Antonio Vivaldi


  • Portraits _

    Only two portraits of Antonio Vivaldi exist that can be identified with certainty. The earliest known is an ink sketch by, Pier Leone Ghezzi, one of the first artists to do caricatures and one who made his living by sketching Romans and visitors to their city. His drawing of Vivaldi dates from 1723 when the composer was in Rome for his opera productions. 

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    The second is an engraving made in 1725 by the Frenchman Francois Morellon La Cave who was living in Amsterdam.

    See photo

    By far the most well known image of Vivaldi is the so-called Bologna portrait. This painting, which was originally part of a large collection of portraits of musicians owned by Padre Giovanni Battista Martini of Bologna, depicts an unnamed violinist. It has certain undeniable similarities with the La Cave engraving such as the the proportions of the face, musician’s open shirt and the ink well and paper. A few scholars have based their conviction that this portrait is none other than Antonio Vivaldi on a tuft of red hair which can be seen on the original. Scholars remain divided as to the authenticity of the ubiquitous Bologna portrait.

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  • Letters _

    We know of the existence of about twenty-five letters and other handwritten documents by Vivaldi and of nearly seventy letters addressed to him.

    Existing letters written by Vivaldi:

    13 to Marquis Guido Bentivoglio di Aragona (Ferrara State Archives)
    1 to Luigi Bentivoglio (father of the Marquis)
    1 to Princess Maria Livia Spinola Borghese in Rome
    1 to Antonio Mauro a scenery painter in Venice
    2 to Count Sicinio Igazio Pepoli from Bologna

    Of the surviving letters addressed to Vivaldi we have:

    4 from Prince Carl Ludwig Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (in the Mecklenburg-Strelitz Letter Collection, Schwerin State Archives)
    9 from Marquis Guido Bentivoglio di Aragona
    2 from Antonio Mauro
    52 from Marchese Luca Casimiro degli Albizzi, a Florentine impresario

    Most of these letters are to be found in Italian archives. No critical edition exists of the letters by or to Vivaldi.

    The surviving correspondence between Marquis Guido Bentivoglio di Aragona and Vivaldi comprises 22 letters of which 13 are from Vivaldi and nine from the Marquis. Eleven of the letters are housed in the Ferrara State Archives, the others are in private hands.
    The most revealing of these is a letter Vivaldi wrote to Bentivoglio in a moment of desperation. He gives an autobiographical account of his life that, while perhaps somewhat exaggerated, remains  the most revealing document we have of Vivaldi’s life:

    Antonio Vivaldi al marchese Guido Bentivoglio di Aragona:
    16 November, 1737

    After so many manoeuvres and a great many toils the opera is now ruined. His Reverence, the Apostolic Nuncio, had me summoned today and commanded me in the name of His Eminence Cardinal Ruffo not to come to Ferrara to mount the opera because I am a cleric who does not say Mass and because I am friends with the singer Girò. Your Excellency can imagine my state of mind at such a blow. For this opera I am burdened with six thousand ducats in signed contracts, and so far I have already paid out more than one hundred sequins. It is impossible to perform the opera without la Girò because it is impossible to find another prima donna of her calibre. I will not entrust so large a sum to the hands of others. On the other hand, I am obligated by these contracts, hence this sea of woes. What troubles me most is the stain His Eminence Cardinal Ruffo has attached to these poor women,* the likes of which has yet to be seen.

    Over the past fourteen years we have appeared together in many European cities and their modesty was everywhere admired and the same can be said of Ferrara. They make devotions every week, to which sworn and authenticated records attest.

    I have not celebrated Mass in twenty-five years and will never say Mass again, not because of an interdiction or an order, as His Excellency can find out, but because of my own decision owing to the ailment from which I have suffered from birth and which still afflicts me. After being ordained a priest I celebrated Mass for a year or somewhat longer, after which I stopped because my ailment forced me to leave the altar three times without finishing Mass. I therefore spend most of my life at home, which I can only leave in a gondola or coach because my chest ailment or constriction of the chest does not permit me to walk.

