Since mid-February, the only music I’ve listened to in the car or while on a plane has been the collected works of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). While most of us are familiar with his “Four Seasons” (listen here), I chose not to include that in the mix. Instead, I let each of the other songs in the “Vivaldi Masterworks” forty-disc collection play. Instead of focusing solely on the 40 days before Easter, I began this experience in early February. Then, during Passion Week, I only listened to Vivaldi’s “Gloria in D Major” on repeat. (Here is a video link to the music with the entire score so any musicians can follow along.)
Some Vivaldi History
Out of curiosity, I read much of a book by H.C. Robbins Landon titled Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque. Sadly, Vivaldi died in obscurity and poverty. His work was not “discovered” for 200 years after his death. The rediscovery was accelerated in the mid-1930s when violinist Olga Rudge cataloged 300 of Vivaldi’s instrumental pieces for the National Library of Turin, Italy, and held small concerts. It wasn’t until after World War II that the first recording of “The Four Seasons” on 78 rpm records was released in 1950, and a renaissance began. (I’ve simplified this history, of course.)
We have no idea how many pieces of music he wrote as so many have been lost to time (nearly 1,000 have been cataloged). Even as recently as 2006, some previously undiscovered musical scores were found. At last count, there are more than 500 concertos, 350 for solo instruments and strings. Another seventy or so concertos are for two or more instruments and strings. Also, he wrote around 90 sonatas and chamber-music compositions. A large collection of sacred choral music exists, including “Gloria” mentioned above and his rendering of the “Magnificat.” In addition, there are at least 46 operas (which I did not listen to!).
Vivaldi was a teacher of music at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children. Many of his compositions were written for the all-girl music ensembles at the school. He was also a Catholic priest, but his health prevented him from serving in a parish. (He was known as “The Red Priest” since he had a head of bright red hair.)
Despite his 200 years of obscurity, he was well known by other composers of his day, Johann Sebastian Bach in particular. In that CD collection, an entire disc is devoted to Bach’s organ transcriptions of some of Vivaldi’s violin concertos.
By choosing not to listen to the radio or podcasts or any other artist, I found my mind both narrowing in focus and widening at the same time. For me, one of the lures of Baroque is the mathematical precision of the notes. There is an order to it.
Classical music can also fade into the background and relax the “listen to me Now!” shout of other genres. This has created times of reflection. In fact, I would find myself looking forward to those moments behind the wheel.
Larger Picture Reflections
The sheer volume of Vivaldi’s compositions is extraordinary. To think of those students having a teacher who could write original music for them as part of their curriculum is rather breathtaking.
I was also struck by the immense talent of anyone who performs these works. For example, one disc was oboe concertos. Another, flute. The list also included bassoon, cello, recorder, and mandolin! Imagine him having a talented student in his orchestra and creating something for them to perform to highlight their talent.
Then, centuries later, someone who has devoted their life to mastering an instrument and spent countless hours practicing, recorded something that I was able to enjoy.
To those who are in the arts of all kinds (music, dance, painting, writing, sculpting, etc.), you have a wonderful gift. A gift that can, and will, touch someone, somewhere, because you are obedient to utilize the gift for God’s glory.
As you labor with your writing, enduring the dry times, the frustration of the industry, and those ever-present voices saying you aren’t good enough, think of Vivaldi. He used his gifts to the best of his abilities. But he did not enjoy wild success during his lifetime. But you and I, 250 years later, can be blessed by glorious music.