Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanks to Father Antonio Vivaldi, "the Red Priest"

Around this time of the year, my appreciation for classical music rises to the surface. I don't know if it is because of the change of seasons, or whether it is the "fall back" move on our clocks. Perhaps it's because the days are getting shorter and the nights longer now that "daylight savings time" is over.

I'm a simple man, and I would be quickly found a liar if I tried to buffalo you with the idea that I am a man who is a well-educated, and throughly cultured, connoisseur of classical music. No. I'm a poor hick who only knows what he likes. And I've always liked Vivaldi and his Four Seasons. I do know that his music came before Bach, Handel, and Beethoven, and that is about it.

But here is what prompted this post: yesterday morning, while preparing to head to Mass, I heard a snippet of a program on NPR where the announcer mentioned that Vivaldi had been "in the clergy."

Whaat?! It didn't take me long to determine that given the time frame, and the fact that he was an Italian, that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest. And due to his being a red-head, he was given the nick-name of "the Red Priest."

A quick check of the internet later and sure enough, seemingly the whole world knows that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest, except me. Somehow I missed hearing about that in music class, and a part of me thinks this is the result of a cover-up. But as I always say, let the sun shine in.

Father Antonio was ordained in 1703 and it seems like he only performed his clerical duties for a short while due to ill health.  He suffered from asthma, among other ailments.

Here is the trailer of a movie based on Vivaldi's early career. Truthfully, I don't know if this film ever made it into the theaters or even if it ever hit the small screen instead. But, as you can see, he is wearing a collar throughout. And you get the distinct impression that the good looking red-head had a problem in common with modern-day musicians as well.

I'm sure that someone out there has done the definitive biography on his life, but for now, enjoy this brief biography of him that I found dated from 1878.

Antonio Vivaldi: He was red-headed—hence he was commonly known as the "Red Priest." Many assert that he was a very pious man—so pious, in fact, that he would never take up his fiddle, or sit down to compose, without having previously gone to his rosary. In spite of this, however, one cannot help thinking, from the following anecdote, that Vivaldi's religion seldom cost him much inconvenience.

In pursuance of his clerical duties Vivaldi was once officiating at the Mass, when of a sudden a musical idea occurred to him; and moreover it was so important that he left the altar, repaired to the sacristy, and having written down his theme resumed his place in the church. His superiors were scandalised at such a proceeding, and forbade his doing duty again as priest. However, the head of the diocese seems to have been an artist bishop, and was generously in favor of forgiving Vivaldi, and of restoring to him his lost post, on the ground that "being a musician, Vivaldi could not be in his right mind;" a conclusion no doubt useful for the culprit, though anything but nattering for musicians in general.

Another source dated 1894 claims that,

For this dereliction of duty he was summoned before the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition. Fortunately his judges, anticipating the modern theory of delinquency, pronounced him mad; hence his punishment was limited to prohibiting him thenceforward from celebrating mass.

Sheesh! But he also died a priest. I found the following citation relating to his passing,

Both the Protocol of the Deceased of the municipal authorities and the Register of Funerals of the parish of St. Stephen's (in Vienna) have Vivaldi's name as the first entry on July 28 (1741).

The entries are: a) Protocol of the Deceased: "The Reverend Antonius Vivaldi, parish priest, (died) in the Satlerisch Haus near the Kärntner Tor by internal burning. Old 60 years." b) Register of Funerals: "Funeral Vivaldi: the Reverend Antoni Vivaldi, parish priest, was examined in the Satlerisch Haus near the Kärntner Tor with internal burning. Aged 60." These lines are followed by a statement of the expenses of the funeral. These expenses were 19 Gulden and 45 Kreuzer. It was a standard funeral without any special expenses though not a pauper's funeral as sometimes claimed erroneously. If compared to the funeral of a wealthy citizen which is registered on the same page with a total of 102 Gulden and 35 Kreuzer, it was certainly very modest.

Here's an idea. Let's just go listen and enjoy the depth and breath of his God given musical talent, shall we? By listening to some pieces from Father Antonio's Four Seasons, for instance. I 've found a variety of artists who put their individual signatures on some of his best know work.

For the first movement, let's start with the one that fits our current season: Autumn. I imagine that Father Antonio could play a mean fiddle, and so does Julia Fischer here.

For Winter (III Allegro), Itzhak Perlman, backed up by Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. These stunning violin solos are a trademark of Vivaldi's pieces.

From Spring, La Primavara. For us unsophisticated types, classical music doesn't get much better than this.

Summer. Leave it to Joe Six-pack to find a couple of guys on a pair of Jackson King V's jamming some electrified Vivaldi for this next one. Wow! This gives a whole 'nother meaning to the term "classic" rock. You won't hear this on NPR!

Andante from Concerto In D Minor for 2 Mandolins. But instead of two mandolins, we get Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Bobby McFerran playing his voice box. This is pretty amazing.

Double Concerto for Two Cellos. This is a beautiful piece Vivaldi wrote for cellos. And this is a very clever presentation with Rebecca Roundman "using multi-tracking. Rebecca plays the two solo cellos parts, the violin 1 part, the violin 2 part, the viola part (not shown), the section cello part and the bass part." All I can say is, "bravo!"

Vivaldi did a lot more than this too. Operas and concertos. Sacred and choral music. Like just about any other MfM post though, we are just scratching the surface of his work here. Do you believe he died a pauper? I haven't read his biography yet (where do you start?) but maybe, just maybe, he wanted to die in that state.