with rock and the melodic qualities of the Beatles. The harmonies are much more familiar to modern audiences because of the old rock classics and modern hymnody.
I am amazed at the excellent quality of the videos available on YouTube, generally, and specifically concerning Vivaldi. It reflects his great appeal to performing artists as well as audiences.
Following are four laudable performances of Laudamus Te, from Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major; it seems appropriate that each is performed by young women, and that causes me to wonder if Vivaldi had in mind two of the young women in the orphanage where he served and taught:
Florilegium with soprano soloist Elin Manahan Thomas perform sacred works for soprano and orchestra, with nice dialogue between the soloist and the director:
From the Gloria in D, Cascade High School Honor Choir in France
Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630
Vivaldi – Gloria: 1. Gloria in excelsis Deo – Trevor Pinnock
Vivaldi’s Gloria in its entirety
Ensemble Caprice “The return of the Angels” with insightful comments upon Vivaldi and this music by the director:
Stabat Mater RV 621
Gaude mater Ecclesia
See Vivaldi and the women of the Pieta – Vivaldi’s Women for an excellent documentary: