Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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THE VIVALDI LARGO
from Concerto in D Major for Guitar (Lute) RV 93

Antonio Vivaldi, oil painting A portrait thought to be of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).
Oil on canvas, Italian School, 18th century.
Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, Bologna, Italy.


Listen to me play the arrangement for SOLO guitar.

Largo from Concerto in D Major—Douglas Niedt, guitarist
Download the Douglas Niedt recording of the arrangement for solo guitar (wav file).


About the Arrangement for Solo Guitar

The Largo, without a doubt, is a piece of touching beauty. In the original version, the lute carries a melodic line of noble but peaceful simplicity, while the violins, bass, and continuo provide harmonic support. However, the original lute part consists only of single notes. There are no bass notes or chords.

When played on the guitar, some players add bass notes when they play the piece with an orchestra, which is fine. However, the guitar part on its own without orchestral accompaniment, even with the added bass notes, sounds too thin. To me, it is sparse and empty.

In this standalone arrangement for solo guitar, I added bass notes from Vivaldi's bass part plus filled in the harmony from the continuo accompaniment and violin parts. It can stand on its own without any accompaniment. It is a beautiful arrangement to play for your own enjoyment and ideal for gigs such as weddings (processional, prelude, or incidental music), funeral services, and church services.


DOWNLOAD the sheet music (PDFs) of the solo arrangement. Everything is FREE!

Largo  from Concerto in D Major  RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Douglas Niedt for solo guitar:
Standard Notation
Standard Notation plus Tab
Tab only

Be sure to read the Performance Notes below, especially the information on embellishment, to understand the repeats and the numbering of the measures!



Want Your Own Orchestra? YOU'VE GOT IT!

The arrangement sounds great all by itself. But if you want to kick it up a notch, you can play the solo guitar arrangement with an orchestra! Would you like to experience the excitement of playing with an orchestra, just for the heck of it? Now is your chance. Get your "significant other" out of the house, crank up the volume of the orchestra as loud as you want, and have at it!

Listen to me play the arrangement with orchestral accompaniment.

Largo from Concerto in D Major—Douglas Niedt, guitarist with orchestral accompaniment
Download the Douglas Niedt recording of the arrangement with orchestral accompaniment (wav).

The FREE downloadable orchestra tracks are a real orchestra playing the accompaniment at ten different tempos. Feel free to download them to all your devices. I like a tempo of MM=58 for a quarter note. But use whichever tempo you like. The speeds slower than 58 are good for getting your feet wet. The tuning for all the tracks is standard pitch A=440.

Click this link to download the compressed ZIP FILE, which contains all ten tracks. These are wav files (for the best sound quality), so it might take a while to download (772.79 MB). Be patient!

IMPORTANT: After the compressed file downloads, go to the download folder on your device, right-click the zip file, and select "Extract All." A new folder will appear which contains the uncompressed files. Double-click that folder to open it. Save the files as you wish on all your devices.

There's more!

Plus, if you want the experience of playing with an orchestra, but the solo version is too difficult, I have an easy version. This version is the lute melody only with no added harmony or bass notes, exactly as Vivaldi originally wrote it. I made the fingering as simple as possible but feel free to change it as you see fit.

DOWNLOAD the free sheet music (PDFs) of the easy version:

Largo  from Concerto in D Major  RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi: Easier Version,The Lute Melody Only
Standard Notation
Standard Notation plus Tab
Tab only


About the Concerto

Manuscript, page 1, Largo from Concerto in D major by Vivaldi
Manuscript copy of the first page of the Largo from Concerto in D major by Antonio Vivaldi.
Courtesy Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria. Turin, Italy.


Download the Turin manuscript of the complete Concerto in D major.

This Largo is the second movement of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in D major (RV 93, P 209) for lute, two violins, and bass. Our Concerto in D Major is technically a chamber concerto in three movements: Allegro giusto, Largo, and Allegro. The Concerto in D major and Vivaldi's Trios for violin and lute (RV 63 and RV 85) were composed in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) probably in 1730 or 1731.

Depending on the resources available for a particular performance, two or more violins would play the violin parts. A cello, double bass, theorbo, or even a bassoon might play the bass part. A harpsichord or organ (not indicated in the score but always included in this style of music) doubled the bass line and filled in the harmony. This harpsichord or organ accompaniment is known as the "continuo" part.

As with Vivaldi's other lute works, the Concerto in D major was not published during Vivaldi's lifetime. However, the autograph manuscript (see the copy below) is preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale, Turin. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot tells us that Vivaldi wrote the concerto on an unusual paper of central-European provenance. On the opening page is the inscription: "Per Sua Eccellenza Signor Conte Wrttbig" (abbreviations spelled out). The nobleman is probably music-loving Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby (1669-1734), who had a townhouse in Prague and held some of the highest offices in Bohemia. Wrtby himself may have been a player of the lute, which at the time was still a fashionable instrument among the central European nobility.


Performance Notes

Caricature of Antonio Vivaldi by P. L. Grezzi An ink caricature sketch by Pier Leone Ghezzi
Rome, 1723 (Pushkin Museum, Moscow)

The Repeats

The Largo is in two parts: Part I (measures 1-8 in D major, and Part II (measures 9-17), beginning in E minor. Each part repeats itself. You have three options:

  1. Repeat each part identically.
  2. Don't do any repeats. Play Part I and play Part II.
  3. Embellish the repeats. Embellishing the repeats means adding/changing notes and adding ornaments.
  4. If you are playing a gig and need to fill a precise time frame or retain a particular mood (remember, the first part is in D major, and the second begins in E minor), anything goes:
    1. Play only one part once through.
    2. Repeat one part and not the other (with or without embellishment)
    3. Repeat either part as many or few times as needed (with or without embellishment) to fill the time slot or hold the mood.

