Antonio Vivaldi and Henry Purcell: Baroque Composers in Italy and England

Antonio Vivaldi and Henry Purcell: Baroque Composers in Italy and England
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  • 0:02 The Baroque
  • 1:08 Antonio Vivaldi
  • 3:40 Henry Purcell
  • 5:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emma Riggle

Emma has taught college Music courses and holds a master's degree in Music History and Literature.

In this lesson, we'll explore the life and music of two of the Baroque period's greatest stars: the English composer Henry Purcell and the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Then, test yourself with the brief quiz.

The Baroque

Music was a hot commodity in Europe from 1600-1750 CE, the period music historians call The Baroque. It all started in 1600, when a group of Italian musicians and writers combined music and theater to invent the art form we call opera.

Opera became insanely popular, drawing audiences with its glamorous stars, spectacular sets and glorious music. Just think of the way people flock to the newest song-filled Disney films, and you'll understand the appeal of Baroque opera!

Musicians all over Europe composed operas, as well as emotionally exuberant music influenced by opera's sound. Today, we call this dramatic style 'Baroque.' In this lesson, we're going to look at two composers who mastered both opera and the Baroque style: the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and the English composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695).

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi spent nearly his whole life in Venice, a major musical center during the Baroque. His father had played the violin at St. Mark's Cathedral, one of the most musical churches in Europe. Vivaldi followed his dad's footsteps, learning to play the violin and also to work in churches. He was ordained as a priest in 1703.

Vivaldi wasn't able to celebrate mass as a priest because his asthma made it hard for him to project his voice. No microphones then, you see. Instead, he found a different vocation: he worked as a composer and music teacher at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (the Pious Hospital of Mercy), a girls' orphanage in Venice. These girls received an excellent education in music, and they put on regular public concerts.

Vivaldi spent much of his life on staff at the Pio Ospedale, and he composed a huge amount of music for his students, including both instrumental and vocal works. His most famous works are his concertos, which are pieces for orchestra and featured a solo instrument.

The concerto format worked beautifully for Vivaldi's students: older girls appeared as soloists, playing challenging music, and younger girls played easier parts in the orchestra. Vivaldi wrote approximately 500 concertos. The most famous are his violin concertos called The Four Seasons. These four concertos use imaginative musical effects to paint pictures of spring, summer, fall and winter.

In addition to his work for the Pio Ospedale, Vivaldi enjoyed success as a composer of operas. He wrote around 50 operas that were staged throughout Italy, including many in his hometown of Venice. Vivaldi must have been a recognizable sight there: he was nicknamed 'The Red Priest' because of his red hair. We even have this fun caricature of him from his lifetime.

Caricature of Vivaldi
Caricature of Vivaldi

Vivaldi ran into a bit of trouble in 1737, when his public began to suspect he was having an affair with a singer named Anna Girò. But regardless of his personal reputation, by the time he passed away in 1741, Vivaldi's music had influenced important composers throughout Europe: most famously, the German Baroque master J.S. Bach.

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