During his lifetime (1678-1741, about that of Bach and Handel), Vivaldi's name was known far and wide across Europe. He may have been the best known and most admired Venetian composer of all time. In his love of color, brilliant effects, splendor, pomp and prestige, he was a true son of Venice. He himself was even regarded as a tourist attraction, from whom a foreigner might commission a piece in memory of his visit to Venice.
Vivaldi was prolific even by the standards of a prolific age. He once claimed to have written over 90 operas, though about half that number is more probable. Then there is his large body of sacred choral music (psalms, hymns, motets, oratorios, Magnificats, etc.) of which the splendorous Gloria is probably the best known. But Vivaldi is remembered today principally for his instrumental music, and especially for the staggering number of violin concertos he wrote: over 200, which represent but a fraction of the total for all instruments: about 500, including for mandolin, viola d’amore, oboe, recorder, bassoon, cello, horn, flute, and trumpet. There are solo concertos, double concertos, ensemble concertos (more than two soloists), concertos for double orchestra, and concertos for string orchestra without soloist. Best-known of all in the concerto category are The Four Seasons.
Vivaldi's father was a violinist, and although the boy learned to play the instrument too, his formative years were mostly spent preparing for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1703 at the age of 25, but soon thereafter withdrew from celebrating mass, presumably for reasons of health. He acquired the epithet “the red priest” in recognition of his red hair. Barely six months after his ordination, Vivaldi took a position in music at the Ospedale della Pietà. The musical reputation of this state-supported orphanage-cum-music school for girls was such that Vivaldi received a starting salary double that of his father, who was employed at the city’s pre-eminent church, St. Mark’s. Vivaldi remained at the Ospedale for most of his professional life, teaching, composing and performing.
Towards the end of his life Vivaldi moved to Vienna where he hoped to find employment in the service of Emperor Charles VI. But Charles died suddenly from food poisoning, and Vivaldi’s fortune plummeted. Within a year he too was dead. As with Mozart half a century later, Vivaldi's star had descended quickly, he received the cheapest possible funeral in Vienna, and he now lies buried in an unknown grave ̶ cruel irony for an artist whose star has once again risen to a place high in the firmament of the immortals.