In my score, I wrote out the embellished repeats. Therefore, for Part I, the first eight measures are numbered 1-8. But then, the following eight measures (the embellished repeat) are numbered "1-embellished, 2-embellished, 3-embellished," etc.

Similarly, in Part II, the measures are numbered 9-17. But then, in the written-out repeat, they continue as "9-embellished, 10-embellished, 11-embellished," etc.

By the way, several measures have smaller-sized staffs above them. These are ossia (alternative) measures or staffs. They provide alternative fingerings or easier versions of the measures below.

About Embellishment

In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, it was the custom for solo performers to improvise additions to the music, especially on the repeats of slow pieces. I use the word improvise loosely because often, the performer carefully planned and wrote out the improvisation in advance. Musicians called these improvisations embellished versions, graced versions, ornamented versions, decorations, or divisions (dividing long notes into lots of faster short notes).

In conformity with the Italian tradition, Vivaldi left the embellishment of his music to the performer. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot writes that "the cantabile melodies of his slow movements in particular so often present a puzzlingly statuesque appearance: they are programmed to receive embellishment, and thereby animation, at the performer's hands."

Italian musicians understood that it was obligatory for soloists to add notes and passagework to passages that Italian composers wrote in a simple and spare way. Audiences expected the soloist to vary the passages several times according to his capacity and judgment to surprise his listeners with each novel invention. Audiences and musicians judged the soloist on his technique and ability to enrich the "sketch" provided by the composer with both these embellishments and the performer's expression.

In rare instances, Vivaldi wrote out an embellished version for instruction or demonstration. For example, here are two versions of a passage from his Concerto for Violin and Two String Orchestras RV 581. Example #1:

Vivaldi Violin Concerto Plain and Embellished

The question is, "How much embellishment should one use?" It's easy to go overboard, and indeed, many musicians of the time railed against "showoff" soloists who so excessively embellished a passage that the original music was no longer recognizable.

In my arrangement, I use embellishment sparingly to add variety to the repeats but not to distract from the beauty of the music. If you listen to the countless guitarists and lutenists who have recorded the concerto, you will notice that some add only a handful of ornaments on the repeats. Others let loose with unending ornamentation and passagework. If you don't like what I did, feel free to rewrite it as you choose, or don't use any embellishment at all!

Tempo

Vivaldi scholar Walter Kolneder tells us that when considering tempo in Vivaldi's music, it is essential to understand that tempo indications such as "Allegro" (cheerful, happy, merry) or "Largo" (wide, grand, or vast ) are words from colloquial Italian. In Vivaldi's time, the terms mainly concerned the character of a piece, not a specific speed. Moreover, they only came to mean specific tempi outside Italy.

I think that concept is very relevant for our Largo. The feeling is indeed wide, grand, and vast. As far as numbers go, I like it at MM=58. Others prefer a slightly slower or much faster speed. It's up to you.

The Dotted Rhythms

A Notational Mystery

Some performers note the incongruity in the notation of the dotted rhythms in Vivaldi's original score. For instance, Vivaldi writes dotted rhythms for measures #1-2 and the first half of measure #3. But from the second half of measure #3 to the end of Part 1 (measure #8), he writes even 16th notes. Example #2:

Vivaldi Largo m1-8 original rhythmic notation

Some may argue that Vivaldi wrote the rhythms precisely as he intended. But let's take a close look at measures #3-4. In measure #3, on beats 1 and 2, we have a "jumpy" melodic line with intervallic leaps in dotted rhythms followed by a "smooth" melody line in stepwise intervals in even 16ths on beats 3 and 4. Example #3:

Vivaldi Largo original rhythmic notation measure 3

As you will see in the following example, in measure #4, on beats 1 and 2, we again have a "jumpy" melodic line with intervallic leaps. But this time, unlike measure #3, the notes are in even 16th notes. And then, once again, a "smooth" melody line in stepwise intervals follows in even 16th notes on beats 3 and 4. Example #4:

Vivaldi Largo original rhythmic notation measure 4

There is an obvious similarity between the first two beats of measure #3 and the first two beats of measure #4. Therefore, some would say that the rhythm of measure #4 should be the same as measure #3. If we change the rhythm of measure #4, the effect is that measure #4 is an echo of measure #3. Example #5:

Vivaldi Largo altered rhythmic notation measure 3-4

Likewise, the melodic contour of measure #5 is similar—two beats of a "jumpy" melodic line with intervallic leaps followed by two beats of a "smooth" melodic line. Example #6:

Vivaldi Largo original rhythmic notation measure 5

Therefore, to be consistent, measure #5 should also use the same dotted rhythmic pattern as measures #3 and #4. Example #7:

Vivaldi Largo alter m6 to match m3 and 4

Then, measures #6-8 contain similar melodic patterns of intervallic leaps and stepwise motion as measures #3, 4, and 5. Here are measures 6-8 with the original rhythms notated by Vivaldi. Example #8:

Vivaldi Largo original notation m6-8

Therefore, proponents say measures 6-8 should sound like this. Example #9:

Vivaldi Largo m6-8 changed to match m3

But if Vivaldi wanted to continue the dotted rhythms followed by even 16ths, why didn't he write it that way?