    No nobleman calls me to his house, not even our prince, because they all know of my condition. I usually go outside immediately after lunch, though never on foot. Such is the reason I cannot celebrate Mass. I was in Rome for three Carnival seasons to produce opera and Your Excellency knows I have never asked to say Mass and I played in the theatre and it is common knowledge that even His Holiness wished to hear me play and how many favours I received. I was called to Vienna and never said Mass there. For three years I was in the service of the extra-ordinarily devout Prince of Darmstadt in Mantua, together with the above ladies, who were always honoured by His August Majesty with the greatest kindness, and I never said Mass. My travels were always very expensive because I always took along four or five persons to assist me.

    I accomplish all the good I can at my writing desk at home. I therefore have the honour of corresponding with nine high princes and my letters travel all over Europe. I have therefore written Signor Mazzucchi that I cannot come to Ferrara if he does not allow me to stay at his house. In short, this has all come about as a result of my illness, and the above ladies are very helpful to me because they know my ailment well.
    I reiterate to Your Excellency that the opera cannot be performed in Ferrara without me. You can see the many reasons. Should it not be performed, I will either have to take it to another city, which it is now too late to find, or pay off all the contracts. If His Eminence cannot be persuaded to change his mind, I beg of Your Excellency at least to persuade His Eminence, the Papal Legate, to postpone the opera in order to release me from the contracts.

     I am also sending Your Excellency the letters of his Eminence Cardinal Albani, which I should submit myself. I have been teaching at the Pietà for 30 years without any scandals. I therefore commend myself to Your Excellency’s most gracious protection and humbly remain, etc.

    Antonio Vivaldi


  • A Select Bibliography _

    The following is a list of works which are accessible to the general public while maintaining rigorous musicological standards. They all contain extensive, specialized bibliographies.

    DE CANDE, Roland, Vivaldi, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1967, reprint 1994.
    HELLER, Karl, Antonio Vivaldi, Reclam, Leipzig, 1991. English translation: Antonio Vivaldi, The Red Priest of Venice, Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon, reprint 2003.
    KOLNEDER, Walter, Antonio Vivaldi, Leben und Werk, Breitkopf & Haertel, Wiesbaden, 1965. English translation: Antonio Vivaldi: Documents of his Life and Works, London, Faber, 1970, reprint 1983. Italian translation: Vivaldi, Rusconi, Milano, 1978, 1994.
    POZZI, Egidio, Antonio Vivaldi [in Italian], L’Epos, Palermo, 2007 – this is the most recent and up-to-date of the biographies.
    TALBOT, Michael, Vivaldi, London, Dent, 1978 (Master Musicians Series), reprint Schirmer Books, New York, 1993.
    TALBOT, Michael, "Vivaldi", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, second edition, ed. S. Sadie (vol. 26, pp. 817-843) Macmillan, London, 2001.

    BARBIER, Patrick, La Venise de Vivaldi, Grasset, Paris, 2002.
    FERTONANI, Cesare, La musica strumentale di Antonio Vivaldi , Leo S. Olschki, Florence, 1998.
    GILLIO, PIER GIUSEPPE, L’Attività musicale negli ospedali di Venezia nel Settecento, Leo S. Olschki, Florence, 2006.
    MAMY, Sylvie, Balades musicales dans Venise du XVI au XXe siècle, Nouveau Monde Edition, Paris, 2006.
    MAMY, Sylvie, Passeggiate musicali a Venezia translated from the above mentioned French volume, Vianello Libri, Treviso, 2006.
    SARDELLI, Federico Maria, La musica per flauto di Antonio Vivaldi, 2001. English translation, Vivaldi’s Music for Flute and Recorder, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007.
    SELFRIDGE-FIELD, Eleanor, Venetian Instrumental Music from Gabrieli to Vivaldi, Blackwell, Oxford, 1975; La musica strumentale a Venezia da Gabrieli a Vivaldi, ERI, Torino, 1980.
    SELFRIDGE-FIELD, Eleanor, A New Chronology of Venetian Opera and Related Genres, 1660 – 1760, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2007.
    STROHM, Reinhard, The Operas of Antonio Vivaldi, Leo S. Olschki, Florence, 2008.
    TALBOT, Michael, The Sacred Vocal Music of Antonio Vivaldi, Leo S. Olschki, Florence, 1995.
    TALBOT, Michael, The Chamber Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2006.
    TALBOT, Michael, Vivaldi and Fugue, Leo S. Olschki, Florence, 2009.
    RYOM, Peter, Antonio Vivaldi: Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis seiner Werke, Breitkopf & Haertel, Wiesbaden, 2007 – the authoritative catalogue of Vivaldi’s complete works.

