About Antonio Vivaldi
Vivaldi (c. 1678-1741), who is known as the 'Red Priest',
was one of the most prolific composers of the concerto. Of
the 700 concertos he wrote, some are for single solo instruments,
chiefly the violin, while others are for several solo instruments.
Fifty of these works are sinfonia concertos for full orchestra
without any soloist.
The Four Seasons are from his opus 8 (1725), and show off
a variety of colors and textures. From 1703 to 1740, Vivaldi
was a teacher of violin, director of concerts and choirmaster
at the Seminario musicale dell' Ospitale della Piet `a in
Venice. It was a combination of a musical conservatory for
girls, an orphanage, nunnery, and a convent school. Many of
these girls were the illegitimate children of wealthy Italian
merchants. They were brought up by the state and trained solely
to excel in music. Venice boasted four schools in all.
Most of Vivaldi's concertos and symphonies where written for
faculty associates and student ensembles in the Pieta. Women
singers and string players entertained guests to the convent
with concerts of Vivaldi's music. A painting by Francesco
Guardi shows that the ladies were arranged on three balconies
above the audience. They were hidden from distinct view by
an iron lattice.
The virtuosity of Vivaldi's orchestral works implies that
many of these female musicians had achieved tremendous mastery
of their instruments. The French jurist Charles de Brosses
wrote of this orchestra, "The transcendent music is that of
the asylums . . . they sing like angels and play the violin,
the flute, the organ, the oboe, the cello, and the bassoon;
in short, there is no instrument, however unwieldy, that can
frighten them. It is they alone who perform, and about forty
girls take part in each concert . . . There is nothing like
the sight of a young and pretty nun in a white habit, with
a bunch of pomegranate blossoms over her ear, conducting the
orchestra and beating time with all the grace and precision
Vivaldi claims to have composed 90 operas. His "Four Seasons
Concertos" were the rage in Europe. He was the ambassador
to France and a liason for the Pope. Yet he died in poverty.
Now his music is performed and recorded world-wide by the
finest orchestras and soloists.
Viola Music by Women Composers,
by Dr. Carolyn Waters Broe - ASTA/NSOA Conference 2005 - presentation
partially funded by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.