Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678, Venice - July 28, 1741, Vienna), nicknamed Il Prete Rosso, was an Italian priest and music composer.

His father, a barber and a talented violinist himself (some have said he was a virtuoso), had helped him in trying a career in music and made him enter the Cappella di San Marco orchestra, where he was an appreciated violinist.

In 1703 Vivaldi became a priest, soon nicknamed Il Prete Rosso, "The Red Priest", probably because of his red hair. In 1704 he was given a dispensation from celebrating the Holy Mass because of his ill-health (he suffered from asthma), and became a violin teacher at an orphanage for girls called Ospedale della Pietą in Venice. The orphans little after started to gain appreciation and esteem, abroad too; Vivaldi wrote for them most of his concertos, cantate and sacred music. In 1705 the first collection (raccolta) of his works was published. Many others would follow. At the orphanage he covered several different duties, with the only interruption for his many travels, and in 1713 became responsible for the musical activity of the institute. He was indeed a prolific composer and is most well-known for composing:

  • over 500 concertos (210 of which for violin or violoncello solo),
  • 46 Operas,
  • sinfonias,
  • 73 sonatas,
  • chamber music (even if some sonatas for flute, as Il Pastor Fido have been erronously attributed to him, but were composed by Cedeville) and
  • sacred music ("oratorio" Juditha Triumphans, written for Pietą, two Gloria, the Stabat Mater, the Nisi Dominus, the Beatus Vir, the Magnificat, the Dixit Dominus and others);
  • his most famous work is perhaps Le Quattro Stagioni (the Four Seasons).

Not so well known is the fact that most of his repertoire was re-discovered only in the first half of 20th century in Turin and Genoa, but was published in the second half. Vivaldi's music is particularly innovative, breaking a consolidated tradition in schemes; he gave brightness to the formal and the rhythmic structure of the concerto, repeatedly looking for harmonic contrasts, and invented innovative melodies and themes. Moreover, Vivaldi quite frankly was able to compose a non-academic music, particularly meant to be appreciated by the wide public, and not only by an intellectual minority. The joyful appearance of his music reveals in this regard a transmissible joy of composing. These are among the causes of the vast popularity of his music. This popularity soon made him famous also in countries like France, at the time very closed into its national schemes. He is considered one of the authors that brought Baroque music (with its typical contrast among heavy sonorities) to evolve into an impressionist style. Vivaldi has been also indicated as a precursor of romantic musicians. Johann Sebastian Bach was deeply influenced by Vivaldi's concerto and Aria (recalled in his Passions and cantate). However, not all the musicians showed the same enthusiasm: Igor Stravinskij provocatorily said that Vivaldi had not written hundreds of concertos, but one concerto, repeated hundreds of times. Despite his sacerdotal status, he is supposed having had many love affairs, one of which with the singer Anna Giraud, with whom he was suspected of a not cleared activity of commerce in old Venetian operas that he only slightly adapted to the vocal capabilities of his mistress; this business caused him some troubles with other musicians, like Benedetto Marcello who wrote a pamphlet against him.

Vivaldi's music, together with Mozart's, Tchaikovsky's and Corelli's, has been included in the theories of Alfred Tomatis on the effects of music on human behaviour, and used in music therapy.

Selected works