    DE BROSSES, Charles, Lettres familières écrites en Italie en 1739 et 1740, Paris, 1858.
    BURNEY, Charles, Music, Men and Manners in France and Italy, 1770, Paris, Flammarion, 1992.
    GOLDONI, Carlo, Mémoires de M. Goldoni pour servir à l'histoire de sa Vie et à celle de son Théatre, 1787, rééd. Paris, Mercure de France, 1965.

    Specialized articles are published annually by the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi of the Fondazione Cini in Venice, in the yearbook “Studi vivaldiani”, while longer studies (including conference proceedings) appear in the series “Quaderni vivaldiani” (Leo S. Olschki, Florence).

    There are a number of novels on the market. Because documentary information on Vivaldi's life is scarce, these books romanticize and invent a life which is often very far from what scholars have been able to document about Vivaldi's life.  It is important that readers distinguish a true biography from a fantasized one.


  • Teatro alla Moda _

    This small, satirical pamphlet was published by an anonymous author in Venice in 1720. Vivaldi would not have taken long to discover that it was written by Benedetto Marcello, a noble Venetian who was an amateur composer and writer. It is difficult to know if this satire was directed specifically at Vivaldi the impressario and composer or if he was chosen as the model because he was one of the most representative and popular of the composers of the new operatic style in Venice at the time.

    Written as a manual of advice for composers, singers and castrati, librettists, performers, scene painters, comics, costumers, prompters, copyists, mothers of singers and others connected to the theatre, this ironical pamphlet is both extremely amusing and at the same time an extraordinary window onto the world of 18th-century opera.

    An engraving on the cover makes allusions to several persons prominent in the world of Venetian opera in the 1720s: Vivaldi (‘Aldiviva‘) is portrayed with a priest’s hat and angel’s wings (Teatro Sant’Angelo) playing a violin at the back of the oared boat. At the prow is a bear, an allusion to Orsatti, the manager of the San Moisè theatre while rowing is Modotto, manager of the Sant’Angelo theatre and formally a dealer of boats. 
    A facsimile of the entire pamphlet can be seen at:

    Frontispiece of the pamphlet Teatro alla Moda by Benedetto Marcello See photo


  • Character as seen by... _

    What were the traits of Vivald’s character? Documentation is scarce but statements by people who knew him in the 18th-century as well as by Vivaldi scholars today who have spent many years dedicated to unravelling his story can provide a lead. From there it is a question of listening to the music and deriving one’s own picture of the man.


    Edward Holdsworth (1684-1746),  English scholar and poet who often accompanied young  men on the Grand Tour. On several occasions he purchased music for his friend the music collector Charles Jennens.  

    “I had this day some discourse with your friend Vivaldi who told me that he had resolved not to publish any more concertos, because he says it prevents his selling his compositions in MSS [autograph manuscripts] which he thinks will turn more to account; as certainly it would if he finds a good market for he expects a guinea for every piece. Perhaps you might deal with him if you were here to choose what you like, but I am sure I shall not venture to choose for you at that price. I had before been informed by others that this was Vivaldi’s resolution. I suppose you already know that he has published 17 concertos.”

    Charles De Brosses (1709-1777) French writer. His book of letters written to friends from his travels in Italy from 1739 to 1740 contain descriptions of Vivaldi.

