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Summer classics: Vivaldi – beyond the Four Seasons


Over the summer we are repeating some articles from the Classics on Sunday series. This was first published on October 27, 2019.

ANTONIO Vivaldi is renowned 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 poor 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 is a performance by Avi Avital (b 1978), who is quite a rock star in the classical world, with the Venice Baroque Orchestra:

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

It is not certain when Vivaldi composed his Concerto for Two Mandolins (RV 532) but it would have been around the same time.

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

Although he was unable to play the trumpet, Vivaldi wrote a brilliant concerto for two trumpets. The instruments of the time were ‘natural’, or valveless, so much depended on the performer’s lip control – in other words a devil to play. This is a performance by David Guillén and Manuel Maria Moreno with the Orchestre de Chambre Francais.

A commenter on the first publication of this article suggested the Concerto for Lute RV 93, dating from the 1730s. I chose this vintage performance by Julian Bream because many others seem a bit fast for my taste.

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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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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