The Four Seasons
The creator of hundreds of spirited, extroverted instrumental works, Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is widely recognized as the master of the Baroque instrumental concerto, which he perfected and popularized more than any of his contemporaries. Vivaldi's kinetic rhythms, fluid melodies, bright instrumental effects, and extensions of instrumental technique make his some of the most enjoyable of Baroque music. He was highly influential among his contemporaries and successors: even as esteemed a figure as Johann Sebastian Bach adapted some of Vivaldi's music. Vivaldi's variable textures and dramatic effects initiated the shift toward what became the Classical style; a deeper understanding of his music begins with the realization that, compared with Bach and even Handel, he was Baroque music's arch progressive. Though not as familiar as his concerti, Vivaldi's stage and choral music is still of value; his sometimes bouncy, sometimes lyrical Gloria in D major (1708) has remained a perennial favorite. His operas were widely performed in his own time.
Details regarding Vivaldi's early life are few. His father was a violinist in the Catherdral of Venice's orchestra and probably Antonio's first teacher. There is much speculation about other teachers, such as Corelli, but no evidence to support this.Vivaldi studied for the priesthood as a young man and was ordained in 1703. He was known for much of his career as "il prete rosso" (the red-haired priest), but soon after his ordination he declined to take on his ecclesiastical duties. Later in life he cited ill health as the reason, but other motivations have been proposed; perhaps Vivaldi simply wanted to explore new opportunties as a composer. It didn't take him long. Landing a job as a violin teacher at a girls' orphanage in Venice (where he would work in one capacity or another during several stretches of his life), he published a set of trio sonatas and another of violin sonatas. Word of his abilities spread around Europe, and in 1711 an Amsterdam publisher brought out, under the title L'estro armonico (Harmonic Inspiration), a set of Vivaldi's concertos for one or more violins with orchestra. These were best sellers (it was this group of concertos that spurred Bach's transcriptions), and Vivaldifollowed them up with several more equally successful concerto sets. Perhaps the most prolific of all the great European composers, he once boasted that he could compose a concerto faster than a copyist could ready the individual parts for the players in the orchestra. He began to compose operas, worked from 1718 to 1720 in the court of the German principality of Hessen-Darmstadt, and traveled in Austria and perhaps Bohemia. Throughout his career, he had his choice of commissions from nobility and the highest members of society, the ability to use the best performers, and enough business savvy to try to control the publication of his works, although due to his popularity, many were published without his consent. Later in life Vivaldi was plagued by rumors of a sexual liaison with one of his vocal students, and he was censured by ecclesiastical authorities. His Italian career on the rocks, he headed for Vienna. He died there and was buried as a pauper in 1741, although at the height of his career his publications had earned a comfortable living.
Artist Biography by Rovi Staff - Source: allmusic
After hearing I Musici perform, Arturo Toscanini remarked, "Twelve individual instrumental masters, and together the finest chamber orchestra in the world." This Italian ensemble has long attracted international attention for their emphasis on brilliance, strength of attack, and high level of discipline, beginning with their first performances of seventeenth and eighteenth century Italian music. The group was formed in March 1952 by 12 students at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, who developed a common interest in pre-Classical music during conservatory meetings. Upon origination the ensemble was composed of six violins, two violas, two cellos, a double bass, and a harpsichord; there were three women and nine men. Nearly all of the original violinists were pupils of the same Accademia teacher, Remy Principe. The name "I Musici," literally "The Musicians," was chosen by the performers to reflect their enthusiasm for the spirit of the music of an epoch in which "professionalism" had not yet assumed its present pervasive significance. They came together with the single purpose of expressing their deep love for music, and the purity of their intention is heard at performances and on recordings.
Making their debut performance at the Accademia in 1952, I Musici began to achieve international fame the following year. Their career developed rapidly, beginning with concert tours throughout Europe. They then toured Central, North and South America, South Africa, Japan, and Australia. They have also played at many music festivals, including those of Salzburg, Holland, Graz, Menton, Venice, York, Copenhagen, Aix-en-Provence, and Edinburgh. Early in their career, they primarily played the music of Italian Baroque composers such as Albinoni, Bononcini, Corelli, Locatelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, Torelli, and Vivaldi, later taking on the non-Baroque works of Bach, Barber, Bartók, Britten, Handel,Hindemith, Martin, and Respighi. One of the most characteristic (and widely influential) features of the ensemble is its lack of a conductor during performance. Felix Ayo, leader of the group between 1952-1968, has said that "to perform without a conductor is normal, I think. It is in the true tradition of the élite music of the Italian Baroque. One finds a conductor only later, after Vivaldi and Corelli. Before, with the concerto grosso and the concerto da camera, there was only the first violin giving the start and tempo with some head movements. And that was all." Among I Musici, Ayo said, music making is a democratic experience. "During rehearsals, the music is discussed by everyone. Everyone's opinion has the same value. It is by mutual agreement that we finally decide how certain details should be handled." The group does have a leader, however; the post has changed hands over the years between Ayo, Roberto Michelucci (1968-1972); conductor, music director, and virtuoso violinist Salvatore Accardo (1972-1977); Boccherini Quintet and Carmirelli Quartet founder Pina Carmirelli (1977-1986); and Federico Agostini.
I Musici over the years has constantly built upon its strengths, and the group members to apply the same dedication to their artistry as they did upon formation. Their performances can be heard on over 45 recordings, almost all under the Philips label, at times with flute and harp.