With the birth of what we know today as the Baroque era, several new approaches to composition were taking place. Probably the most influential change was the use of affections; that is the portrayal of emotions through art, poetry, drama, and music. At this point in history we began to see a huge shift in the way people wrote and performed music. Composers began taking many more liberties than before this time and public performances, especially in opera houses, became much more popular. Because of these changes, the world received much more complex and elongated musical works, works that have shaped the way we learn music theory and composition today.
During the late 17th century some of the most renowned composers we know today were born, names such as Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Handel and more. All four of these composers have made significant contributions to classical repertoire and theory, and while all of these composers have their own styles and major contributions, Antonio Vivaldi was one of the most prestigious composers of his time. With works such as The Four Seasons, Opus 3 L’Estro
Armonico, as well as hundreds of concertos, operas, and settings of sacred works, Vivaldi shows incredible compositional skills.
Born in Venice in 1678 as a son of Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, a barber and professional violinist, Antonio Vivaldi was exposed to music at a very young age. As Antonio grew older he studied with his father as well as Giovanni Legrenzi at the San Marco Basilica (H.C Landon).
While Antonio was searching for musical virtuosity on violin, he was also put into priesthood at
the age of fifteen (1693). Here is where Vivaldi received the name of “Il Prete Rosio” translated as the red haired priest. It wasn’t until 1703 when Vivaldi would finally become a priest; however, because of an illness very similar to asthma he was unable to recite Mass and soon moved on to a career as a violin teacher as the Maestro de Coro at the Ospedale della Pietra, a hospital for orphaned girls. Here Vivaldi would become the music master as well as become a famous composer in Venice.
In order to understand Vivaldi’s style of composition we must look at his first major work, L’Estro Armonico. This piece, according to Michael Talbot, is one of the most influential pieces of instrumental music to appear in the 18th century (H.C Landon). L’ Estro Armonico contained twelve concertos and odd combinations of instrumentation. Throughout the concertos listeners can hear a large emphasis on imitation and harmony within the leading voice of the violin as well as extreme emphasis on rhythms. The techniques used in these concertos would be extremely influential to composers who succeeded Vivaldi as well as composers of the same time period. In these pieces we can see exactly how the portrayal of emotion is present in baroque music and each movement of this composition portrays a different mood. We can also see where Vivaldi’s virtuosity of violin came into play with his compositions as every one of the concertos has extremely technical moving lines and ornaments.
It was not only the outward form, so original and different, of Vivaldi’s Estro
Armonico Which fascinated and enthralled musicians all over Europe but the intensely personal style- The ‘Vivaldi style’ par excellence, with its wiry, nervous sound that intense concentration of rhythmic designs which, once experienced are literally unforgettable. Among many musicians who were spell bound by the Estro Armonico was
Johann Sebastian Bach. (H.C Landon 42)
By looking at this example from L’Estro Armonico, we can see the emphasis Vivaldi put on rhythm and counter rhythm as well as the technical ability the violinists must have to play this piece. The aggressive and complex rhythms are continued throughout the entire piece. It should also be noted that this was arranged for four concert violins, four orchestral violins, two violas,