The answer is that Vivaldi's notation is shorthand for his intended rhythm. Writing one beat of dotted 16ths and 32nd notes requires four more ink strokes than writing steady 16th notes. Therefore, it is much easier and faster to write even 16ths in passages such as this where the intended rhythm is obvious.

Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot writes that Vivaldi is famous—to some, notorious—for the speed with which he was able to compose. French nobleman Charles de Brosse, an acquaintance of Vivaldi, noted his "furie de composition" ( mania for composing). "I have heard him boast of composing a concerto in all its parts more quickly than a copyist could write them down." Talbot points out that "the appearance of his composition manuscripts often betrays extreme haste, sometimes at the expense of musical finesse. Hyperactivity informs so many different aspects of Vivaldi's nature, including his digital dexterity on the violin."

Therefore, because Vivaldi focused on writing fast, he used shortcuts (such as these in the Largo) to increase his writing speed. By the way, after the Baroque period, when a composer didn't want to rewrite a repeated complex-to-write rhythmic motif, they would sometimes use the word "simile" (meaning in a similar manner) as a shortcut. I know that when I'm in a hurry, I write, "Same rhythm." But Baroque composers (and jazz composers in the 20th century) used notational shortcuts that may be ambiguous to us but weren't to them because "everyone knows how it's supposed to go."

As the performer, it is up to you to decide how you want to play these passages. You can even change them on the repeats.


How to Play the Dotted Rhythms

There are four ways to play the dotted rhythms:

1. Play them precisely as written. Watch me demonstrate what the precise rhythm sounds like in this video. Watch Video #1:



★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #1: Vivaldi Largo—Dotted Rhythms As Written (01:59)

2. Play them in a triplet rhythm. The triplet rhythm produces a more "rounded," less jagged, gentle lilt. Watch me demonstrate the dotted rhythm with a triplet feel in Video #2:



★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #2: Vivaldi Largo—Dotted Rhythms as Triplets (01:40)

3. Double-dot the rhythms. To double-dot the rhythm in our Largo, double-dot the 16th notes (hold them longer) and play the 32nd notes approximately as 64th notes. I say "approximately" because the rhythmic values are not always mathematically precise when musicians double dot.

Musicologists refer to double-dotting in the Baroque period as the "French style." Musicians outside of Italy frequently used this style of playing. It energizes the music making it more lively and dance-like.

However, it sounds good in some pieces but can be detrimental to the mood of the passage or piece in others. In our Largo, some players may feel that double-dotting detracts from the peaceful beauty of the melody. Watch me demonstrate what the double-dotted rhythm sounds like in Video #3:



★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #3: Vivaldi Largo—Double Dotting (02:14)

And here are all three styles played in succession so you can more easily hear the difference. Watch Video #4.



★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #4: Vivaldi Largo—Demonstration of All Three Types of Dotting (01:11)

4. Use a combination of precise dotted rhythms and triplet rhythms. The performer can manipulate the precision and feel of the rhythm of a passage or measure according to the mood he wishes to communicate. This combination of styles is what I use in my performance.

Rubato

Obviously, if I were playing the Largo with an orchestra, I would play it in a steady tempo to stay with the orchestra. But in this solo arrangement, mindful of the expressive Italian operatic cantabile style of the time, I use quite a bit of rubato. Although my base tempo is MM=58, I don't play in a strict tempo. I speed up, slow down, and linger on notes that are melodically or harmonically significant. But the solo arrangement also sounds fine in an even tempo. Again, it is your choice.

Dynamics

A misconception some musicians have is that performers in the Baroque period only used "terraced" dynamics. Simply put, using terraced dynamics means playing a phrase or section loud and the following phrase or section soft or vice versa. In other words, in the terraced dynamics mindset, we don't use crescendos and decrescendos. Instead, there are only sudden transitions between louder and softer dynamics.

However, we can quickly dispel that notion, especially in Italian music, when we consider the importance of singing and opera in the Italian culture of the time. Can anyone imagine a singer in a dramatic aria not crescendoing up to dramatic climaxes? Or using gradations of dynamics, expressiveness, and intensity to communicate feelings of lust, rapture, or the emotional pain of a character in the throes of death?

Vivaldi authority Marc Pincherle writes, "Vivaldi was the first to bring the pathos of the most impassioned Venetian opera arias into the slow movement, which became the culminating point of the concerto. Henceforth the adagio was to be less a structural abstraction than a great lyrical outpouring; in it, the soloist gives himself up to his own feeling with a force that the orchestra is no longer able to restrain."

Austrian musicologist Walter Kolneder, author of Performance Practices in Vivaldi, explains that Vivaldi used a rich scale of dynamic possibilities. Kolneder points out that considering the vitality and exuberance of Vivaldi's violin performances, it is unthinkable he would not use gradual gradations of emotional intensity in his own music. Indeed, in his scores, Vivaldi uses a multitude of precise dynamic markings. Keep in mind that the hairpin symbols for crescendos and decrescendos were not in use at the time in Italy. Instead, for example, Vivaldi wrote the sequence p—pp—pian mo  to indicate a decrescendo or f—più f—ff  to indicate a crescendo. We can find many variations of this type of notation in his scores.

Kolneder points out that that Vivaldi did use terraced dynamics. But he used them in combination with many varieties of "refined transitions" (crescendo and decrescendo effects).

