Though chronically beset with a condition thought to be asthma, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was indefatigable as a musical entrepreneur, teaching, composing, and performing at an amazing pace. His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was undoubtedly his principal violin teacher (and later his main copyist). Antonio made his first known public appearance as a violinist in 1696 during Christmas services at San Marco, the Venetian basilica internationally known as a progressive musical center.
Vivaldi was also trained as a priest, and was ordained in March 1703. Later that year he was appointed maestro di violino (violin master) at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, a girls' orphanage famous for the musical training it provided. So accomplished were the Pietà's musicians that its observances were A-list social events for Venetian nobles and major tourist attractions.
The instrumental prowess of Vivaldi and his Pietà pupils is apparent in Vivaldi's third published collection, 12 concertos issued under the title L'estro armonico by the Amsterdam publisher Etienne Roger in 1711. Further editions soon appeared throughout Europe. L'estro armonico - Harmonic Fancy or Harmonic Inspiration are the usual English approximations of the title - became the most influential music published in the Baroque half of the 18th century. These concertos were widely imitated in style and shape; no less than Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed three of them for organ.
The 12 concertos are arranged in groups of three, one for four solo violins followed by one for two soloists and then a solo concerto. The last one of the whole set, a solo concerto in E major, is in the fast-slow-fast pattern of movements that would come to dominate concerto writing for the next 200 years (although not all of the other concertos in Op. 3 are in that mold). The buoyant fast movements are in the ritornello form that Vivaldi popularized, in which a clearly articulated theme or refrain for the full ensemble alternates with free elaborations by the soloist. The slow movement has the character and shape of an instrumental da capo aria, an ABA form filled with lyric grace.
- John Henken is the Philharmonic's Director of Publications.