I spent time in this church when I visited Venice as he is a composer I like and two of his compositions, the Four Seasons and the Christmas Concerto are favourites but I have no photos as they won’t allow cameras in the church
Santa Maria della Pietà, Venice The church of Santa Maria della Pietà or della Visitazione is a prominent church in the sestiere of Castello in Venice, Italy. It is sited on the Riva degli Schiavoni, a short walk from the Doge’s Palace. Antonio Vivaldi Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was an Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, impresario, and Roman Catholic priest. Born in Venice, the capital of the Venetian Republic, Vivaldi is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread across Europe, being paramount in the development of Johann Sebastian Bach’s instrumental music.
People with the name of Vivaldi have lived in Venice for several
centuries. Our story begins, however, with Giovanni Battista Vivaldi,
the father of composer Antonio Vivaldi. Giovanni was a barber by
trade, but he also worked in the bakery belonging to his own father.
He loved music, and learned to play the violin well enough to join the
orchestra of St. Mark’s Basilica, a position he held for the rest of his
The year 1685 was special for the world of music. The career change
of the senior Vivaldi set the stage for the career of his son, Antonio. It
was also the year that saw the births of composers J.S. Bach, G.F.
Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born on March 4, 1678, in Venice. He was
weak and sickly at birth, and would suffer health problems throughout
his life. Young Antonio had three sisters and two brothers, but very
little is known about Vivaldi’s youth, other than the fact that he
appeared to have inherited his father’s musical abilities – and his
flaming red hair.
Antonio probably studied the violin with his father, and, when he was
ready, occasionally filled in for him in the orchestra of St. Mark’s.
Red-haired, destined for priesthood from birth
As the eldest son in the family, Vivaldi was destined for the priesthood.
This was a common practice in poorer families. The priesthood
assured him a livelihood. He became known as “il prete rosso” (the
Vivaldi did not enter a monastery as was customary, because of his
health problems. In 1693, at the age of 15, he was tonsured by the
Venetian patriarch. (A tonsure is a special haircut for men entering
the priesthood that leaves the top of the head bare.) He received two
local parishes, and became a full-fledged priest in 1703. Twice blessed
Vivaldi was baptized twice. Because he was born weak and sickly the
midwife who assisted at his birth baptized him herself, fearing that he
would die. He survived, and two months later was baptized by the
parish priest, Giacomo Fornaciere, at the church of San Giovanni in
Bragora. The double baptism was not discovered until 1962.
Vivaldi continued his musical studies at the same time as he pursued
Holy Orders. The combination of these two vocations was not unusual.
He remained a priest for the rest of his life.
Hired by famous orphanage for girls
In 1703, he was hired by the Ospedale della Pietà, the famous
orphanage for girls in Venice, a position he was to hold on and off
(mostly on) for the next 36 years. Initially he was hired as a violin
teacher, but as the years went on Vivaldi was given more and more
For each special feast day he composed an oratorio, one or more
concertos, or lighter instrumental music of all kinds. He also taught
theory and the playing of instruments.
By the time he began working at the Pietà, Vivaldi was already
composing. Between 1703 and 1705, the Venetian firm of Sala
published his Opus 1, a set of trio sonatas for two violins and violone
(double bass) or harpsichord. The influence of composers such as
Corelli can be seen in these pieces, but even so, Vivaldi was already
demonstrating the musical form for which he would be noted.
Sometimes a funny man
A note written on one of Vivaldi’s compositions reads “per li cognioni”,
which means “for blockheads” in English.
Vivaldi: A priest who didn’t say mass
Vivaldi stopped saying mass shortly after his ordination, and no one
really knows why. One popular story hints that he was too busy with
music and composing. Apparently while saying mass one day, Vivaldi had an idea for a new
piece of music. He immediately left the altar and went to write it down
and, when he was done, returned to complete the mass. As the story
goes, this strange behavior was reported to Venice’s Inquisitors, who
deduced from it that the priest was quite mad, and forbade him to say
mass from that day forth. (Note: Inquisitors of State were selected
each month. It was their role to watch out for acts against the church
or state. They also granted licenses to the city’s theatres and
approved the texts of shows.)
More likely, Vivaldi’s reason for not saying mass was his poor health.
He wrote the following entry in his journal: “When I had barely been
ordained a priest, I said mass for a year or a little more. Then I
discontinued saying it, having on three occasions had to leave the altar
without completing it because of this ailment.”
The ailment to which Vivaldi refers has been described elsewhere in his
own words as a tightness in the chest. It is now assumed that Vivaldi
suffered from asthma throughout his life.
A religious man with a talent for music and a mind for business
Even though he was a priest, Vivaldi was a shrewd businessman. Like
other composers, he always dedicated his compositions to a member
of the nobility in the hopes of getting something in return. His
dedications featured flowery language and a snobbish tone.
Vivaldi rarely missed a chance to promote himself. For example, in
1709, King Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway, travelling in disguise
as the Duke of Olemberg, arrived unexpectedly in Venice and attended
a concert that Vivaldi was conducting. Vivaldi took advantage of the
occasion to dedicate his new Opus to Frederick.