Scholar Michael Talbot writes, "Vivaldi's music is perhaps the earliest in which subtle nuance of every kind, including dynamic level, plays a dominant part in musical effectiveness and meaning."

Accordingly, in keeping with the Italian singing style, I recommend using crescendos, decrescendos, and terraced dynamics in our Largo. In my performance, I change the dynamics constantly in every measure. I also indicate my dynamics in the score. Feel free to change them.

Trills

Vivaldi indicates a trill only in the final measure (measure #17). I add trills in measures #11 and 11-embellished. Most musicologists believe Vivaldi executed his trills from the note above the printed note.

String Damping

Usually, I am a stickler for keeping a melodic line clean by damping open strings or lifting notes that ring over into subsequent notes. However, in this arrangement, I think that allowing the melody notes to ring over into the following notes (if they aren't dissonant) adds desired resonance to the sound, so I don't use much string damping in the melody. But if you prefer a clean melody, by all means, apply string damping.


An Unlikely Pair: Antonio Vivaldi, "The Red Priest" and John Wayne

Antonio Vivaldi and John Wayne

One of my favorite movie scenes is the campfire scene in the John Wayne movie, "The Cowboys." An American western film released in 1972, it starred John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Slim Pickens, Colleen Dewhurst, and Bruce Dern.

Most westerns use typical "cowboy-cattle-horse" music. This movie has its share of that but manages to include the Largo from Vivaldi's Concerto in D major in a totally unexpected but delightful way.

Plot

In the 1800s, when his cattle drivers abandoned him for the goldfields, veteran rancher Wil [sic] Andersen (John Wayne) is forced to take on eleven inexperienced boys as cowhands. They are his last hope to drive his herd of 1200 cattle 400 miles to market before winter sets in to avoid financial disaster. Unfortunately, the rough drive is full of dangers, and a gang of cattle rustlers is trailing them. Nevertheless, the boys learn to do a man's job under Wil Andersen's tutelage. They set out as schoolboys, but the young boys return as cowmen.

The Vivaldi Largo

The Largo starts at about the 1:04 mark in the film during the campfire scene. Night has fallen, and two of the boys, Slim Honeycutt (played by Robert Carradine) and Charlie Schwartz (played by Stephen R. Hudis), sit by a campfire. Charlie watches as Slim plays a classical guitar. Slim plays tentatively through the opening bars of Vivaldi's Largo (though an octave lower than written), and they converse:

(Guitar music plays)

Charlie: "You write that yourself?"

Slim: "No, it's printed on paper. I've been tryin' to learn it."

Charlie: "Hmm."

Slim: "Well, there's nothing to it; it's just like arithmetic. All you gotta do is just count the lines and the spaces, and that tells you where the notes go. It ain't hard."

Charlie: "Look like flyspecks to me."

Slim: "Some guy named 'Vye-vawl-dee' (Vivaldi) wrote it. It's kind of pretty."

As Slim continues to practice (and tune his guitar), the scene cuts to Wil Andersen (John Wayne) and Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) having a conversation at the chuckwagon. The scene segues back to the boys where Slim starts the theme to the "Largo," this time with violins and cello (as Vivaldi scored it) in the background. Additional orchestral instruments enter (scored by film score composer John Williams), the music crescendos, and the camera pans to an expansive shot of the countryside as the cattle drive resumes the next morning. The clip ends with a delightful conversation between three boys about a 'Hooch Cooch show' with a punchline delivered by Wayne in his inimitable style, leaving the boys astride their horses, dumbfounded.

Unfortunately, for some reason unknown to me, the producers did not include the Largo in the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. But John Wayne and Vivaldi—who would have thought?

Watch this fantastic scene in Video #5:



★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #5: "The Cowboys" Campfire Scene—Vivaldi Clip (03:15)

Additional Appearances

Many remember hearing the Vivaldi Largo for the first time on the children's television program "Sesame Street." It appeared in Season 1, Episode 0008, Scene 11, aired on November 19, 1969. Watch it here.

Commercials frequently use the Largo as background music. As a result of film licenses, mechanical rights, and commercial-use royalties from the Largo and The Four Seasons alone, Vivaldi would be a wealthy man today.


The Fascinating Story of Antonio Vivaldi, "The Red Priest"

Engraved portrait of Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon La Cave Engraved portrait of Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon La Cave (1725)
Courtesy Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi

Childhood

On March 4, 1678, the city of Venice, Italy, was shaken by an earthquake. The same day saw an event that would shake the music world: the birth of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. Unfortunately, it was a premature birth. The midwife, declaring the child "in danger of death," immediately baptized the baby. But showing an early glimpse of the determination that would characterize his life, Antonio survived this inauspicious start. He was officially baptized two months later at the church of San Giovanni in Bragora, a stone's throw from the family's home. But that scary beginning left him with what he referred to as a permanent "tightness in the chest"—probably bronchial asthma—an affliction that would dog him throughout his life.

Antonio was the first of six, possibly seven, children born to Giovanni Battista Vivaldi and his wife, Camilla. Following a pattern not uncommon in Venice, Vivaldi's father was both a barber and a violinist. He was one of the best violinists in Venice and was employed full-time by the prestigious orchestra of the Basilica of Saint Mark. Perhaps because of his red hair, he performed under the name Giovanni Battista Rossi. "Rossi" and variants "Rosso" and "Rossetti" reference the color red as an informal surname. The red-hair gene passed on to Antonio, prompting his famous nickname, "The Red Priest" or "The Red-Haired Priest."