    29 August 1739: "Vivaldi has made himself one of my intimate friends in order to sell me some concertos at a very high price. In this he partly succeeded, as did I in my intention, which was to hear him play and have good musical recreation frequently. He is an old man with a mania for composing. I have heard him boast of composing a concerto in all its parts more quickly than a copyist could write them down”.

    1739 “a phenomenal passion for composition” (“une furie de composition prodigieuse”)”
    “he could compose a concerto with all its parts faster than a copyist could copy it”

    Edward Holdsworth again:

    “Monsieur La Cene who has published Vivaldi’s and Albinoni’s works assured me that if you have 12 of Vivaldi’s op. and 9 of Albinoni, you have all. Let Vivaldi, he says, reckon as he pleases. He has published no more than 12, and must count several of them double to make up the number 17, which piece of vanity suits very well with his character.”

    Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1778), German composer and flutist. In his Method to learn to play the flute, published in Berlin in 1752, he wrote:

    “Vivaldi was witty, full of imagination and filled half the world with his Concertos” (Quantz, 1992, pp. 388-389).
    Vivaldi era spiritoso, abbondante d’invenzioni e riempi quasi la metà del mondo dei suoi Concerti. (Pozzi 124).

    Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793)

    In 1735, at the beginning of his career, the young Venetian playwrite Carlo Goldoni was engaged to help Vivaldi with the adapting of Apostolo Zeno’s libretto for the opera Griselda. Later, in 1761, Goldoni wrote a description of that first meeting. He describes being treated as a novice by Vivaldi – which he admits he was - until finally:

    “I became a little angry and cheekily replied: ‘Let me have the ink-well’; and I took a letter from my pocket, from which I tore a piece of white paper.
    ‘Do not take offence’, he said gently; ‘please – sit down here at this desk. Here is the paper, the ink-well and the libretto; take your time;’ and he returns to his study and begins to recite from his breviary. Then I read the scene carefully. I size up the feeling of the cantabile aria, and write one expressing action, passion and movement. I bring it and show it to him; he holds the breviary in his right hand, my sheet in his left hand, and he reads softly; having finished reading, he throws the breviary in a corner, gets up, embraces me, rushes to the door, and calls Miss Annina. Miss Annina comes with her sister Paolina; he reads them the aria, shouting loudly: ‘He did it here, he did it here, here he did it!’ Again he embraces me and congratulates me, and I became his dear friend, his poet and his confidant; and from then on he never forsook me. I went on to murder Zeno’s drama as much as, and in whatever way, he wanted. The opera was performed and met with success.” (Translation from Talbot, Vivaldi, 1992, pp 61-62).

    In 1787 he again described this meeting in his Mémoires, though the scene is greatly exaggerated and seems more a caricature than a serious portrait.


    Karl Heller (from Antonio Vivaldi, The Red Priest of Venice)

    “…This pronounced will for independence and freedom of movement is an expression of artistic self-assurance and a general trait of Vivaldi’s personality. Difficult though it is to grasp the musician’s character in all its complexity, certain qualities come up repeatedly to betray an irresistible spirit of initiative directed toward self-fulfillment. He was the opposite of the artist who lives and works in peace and solitude. He sought and needed an active link to the public and stimulation through an environment that fed his craving for recognition and success. Limited by a physical ailment he seems to burst with an inner urge for action, an urge that is surely at the roots of his tendency to write large numbers of works very quickly.” (p. 266).

    "Liveliness, spontaneity, a temperament marked by dynamism and compulsive vitality were clearly dominant qualities of Vivaldi’s personality, a personality that contained winning aspects and appears in a positive light. He enjoyed the reputation of being an uncommonly clever businessman.”

    “Difficult though it is to grasp the musician’s character in all its complexity, certain qualities come up repeatedly to betray an irresistible spirit of initiative directed toward self-fulfillment….he sought and needed an active link to the public and stimulation through an environment that fed his craving for recognition and success”.

