The Well-Tempered Ear

Vivaldi turns 345 today. His irresistable music deserves more live performances | March 4, 2023

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today The Ear wishes Happy Birthday to composer Antonio Vivaldi (below), who was born on this day — March 4 — in 1678 in Venice. (He became famous but died in poverty at age 63 on July 28, 1741, also in Venice.)

The Ear likes Vivaldi and his music deserves many more live performances. Even local early music and modern music groups seems reluctant to program much Vivaldi besides “The Four Seasons,” despite the popularity of his other works. Vivaldi not only composed a lot but he did so for many instruments — strings, brass, winds — and in other genres than concertos including sonatas, choral works and operas.

Listen to Vivaldi in the morning. Who can resist him? The Italian style with its energetic rhythm, songful lyricism and major-key cheerfulness are caffeine for the ears.

There are so many fine groups and soloists who perform Vivaldi. Yet so much of his prolific output remains relatively unknown or unheard. 

That’s too bad. Johann Sebastian Bach recognized a good thing when he heard it, so he “borrowed” and transcribed many of Vivaldi’s works. One imagines the Italian taste for transparency and tunes appealed to Bach and helped him leaven the often dense, even pedantic Germanic counterpoint and smothering religiosity. Vivaldi provided a model influence for Bach’s eclectic fusion of styles.

Here is a link to an extended Wikipedia biography of the “Red Priest” (below) — Vivaldi’s nickname, used during his teaching at an all-girls school in Venice and derived from his bright red hair. It holds some surprises including the political controversy that surrounded Vivaldi in his day:

A lot of modern musicians and music historians seem to hold Vivaldi’s popularity and listener-friendly music against him. Opinions seem divided over who made the snide remark — Igor Stravinsky, Luigi Dallapiccola or both — that Vivaldi rewrote the same concerto 500 times.

Here is an informative takedown of that putdown:

In the YouTube video at the bottom is a favorite Vivaldi  movement of mine. It helped give me a lifelong unforgettable moment as an accompaniment to viewing NASA’s recently taken moon footage at 37,000 feet in a plane on my way to Hawaii. It is the slow movement of the lute concerto played on the guitar by Julian Bream — and it was perfect for expressing weightlessness and space flight.

That was long ago.

These days for period-instrument performances, I tend to favor The English Concert under Trevor Pinnock , The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood, and the Academy of Ancient Music Berlin — although there are others terrific ensembles including the modern instrument groups I Musici and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

For period string soloists — try the double concertos — look to Simon Standage, Monica Huggett, Andrew Manze and Rachel Podger. For modern instrumentalists, check out Victoria Mullova and especially the Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz, who uses his own ordering and groupings of concertos. I also like the period cellist Christophe Coin and the modern cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras.

Do you have an opinion about Vivaldi — a like or dislike of his music?

Do you have a favorite Vivaldi work?

Do you have favorite performers of Vivaldi?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. I would like to see pieces from L’Estro Armonico performed live more often. I did once see the Concerto for Four Violins, and it was amazing to watch the line jump from player to player.


    Comment by Rebecca Forbes Wank — March 6, 2023 @ 10:35 am

    • Thank you Rebecca.
      I too love that piece — and also the version for four harpsichords that Bach create.
      One performance I particularly like features Helmut Schmidt, the former Chancellor of Germany, as the fourth pianist. It’s on Deutsche Grammophon if you are interested.


      Comment by welltemperedear — March 7, 2023 @ 9:14 pm

  2. Soon-to-be-favorite-performers: Madison Bach Musicians, Oct. 7 & 8. Vivaldi and Venice, with Marc Destrube, violin, at Holy Wisdom Monastery.


    Comment by Linda Clifford — March 5, 2023 @ 9:03 pm

    • Thank you Linda for the advance notice. Sounds like Trevor Stephenson and MBM agree about the need for more live Vivaldi.


      Comment by welltemperedear — March 7, 2023 @ 9:15 pm

  3. Thanks, Jake , for penning the opinion piece on Vivaldi. There is a fair amount of snobbishness over his music. Could it be that appealing, melodic, harmonious music is a kiss of death among many “serious” musicians?

    In my freshman college year I nearly wore out the LP records that make up “l’estro harmonico”. Still love them!


    Comment by Marti Young — March 4, 2023 @ 8:12 pm

    • Hi Marti,
      Thank you for your reply.
      You are exactly right.
      There is a kind of snobby attitude towards accessible music.
      It happens with other composers and pieces too. Grove famously dismissed the work of Rachmaninoff because it just wasn’t modern enough, like the atonalists.
      Guess who has had the last laugh?
      Best wishes


      Comment by welltemperedear — March 7, 2023 @ 9:18 pm

    • I don’t think it is snobbism but ideological. In sense that some people that are so deep in music studies forget their ears and start to value the “project” and complexity as a way to distinguish themselves in academy.

      Also Vivaldi suffered – until Youtube arrived – from lack of knowledge about many of its other great work including sacred and operatic/oratorio.

      For me Vivaldi sounds much more modern and with much more musical amplitude than Bach.

      What to make of 3rd movement?
      RV 419

      Or the 1st movement RV 531

      Sacred RV607

      RV595 2nd mov Donec Ponam

      or the “modern” RV156 and RV151

      And i could put many others from Juditha Triumphans to Nisi Dominus.


      Comment by AlexS — May 14, 2023 @ 5:50 pm

  4. I enjoy the recordings of Vivaldi (and others) by “Red Priest” They’ve been described by music critics as ‘visionary and heretical’, ‘outrageous yet compulsive’, ‘wholly irreverent and highly enlightened’, ‘completely wild and deeply imaginative’, with a ‘red-hot wicked sense of humour.’ Their founder and recorder player, Piers Adams, is simply stunning. I dare you to listen to this: and not jump to your feet!

    Good to have you back, Jake!


    Comment by Kathy O — March 4, 2023 @ 8:03 am

    • Thank you Kathy.
      Red Priest is an excellent recommendation.
      Some of their re-workings I like while others seem too self-consciously quirky for my taste.
      I also like Max Richter’s bestselling The Four Seasons Recomposed. You might too.
      Best wishes


      Comment by welltemperedear — March 7, 2023 @ 9:20 pm

  5. And then there’s the film “the Red Priest”. I agree about Vivaldi being energizing!


    Comment by Ann Boyer — March 4, 2023 @ 7:35 am

    • Good recommendation.
      Thank you, Ann.
      There is also a novel by the same name that is worth checking out.


      Comment by welltemperedear — March 7, 2023 @ 9:21 pm

  6. Spot on, Jake.


    Comment by Bill Lane — March 4, 2023 @ 4:37 am

  7. It’s so nice to have you back!



    Comment by Ann Wallace — March 4, 2023 @ 4:29 am

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