The composer's father was the unsung hero of the family. But, unlike Leopold Mozart's stress-ridden relationship with his son, Giovanni became the pillar of his son's support system. First, he taught Antonio everything he knew about violin playing and much about composition and opera management. Later he became Antonio's most dependable copyist.

The copyist was an essential part of the Italian music scene. However, distrust was rampant between composers and commercial copyists because a copyist contracted to make a single copy of a score could easily make an extra copy for his shop, later marketing it independently for profit. Partly for this reason, Antonio preferred to have his copyists work in his own home. His dad, in particular, had an elegant musical hand. Other copyists worked under his dad's supervision, including, in later years, three of Antonio's nephews.

"The Red Priest"

It was not uncommon for a young man from a humble family such as Antonio's to receive a good education by entering the church. His mother and father undoubtedly recognized that while such a career would improve the family's social status, it would also ensure that his finances would be secure for life. Therefore, Antonio began his training for the priesthood at the age of fifteen. He received his ordination in 1703 at the age of twenty-five.

Throughout his ten years of training as a priest, Antonio continued to pursue his passion for music, violin, harpsichord, and composition in particular. His first officially documented public performance as a violinist took place at St. Mark's when he was eighteen years old. Fortunately, the combination of priest and violinist was generally considered acceptable in the Venice of his day. A priest playing in an orchestra and even for an opera was not out of the ordinary.

However, soon it became apparent that he was a reluctant priest—music was his preferred calling. A year after his ordination, he declared himself unable to continue celebrating mass due to the pains in his chest. But some observers doubted the severity of his condition. On one occasion, he quit celebration of the mass, not because of chest pains, but to retire to the sacristy to scribble down a fugue that had sprung into his mind, later returning to finish the service. Church personnel reported him to the Inquisition, which, regarding him as a musician and therefore undeniably a madman, gave him a mild telling-off and formally relieved him of his clerical duties from then on. Clearly, they realized that this impetuous young man would never make a conventional priest. Though he no longer participated in the day-to-day activities of the church, he retained the title of priest throughout his life, along with his nickname "The Red Priest," an alias appropriate not only to the color of his hair but also to his fiery temperament.

Although Vivaldi maintained that his poor health prevented him from continuing his ministry in the church, he was somehow able to summon up a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy for his music! He was a virtuoso on the violin and, by all accounts, played with incredible speed, energy, and expressive vitality. Moreover, as noted previously, Antonio was positively hyperactive in the rate of his composition. Despite his "disability," throughout his life, he undertook numerous travels to further his career.

Compared to other major composers, our information about Vivaldi is very sparse, filled with conjecture. But, be that as it may, it appears that he was enthusiastic, quick to act, somewhat mercurial in his mood changes, argumentative, and opinionated.

Venice, City of Music

From the 1400s through the 1700s, music flourished in Venice as nowhere else in Europe. Music was a vital accompaniment to the many religious ceremonies and countless festivals that took place year-round in the dozens of churches that peppered the Republic. In addition, there were public and private concerts and, of course, opera.

Music was widespread among the aristocracy. The villa of the Contarini had two theaters, an extensive music library of the best compositions, old and new, and a collection of valuable instruments. In addition, the nobility supported or owned opera houses and took pride in being musicians and composers themselves. Private concerts in their palaces and summer homes were frequent and featured the best musicians in Italy.

But the enjoyment of music was not confined to the upper classes. Gondoliers sang their melodic barcarolles as they plied their trade on the canals, the verses often passing from one gondola to another. In 1745, English musicologist Dr. Charles Burney commented that the canals were crowded at night with musical people, with "duets of music, French horns, and duet singers in every gondola." In daily life, there was neither a time nor place where music was not present. Merchants sang as they went about their business. Venetians of all sorts played and sang spontaneously in the streets and squares. One visitor commented, "The nation's enthusiasm for the art of music is incomprehensible." Music seemed to flow through the veins of the Venetians like water through the canals of Venice.

Vivaldi had the good fortune to be born at a time when there was daily singing of sacred works in the churches and chapels, resulting in a never-ending demand for trained singers and orchestral players to accompany them, and, of course, for composers to write new works. So, where did they find enough singers and orchestral players to fill the demand?

The Orphans of Venice and the Pietà

Engraved portrait of Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon La Cave This seventeenth-century illustration of the Ospedale Della Pietà from the Correr Museum in Venice shows the building as it probably looked in 1715.

The Pietà was one of four ospedali (hospitals) built in Venice as early as the fourteenth century to care for the sick and provide a home for the many children orphaned or abandoned through malnutrition, wars, epidemics, or illegitimacy. The population of each of the four foundations varied over the years, from around 200 to as many as 1,000 during the heyday of the Pietà.

The primary mission of the Pietà was to provide a home for orphaned, handicapped, and abandoned girls. A mother could anonymously leave the infant she could not care for, just after birth, by placing the baby in a niche in the outer wall for that purpose.

If a mother presented the infant in person, a nun cut a card in two—the Pietà kept one half with the child's records and gave the other half to the mother. Should the mother return with her half of the card, she could reclaim her child. The institution cared for the children for the first year of life, after which they sent them to live with host families on the mainland. The children returned to the institution around the age of 10. English traveler Edward Wright wrote that before La Pietà, "Multitudes (of bastards) used to be found which had been thrown into the canals of the city."