    Karl Heller is the author of Antonio Vivaldi, The Red Priest of Venice, a biography published in German in 1991 and by Amadeus Press in English in 1997. His research has dealt chiefly with the music of Bach and Vivaldi, beginning with his doctoral dissertation on Vivaldi in 1965.

    Michael Talbot

    "I see Vivaldi as the outstanding example of a ‘self-made’ composer. From humble and really very ordinary beginnings as a violinist, Vivaldi rose, through massive ambition and talent, to become one of the relatively few ‘universal’ composers of the late Baroque: as ready to write an opera or a large-scale sacred work as to compose a concerto or sonata. His spontaneous approach to composition and unfettered imagination are well known, but there is also a pensive and even (for those who know where to look for it) an erudite side to his music. His lifelong illness, usually identified as bronchial asthma, had a profound effect on his personality and attitude to work. Am I alone in viewing his digital dexterity as a violinist and his mental and scribal dexterity as a composer as acts of defiance against a cruel fate that kept him housebound for much of the time?"

    Michael Talbot has been writing on Antonio Vivaldi since 1970. He describes himself as a ‘Vivaldi generalist’, having written a biography of Antonio Vivaldi and on the discovery and authentication of new works by Vivaldi, the identity of instruments used by him, musical analysis and a biography which has been translated, revised and reprinted several times. Since 1982 he has been editor of the ‘New Critical Edition’ of Vivaldi’s works published by Ricordi for the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi. He currently co-edits with Francesco Fanna the yearbook Studi vivaldiani. His articles concerned specifically with Vivaldi total almost forty, and the six books on Vivaldi of which he is sole author (several of them translated and/or reprinted) are: Vivaldi (Dent, 1978); Vivaldi (BBC Publications, 1979); Antonio Vivaldi: A Guide to Research (Garland, 1988); The Sacred Music of Antonio Vivaldi (Olschki, 1995); The Chamber Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi (The Boydell Press, 2007); Vivaldi and Fugue (Olschki, 2009). He is currently (November 2009) working on a handbook of general reference on Vivaldi, to be entitled The Vivaldi Compendium.

    Cesare Fertonani

    "Vivaldi’s character emerges, through letters and documents, as a proud character with the lucid knowledge of his own greatness as a composer and the incontestable vitality of a man who, though an infirm, worked at a dizzying rhythm (traits which are reflected in his autograph manuscripts). He must have been a man very careful with money, as is often the case of those who manage to have enough to invest considerable sums – and consequently to risk –without forgetting their own humble origins.

    Then, naturally, there is the music. Analysing the character of a composer through his music is a delicate and controversial operation.  Nonetheless, a few of Vivaldi’s traits are undeniably apparent through his music; ambition but at the same time a taste for gambling and irony; a feeling for the theatrical and spectacular as well as a profound understanding of the tragedy of passing time; a penchant for calculating coupled with a capacity to abandon himself to intuition; religious fervour and sensuality; the inventiveness of a visionary imagination and an appreciation of man’s inner self".

    Cesare Fertonani is best known for his work on Vivaldi’s instrumental music. He has published Antonio Vivaldi. La simbologia nei concerti a programma (1992) and La musica strumentale di Antonio Vivaldi (1998). He teaches at the University of Milano and is a member of the Editorial Committee of the Istituto Antonio Vivaldi’s opera editions.


  • Discography _

    Vivaldi Discography 1999 - 2009

    Vivaldi was one of the fortunate composers who benefited from the 1970s phenomenon of a return to early instruments and to an authentic (historically informed) interpretation of this music, aided by the research of musicologists and instrument makers. Three principal events marked this new era: above all, an interest in the lyric work of this Venetian composer to whom today the greatest voices pay homage; the evolution in musicological research which culminated in the complete cataloguing of the works of Antonio Vivaldi by Peter Ryom; and the remarkable Vivaldi Edition recording project, a joint production between the record company Naive and the Istituto per i Beni Musicali in Piedmont to record the immense collection of Vivaldi's music manuscripts preserved in the National University Library in Turin. These manuscripts were, in fact, Vivaldi's personal library of scores.