In 1715, he dedicated a set of arias to Grand Prince Ferdinand of
Tuscany. He made sure to include praise for the publisher Estienne
Roger, who was based in Amsterdam, because he wanted his works
published in northern Europe where they would earn him more fame
and more money.
During the same year, a Prussian nobleman, Johann Frederich Armand
von Uffenbach, visited Venice and ordered several pieces of music.
Vivaldi soon presented him with the music, claiming to have composed
it in only three days. He likely drew upon materials he had already
composed, but nevertheless, the situation shows how music had
become a product for sale in Venice in the early part of the eighteenth
century. In fact, once Vivaldi determined he could make more money
selling directly to his clients, he stopped publishing his music.
The one and only maestro at the Pietà
Originally hired by the Ospedale della Pietà in 1703 as a violin teacher,
Vivaldi worked at the famous girls’ orphanage until 1740. Working at
the Pietà was very rewarding for Vivaldi. The orphanage had a large
collection of instruments, and the girls who stayed there loved music
as much as Vivaldi himself. This arrangement made it much easier for
Vivaldi to experiment with unusual combinations of musical effects.
Vivaldi’s employment at the Pietà was not continuous. Sometimes his
working contract was not renewed right away, because the orphanage
was short of money. On other occasions, Vivaldi was performing or
arranging operatic productions in other cities. Nonetheless, during
Vivaldi’s lifetime no other violin maestro was ever appointed at the
Vivaldi’s life: fast-paced, far from easy
Vivaldi was a rather complex person, who often found himself in the
middle of professional disputes, financial difficulties and personal
Many of the disputes centred upon Vivaldi’s involvement with opera.
Not content to be just a composer, Vivaldi was also very active in
staging and producing his operas. Given the high cost of such an
undertaking and the tough competition among composers to have
their work produced, it is no wonder Vivaldi ended up in disputes. One
of the worst took place in 1736, when Vivaldi proposed conducting the
operatic season in Ferrara, Italy.
At first, Vivaldi’s idea was well received by his patron – the Marquis
Guido Bentivoglio. But as their correspondence with each other
indicates, many problems soon arose. A troublesome singer and
confusion about what would be performed contributed to the situation.
Unpaid bills and mounting expenses made matters worse, so much so
that the Marquis felt Vivaldi was using him and expressed his
displeasure. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was
when the Cardinal of Ferrara, Tomas Ruffo, flatly denied Vivaldi
permission to stage any operas in Ferrara.
Financial problems plague Vivaldi
Ruffo felt that priests should not be involved with the theatre, and he
hinted that Vivaldi was having a romantic relationship with one of the
singers, Anna Giraud. Ruffo also did not like the fact that Vivaldi did
not say mass.
Ruffo’s decision created terrible financial problems for Vivaldi, who had
to pay his performers even if the operas were not staged. Vivaldi tried
to have one whole season cancelled, but that was not realistic.
Instead, he agreed to turn everything over to a local producer so that
the show could go on.
Vivaldi still hoped to make enough money to pay his expenses.
Unfortunately, the first opera was a failure and there was thought
given to cancelling the second one. The financial situation didn’t get
any better. It was becoming clear to Vivaldi that time and people’s
goodwill were running out for him.
In 1738, he staged his last major season in Venice. Although it was
successful, Vivaldi’s role was becoming more and more that of an
editor or arranger than an original composer. Soon, there was no
longer any interest in his operas. They were considered
At this point, Vivaldi was 62 years old, tired and out of money. He set
out on what was to be his final journey, to the city of Vienna in Austria There he hoped to find favour with Charles VI. Before leaving Venice,
he convinced the Board of Governors of the Pietà to buy a large
collection of his music (which they did rather reluctantly).
Bad luck seemed to follow Vivaldi to Vienna. Charles VI, who had
admired Vivaldi’s music, died in October 1740 after eating poisonous
mushrooms. The new rulers, Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen,
were busy with political problems involving Prussia, and showed no
interest in Vivaldi.
The mystery of Anna
Anna Giraud (Giro) was an opera singer who made her debut in 1725.
Earlier, she had been Vivaldi’s star pupil; not only did she sing, but she
also played the harpsichord. In time, both Giraud and her sister
moved into Vivaldi’s home. The sister acted as Vivaldi’s nurse. The
exact relationship between Vivaldi and Giraud remains a mystery.
Was she merely his student… or were they in love as some people
hinted? Vivaldi denied any romantic connection. As an ordained
priest, he would not have been allowed to have a romantic
Vivaldi dies in poverty
On July 28, 1741, Vivaldi died in Vienna. He had been living in the
house of a saddle-maker’s widow on the Karntnerstrasse, now a
fashionable avenue in Vienna. The cause of death is described in
cryptic terms as innlicher brand (German for internal inflammation),
which could be any number of things. He was buried the same day in
a pauper’s grave in the Hospital Cemetery.
Since he died in poverty, he was entitled only to the Kleingelaut, or
the pauper’s peal of bells, six pall bearers and six choirboys (one of
whom was Joseph Haydn, who later became a famous composer).
Although many of the details of the funeral service are contained in
the archives of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, the precise location of
Vivaldi’s grave is not known.