The ospedali gradually developed into schools, providing the abandoned children with a Christian education and teaching them skills that would enable them to earn a living. But Venice being Venice, soon the focus of the schools turned to the teaching of music. Girls usually entered The Pietà between six and ten years old, though the school administrators sometimes accepted older girls if they showed above-average musical ability. The competition was stiff for the limited number of available slots. Paying pupils would also come to the school for private lessons.

The school selected the most musically gifted girls for training as singers, instrumentalists, or both. These women were the celebrated figlie di coro (the daughters of the chorus—"chorus" taken here in the combined sense of singers and instrumentalists).

The instructional model of the Pietà was a hierarchy. The maestro di coro held a permanent position as choirmaster. Visiting teachers on short-term contracts taught the figlie di coro music reading, singing, various instruments and sometimes rehearsed or conducted the orchestra. But most of the musical instruction was internal; the more advanced figlie di coro taught the less advanced and beginners. Often described in modern writings as "girls," the coro was, in reality, an all-age community. Good standards of hygiene, accommodations, and nutrition, plus in-house medical care, made the residents unusually long-lived. Most remained as active musicians in the coro until old age or ill health compelled their retirement. Those leaving early to marry or enter a convent were a tiny minority.

The most talented of the figlie di coro benefited from performing in private concerts at the homes of nobles and wealthy merchants, sometimes far from Venice. Such was their skill that they became "stars" to the music-loving public of Venice.

The figlie di coro of the Pietà used the lute extensively as a continuo instrument. Scholar Michael Talbot tells us, "The persistence of the lute in its Baroque form with extra bass strings, throughout the eighteenth century as a continuo instrument and general recreational instrument is often underestimated." We know that one of the girls, Madalena, sometimes called Madalena Rossa, on account of her red hair color, played the theorbo, lute, and violin. According to German composer Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel who visited Italy in 1713, she was "a great Venetian virtuosa of the theorbo."

Such was the environment into which Antonio Vivaldi made his striking entrance as maestro di violino at La Pietà in the year of his ordination. Imagine the effect of the arrival of the young priest with his flaming red curls into this all-female establishment! The figlie di coro would have had minimal contact with men of any kind during their lives in the ospedale, as the number of male teachers was minimal. One writer mused that the appearance of "The Red Priest" undoubtedly caused a surge of enthusiasm in the girls for their musical studies. For Vivaldi, the appointment allowed him to maintain his status as a priest and, at the same time, to forge ahead with his music career. Vivaldi served several functions for nearly forty years at the Pietà, including teacher, orchestra director, composer, violinist, and purchaser of instruments.

Vivaldi and the Women of the Pietà

There had always been competition between the four ospedali of Venice, especially in musical performance. But such was the young priest's enthusiasm, teaching skill, and ability to fire up his pupils that the reputation of the Pietà soon outshone that of all the others, both in choral and instrumental performance. As a result, its orchestra enjoyed a European reputation, many comparing it favorably with the famous Paris Opera Orchestra.

Vivaldi soon found himself composing works for the instrumentalists of the figlie di coro. Some of Vivaldi's early compositions were simple and obviously designed as exercises for the younger pupils. Before Vivaldi's arrival, the Pietà, along with the other ospedali, was best known for its choral work. But Vivaldi changed the emphasis by building up the instrumental side, and he was to write his most exuberant concertos for performance by the figlie di coro.

With its orchestra, choruses, and maestre (a group of eighteen senior figlie di coro responsible not only for teaching but also for various administrative tasks), he had a musical laboratory of extensive and diverse musical resources at his disposal. The ardor of the students and their appetite for music matched their abilities. The young musicians competed with each other in virtuosity, even if the audience were sparse. They engaged among themselves and for themselves in a veritable contest of musical acrobatics. It was a responsive group abounding in enthusiasm and curiosity.

With this remarkably gifted group of singers and players, Vivaldi had acquired nothing less than his own personal orchestra and choir on which to hone his musical expertise. At his leisure, he could experiment and study the best way to apportion the orchestra. He could attack various comprehensive or detailed problems without being at the mercy of the clock, of an obstinate performer, or the strict regulations of a labor union.

The administration of the Pietà charged him with supplying a profusion of music for the figlie di coro and to cater to the diversity of their talents, which included proficiency on a wide variety of musical instruments. Therefore, Vivaldi wrote concertos that featured the more conventional instruments of the orchestra (predominately strings) and the more unusual ones for which the Pietà had become renowned, including concertos for plucked instruments such as the lute and mandolin.

Vivaldi met his obligation with ceaseless production. As mentioned before, Vivaldi composed music at extraordinary speed, partly due to the demand by his superiors at the Pietà for a constant supply of "fresh" music. Quantitatively, historically, and qualitatively, Vivaldi's concertos form the heart of his work. Research at present counts almost 500! Some modern commentators (including Stravinsky), alluding to an ignorant claim that all his concertos sound alike, snarkily assert that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 500 times. On the contrary, Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot points out that the concertos show a "remarkable variety in all respects: structural, expressive, technical, textural, and tonal. No other composer of concertos from his period— certainly not J.S. Bach or Handel—matched him for his originality and sheer range."

Vivaldi's stile moderno (modern style) and dramatic compositions would have challenged his young students who, nevertheless, vied with one another to reach the highest standard of virtuosity. The elite of the girls, the privileggiate, were regarded as the foremost musical performers in Italy. A visit to a concert at the Pietà was high on the list of attractions both for Venetians and tourists from all over Europe.

