Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was an Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher and Roman Catholic priest. Born in March 1678 in Venice, Vivaldi's health was problematic as a child. It is now believed that he suffered from asthma, and prevented him from learning to play wind instruments. However he learned to play the violin, and at age fifteen began training for the priesthood. Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given a dispensation from celebrating Mass most likely because of his ill health and Vivaldi appeared to withdraw from liturgical duties, saying Mass as a priest only a few times though he remained a member of the priesthood.
In 1711 Vivaldi begin work at Ospedale della Pietà in Venice as Master of Violin. An all-female orphanage, music school and convent Vivaldi composed most of his work whilst there, writing concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for them. These sacred works number over sixty and include solo motets and large-scale choral works for soloists, double chorus, and orchestra. Vivaldi had to compose an oratorio or concerto at every feast and teach the orphans both music theory and how to play certain instruments.
Venice in the early 18th century was the cultural centre of Europe, and a visit to the opera was part of the court and social life of the city. Opera houses were however required to close for all important religious festivals, but Venetians still wanted to be entertained. Vivaldi’s all-female orchestras and choirs were legendary sensations, but the girls needed to be protected from noblemen and travellers to the city. To keep them sheltered from the corruption of the visiting public, the choir sang from the upper galleries of the church, hidden behind the patterned grills, which only added to the theatrical sense of drama matched by Vivaldi’s music.
"Those young men in Venice for a stop on the Grand Tour flocked to Vivaldi’s church to hear these mysterious women seen only in silhouette, but sounding like angels."At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from European nobility and royalty including the French court of Louis XV. Vivaldi's Opus 9, "La cetra" was dedicated to Emperor Charles VI. He gave Vivaldi the title of knight, a gold medal and an invitation to Vienna. It is also likely that Vivaldi went to Vienna to stage operas, especially as he took up residence near the Kärntnertortheater. However, shortly after his arrival in Vienna in 1741 Charles VI died, which left the composer without any royal protection or a steady source of income. Having squandered his fortune Vivaldi became impoverished and died during a pauper in July 1741, aged 63.
Gloria in D
Vivaldi's Gloria in D is probably one of his best known sacred works, but it also reflects Vivaldi’s other skill as an opera composer which he regarded as a distraction from his day job at the Pieta.
The Gloria is Vivaldi's most famous choral piece, presenting the traditional Gloria from the Latin Mass in twelve varied cantata-like sections, ranging from festive brilliance to profound sadness. The powerful stile antico (historical composition style) double fugue on Cum Sancto Spiritu at the end is an arrangement by Vivaldi of the ending of a Gloria composed in 1708 by an older contemporary, Giovanni Maria Ruggieri. Vivaldi includes music which feels part concerto, part opera and the result is one of sacred music’s most uplifting choral works.
For two centuries after his death, the Gloria lay undiscovered until the late 1920s, when it was found buried among a pile of forgotten Vivaldi manuscripts.