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Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in 1678 in Venice. His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi was a barber and excellent amateur violinist. He gave his only musical son (from a family of five brothers and four sisters) his first violin lessons before he began studying with the violinist and composer Giovanni Legrenzi, and the father-son team is said to have become one of the great tourist attractions of Venice.

In 1693, the 15-year-old Vivaldi entered the priesthood. He trained for ten years and was ordained in 1703. In September of that year, he began teaching the violin at a girls' orphanage, Ospedale della Pietà. It was here that he first began composing and in 1704, his Opus one Sonata da camera was published. However, it was in emulating Archangelo Corelli's famous Opus 6 set of 12 concertos (including the 'Christmas concerto') that he really found fame. L'estro armonico (The Musical Inspiration), his own set of 12 violin concertos, was published in 1711.

Vivaldi's own skill as a violinist was much remarked upon. He did a lot to advance the instrument's technique and dazzled audiences with a previously unseen virtuosity. One of Vivaldi's duties at the orphanage was writing concertos to showcase the talents of the girls taught there. This probably accounts for the wealth of solo concertos for less well-known instruments such as the bassoon and the cello which would have ordinarily been resigned to an accompanying role. He was also a prolific and successful composer of operas. One of his first, Orlando furioso, was given its premiere in 1713. Although 50 have been discovered so far, Vivaldi claims to have written 94.

By 1725, Vivaldi was famous throughout Europe and his operas were performed regularly. That same year, his Opus 8, Il cimento dell' armonia e dell'inventione was published. This collection of concertos for the violin includes what are now his most famous works, Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons).

Vivaldi continued to teach at the Pietà, barring a few interruptions, for nearly 40 years. He wrote cantatas as well as concertos for the girls to perform and was one of the most famous names of his day. He left Venice for good in 1740, perhaps in search of a court appointment in Vienna. He died there the following year, penniless, and was buried in a pauper's grave. At his death, as well as 94 operas, over 40 cantatas and numerous instrumental sonatas, Vivaldi left over 500 concertos. In his time he was at the forefront of the development of sonata form and the concerto, but his music, once it went out of fashion in the 1760s, lay untouched and his name forgotten for 200 years, until he was rediscovered in the 1920s. The 30s and 40s saw a gradual resurgence of Vivaldi's music until 1950, when The Four Seasons was republished and he once more became known as one of the great composers of the Baroque era.

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