The singers and instrumentalists performed behind grilles in the chapel, modestly dressed in white or black gowns, each girl (most no more than twenty years of age) with a thin veil covering her hair. Although anonymity was the official policy, audiences knew the girls of the orchestra by their Christian names followed by their instrument of choice, for example, Michieletta dal Violino, Silvia dal Violino or Cattarina dal Cornetto. The Venetians celebrated the stars. The most eminent figlia di coro of the Pietà in the 18th century was Anna Maria, the principal violinist at the Pietà. She also played the viola d'amore, violoncello, theorbo, lute, mandolin, and harpsichord. She passed away in 1782 at the age of 86.

Charles de Brosses praised the "transcendent music," and Jean-Jacques Rousseau recorded that he could "conceive of nothing as voluptuous, as moving as this music." He noted that "singers from the Venetian opera come so as to develop genuine taste in singing based on these excellent models." He, as were many others, was smitten by the sight of the girls behind "those accursed grilles" that "concealed the angels of loveliness." The reality was that smallpox and other diseases of the age marred the appearance of many of the orphans.

Unbelievably, over three hundred years later, we know the names, ages, and the main instruments of many of the Figlie di Coro at the Pietà during Vivaldi's time. You can read the list here.

Sacked! Survival in the Wilderness

Vivaldi was fortunate in having the security of his job for six years at the Pietà. However, despite the remarkable results he achieved with the figlie di coro, hugely raising the institution's profile, the governors did not renew his contract. As a result, in 1709, 31 years old, Vivaldi suddenly found himself out of a job. Fortunately, Vivaldi's father Giovanni had many excellent contacts in the music world and knowledge of the music business. These connections helped Antonio find work playing in churches and the non-stop private concerts and receptions hosted by the nobility.

We should not forget that the Red Priest was one of the most astounding violin virtuosos of his time. He performed numerous engagements outside of Venice. The princely courts sought him out, and even the Holy Father and Emperor of Austria asked to hear him.

Back in Good Graces at the Pietà

Portrait of Vivaldi by James Caldwall for Sir John Hawkin's General History of the Science and Practice of Music 1776 Portrait of Vivaldi by James Caldwall for Sir John Hawkin's General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776)

Just two years later, in 1711, Vivaldi was recalled to the Pietà by a unanimous vote of the board of governors. His association with the foundation continued in one way or another through 1740 at the age of 62.

Vivaldi continued to compose concertos, operas, and sacred works. His reputation soon extended beyond Venice into the rest of Italy and throughout Europe. He was in constant demand, receiving commissions from European royalty and nobles, as a result of which he traveled widely. It was on one of these trips to Bohemia in 1730 that he wrote the Concerto in D major for the lute.

When Vivaldi returned to Venice in 1731, times were changing. Venetians' musical tastes had changed. His musical style had once been new and exciting. But now, there was a rising generation of young composers whose music was finding favor with the patrons of Venice. Unfortunately, Vivaldi's decision to throw himself into the world of opera (probably for financial reasons) landed him in a crowded arena where his talents were not unique. We must remember that Vivaldi's virtuosity on the violin and the novelty of his concertos were the two reasons for his prior renown. Johann Joachim Quantz later wrote that Vivaldi's operatic works were responsible for the declining quality of his later concertos. He wrote, "As a result of too much daily composing, and especially after he began to write operas, he sank into frivolity and caprice both in composition and performance."

Recognizing the decline of his popularity in Venice and possibly to escape the fallout of a disastrous production of his opera Siroe in Ferrara, Vivaldi decided it was time to "get out of Dodge" and start afresh in Vienna. However, before leaving, Vivaldi began selling off his concertos cheaply, indicating a dire financial situation. The governors of the Pietà bought twenty concertos for a stingy 70 ducats and offered a ducat piece for further works.

He departed for Vienna in 1740. But, unfortunately, he chose the worst possible moment to do so. His hoped-for patron, Charles VI, died in October. His replacement, Empress Maria Theresa, was immediately immersed in political problems. As Susan Adams, author of Vivaldi, Red Priest of Venice, bluntly put it, "The concerns of an aging composer who had passed his sell-by date were the last thing on her mind." So Vivaldi found himself without a patron, out of work, and out of money. The last record of his short stay in Vienna is a receipt dated June 28, 1741, for the sale of a number of his concertos to Count Collato, living in Moravia. For the last few months of his life, Vivaldi lived in rooms in the house of the widow of a saddler.

On August 2, 1741, the Viennese newspaper reported, among the list of deaths in Vienna, that of "Signor Antonio Vivaldi, secular priest, in the Walleris house, near the Carinthia Gate, aged sixty [sic]." When the news seeped through to Venice, there was a slightly longer report in the Commemorali Gradenigo. Referring to the "Abbé D. Antonio Vivaldi, incomparable virtuoso of the violin, known as the Red Priest, much esteemed for his compositions and concertos," it went on to state that he had "earned more than 50,000 ducats in this life, but his disorderly prodigality caused him to die a pauper in Vienna." Some scholars believe the figure quoted was a typographical error, 5,000 ducats being more likely—though who knows? Vivaldi may have been supporting his parents, his sisters, and the Girò sisters (protégés of Vivaldi) for years, as well as acting in the dicey capacity of opera impresario.