    The discography presented here is a work in progress that is both practical and immediately usable. It covers recordings of Vivaldi's music made in the last ten years, a decade  which has been, without doubt, the richest yet in regard to the repertoire explored and the variety of interpretations.

    This discography is made up of two entries: one listing by CD and the other by the individual compositions. For the first time music lovers have access to an index of all the extant works of Vivaldi, classified by means of the latest Ryom catalogue. The recording of each composition is indicated, allowing one to find the corresponding CD. Classed by the year of release, the works, musicians and record company for each CD or DVD are given. With the aid of a search engine a piece can be found by simply giving an RV number, the first words of an aria or the name of a musician, satisfying the curiosity of Vivaldi lovers. This discography and the index will be up-dated annually – a precious aid for music lovers.

    To access the list download here

    Roger-Claude Travers, 2009

    Roger-Claude Travers is a board member of the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi of the Fondazione Cini in Venice and a music critic for the French journal Diapason. For many years he has been maintaining a complete list of all recordings released of the music of Antonio Vivaldi. He has kindly offered to make it available on this website.


  • The Hand of Vivaldi _

    A look at the hundreds of pages of music manuscripts in Vivaldi’s hand is a fascinating experience. Apart from the music itself and the sheer emotion involved in touching pages written by Vivaldi, there are the corrections, the occasional notes scribbled in the margins - , all small elements which enable us to piece together an image of the man behind the music.

    The Biblioteca Nazionale Universitarià of Torino has kindly allowed us to reproduce here a few of the more interesting manuscript pages.  Vivaldi scholar Daniele Torelli is to be thanked for his collaboration and comments on these pages.

    Title page of the opera L’Olimpiade.

    Like many of the title pages of Vivaldi’s operas, this page contains a dedication in the upper left-hand corner, which scholars interpret as to the Virgin Mary “Laus Deo Beataeque Mariae Deiparae Amen”. In the right-hand corner Vivaldi has written “Originale”, clearly distinguishing this manuscript from copies. One reads “L’Olimpiade, Poesia del S:r Abbate Metastasio, Musica del Viualdi” followed by a list of the characters of the opera written in his graceful hand.

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    Title page of the opera Tito Manlio.

    Vivaldi has written at the top of the page: “Musica Del Viualdi fato in 5 giorni” (Music by Viualdi written in 5 days).

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    At the end of the opera Orlando Furioso is a phrase which seems to read “In vece dell’usignolo” (‘Instead of the Usignolo”) – perhaps to imply that this aria was to replace another called ‘L’usignolo” (The Nightengale). To the right of this is a sentence which has been crossed out “Se questo non piace non voglio più scrivere di musica” (If this won’t do I will write no more music”). Vivaldi often had to adapt arias for new singers and it would seem that he was dealing here with a particularly difficult diva.

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    This is an alternative aria from the oratorio Juditha Triumphans.

    In the upper right-hand corner Vivaldi has written “Per la Sig:ra Barbara” (For Signora Barbara) who was one of the young women at the Pietà.

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    Sinfonia from the opera L’Olimpiade with contrasting dynamic markings.

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    The music notes on this page are in an anonymous hand, but the written text is the hand of Antonio Vivaldi. A sentence in the lower half of the page reads “Sarebbe molto bene far Cantare questo tenore mà pero’ non è necessario” (“It would be very good to have the tenor sing this part but it is not necessary”).

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    Vivaldi has circled notes in the upper left-hand corner and added a phrase intended for the copyist indicating that these notes were to be written an octave higher.

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    Vivaldi’s hand written in haste.

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    In the 18th century manuscript corrections were made by gluing or by sewing a new section over the page, as is evident here in the lower portion of the page. Note the thread on the left.

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    The red marks on the right-hand side are due to a wax based glue which was used on the recto, probably in order to attach and cover it with a new page. In Vivaldi’s hand is the word “Finis”

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