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The strange fate of a “red-haired priest”

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

Antonio Vivaldi, one of the most popular composer of all times, had a curious fate. The long-lasting darling of Venice, he was vilified in Benedetto Marcello's famous Teatro alla moda and despised as “an excellent violinist but a second-rate composer” by Carlo Goldoni. In 1740, he left the Serenissima for a mysterious destination and died in Vienna the following year ; exactly half a century before Mozart, he was buried without ceremony in the same cemetary for the destitute...

Then, he vanished out of the memory of the generations to be eventually rescued by his most famous arranger : the 19th century Bach Revival induced musicologists to inquire about a musician whose not least than a dozen concertos had been transcribed by the Kantor. Some decades later, in 1913, Marc Pincherle wrote the first thesis about Vivaldi; musical dons became progressively acquainted with what was revealed as the works of one of the greatest composers of his time. Finally the long-playing record was developed and Vivaldi's glory - a well deserved one - was sung by everyone.

Frankly, we know many details but very few important things about Vivaldi. We indeed have improved since the 1920s, when his date of birth was problematical and his date of death mistaken. But, save Giovanni Battista, his own father, a violinist of the Ducal chapel, we still ignore which masters had Antonio. From his nickname we know that he was a “red-haired priest”, ordained on March 23rd, 1703 and suffering a bad health. But, relieved from any ministry - and even from saying mass - what kind of priest was he ? A society cleric surroun

ded by cantatrices, or a priest-cum-composer divided between his breviary and his violin - as he wanted Goldoni to believe ? Was he a cheat or a Candide, was he cheerful or melancholic, fiery or composed ? He has been depicted several times but we can only trust a small Ghezzi's caricature. It is thus feasible to imagine a Vivaldi at one's fantasy from one's fantasies about Vivaldi's time, Vivaldi's Venice or Vivaldi's music.