The exact cause of his death on July 27, 1741, at the age of 63 (the official death certificate cites "internal inflammation") remains uncertain. His funeral, though very modest, was not quite the pauper's burial suggested by biographical tradition: it was presumably paid for by Anna Girò, who accompanied him to Vienna, or by his two unmarried sisters. Unfortunately, the cemetery, known as the Spitaler Gottesacker, does not survive. After his death, the Venetian authorities placed seals on his belongings to ensure that his creditors were paid. Nevertheless, it appears that some of his property, not listed in the official inventory, was removed earlier, presumably by family members. This missing property included all his musical instruments, books, and manuscripts.

Vivaldi expert Michael Talbot tells us, "Vivaldi's disappearance from public consciousness after his death was not quite as instantaneous as popular belief holds. True, in Italy, his music disappeared from view almost immediately, but the Pietà, which renewed its repertory only gradually, continued to perform his music for several years. Moreover, his instrumental music survived, albeit often in altered form in Britain right up to the end of the century—and in the case of The Cuckow, even into the next century. France kept The Four Seasons in the active repertory for several decades and preserved warm memories of the concertos for a time afterward. The picture was more varied in Germany, but violinists continued to cut their teeth on Vivaldi concertos well into the Classical era."

Commemorative plaque beside the Ospedale Della Pietà: Commemorative plaque beside the Ospedale Della Pietà:
"In this place stood the musical chapel of the Conservatorio Della Pietà where the genius of Antonio Vivaldi, not fully understood at the time, worked as a concertmaster from 1703 to 1740, donating to Venice and the world the incomparable richness of his music of which 'The Four Seasons' is the flower and the confirmation that his time has come."

The Cataloging of Vivaldi's Works

Three hundred years after his birth, we have cursed Vivaldi with more catalogs than any other composer. Vivaldi's works in circulation today may be numbered under four different systems. Mario Rinaldi (1945—not 1943, as asserted by Wikipedia), Marc Pincherle (1948), and Antonio Fanna (1968) made catalogs of Vivaldi's works. Unfortunately, all are incomplete or otherwise unsatisfactory in different ways.

Despite initial resistance to even the idea of a new catalog for those accustomed to the old, Danish musicologist Peter Ryom's catalog has established itself with remarkable rapidity and is now the gold standard. By the way, "RV" means "Répertoire Vivaldien," not "Ryom-Verzeichnis," as some (Wikipedia) believe.


Sources

Adams, Susan. Vivaldi Red Priest of Venice, (Lyon Hudson Oxford 2010)

Kolneder, Walter. Antonio Vivaldi, His Life and Work, translated by Bill Hopkins (Faber and Faber London, 1970).

Kolneder, Walter. Performance Practices in Vivaldi, translated from the German by Anne de Dadelsen (Amadeus Verlag Switzerland 1979).

Pincherle, Marc. Vivaldi Genius of the Baroque, translated from the French by Christopher Hatch (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York 1957).

Talbot, Michael. Vivaldi (the Master Musicians Series, edited by Stanley Sadie) (Oxford University Press 1993).

Talbot, Michael. The Vivaldi Compendium, (The Boydell Press Woodbridge, Suffolk UK, 2011).

Free Downloads

Audio Tracks

1. Largo from Concerto in D Major RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Douglas Niedt for solo guitar
(mp3—small file size).

2. Largo from Concerto in D Major RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Douglas Niedt for solo guitar
(wav file—best sound quality)
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3. Largo from Concerto in D Major RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Douglas Niedt with ORCHESTRAL ACCOMPANIMENT
(mp3—small file size)
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4. Largo from Concerto in D Major RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Douglas Niedt with ORCHESTRAL ACCOMPANIMENT
(wav file—best sound quality)
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5. Ten orchestral accompaniment tracks at ten different tempos
Orchestral accompaniment tracks ZIP folder
.
These are wav files for the best sound quality, so it might take a while to download (772.79 MB).

IMPORTANT: After the compressed file downloads, go to the download folder on your device, right-click the zip file, and select "Extract All." A new folder will appear which contains the uncompressed files. Double-click that folder to open it. Save the files as you wish on all your devices.

Scores (PDFs)

1. Largo  from Concerto in D Major  RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Douglas Niedt for solo guitar:
Standard Notation
Standard Notation plus Tab
Tab only

Be sure to read the Performance Notes at the beginning of this web page, especially the information on embellishment, to understand the repeats and the numbering of the measures!


2. Largo  from Concerto in D Major  RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi: Easier Version,The Lute Melody Only
Standard Notation
Standard Notation plus Tab
Tab only

If you want the experience of playing with an orchestra, but the solo version is too difficult, download the easy version. This version is the lute melody only with no added harmony or bass notes, exactly as Vivaldi originally wrote it. I made the fingering as simple as possible but feel free to change it as you see fit.


3. Concerto in D Major  RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi: The Complete Turin Manuscript
Download the Turin manuscript.

Videos

Click on the video link. After the Vimeo video review page opens, click on the down arrow in the upper right corner. You will be given a choice of several different resolutions/qualities/file sizes to download.

Video #1: Vivaldi Largo—Dotted Rhythms As Written

Video #2: Vivaldi Largo—Dotted Rhythms as Triplets

Video #3: Vivaldi Largo—Double Dotting

Video #4: Vivaldi Largo—Demonstration of All Three Types of Dotting

Video #5: "The Cowboys" Campfire Scene—Vivaldi Clip

Sesame Street: Vivaldi Largo, Season 1, Episode 0008, Scene 11. November 19, 1969