Music Antonio Vivaldi
Nicholas Lockey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0080


Antonio Vivaldi (b. 1678–d. 1741) was a prolific composer and celebrated violinist whose reputation and stylistic influence spread across Europe, particularly during the 1710s and 1720s. The son of a barber-turned-violinist, Vivaldi trained as a secular priest but spent the majority of his career in several roles, including musical performer, composer, teacher, and impresario. Vivaldi’s greatest success and influence probably came in the period 1711–1725, during which time his widely performed L’estro armonico concertos Op. 3 (published 1711) and Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione concertos Op. 8 (published 1725 and containing Le quattro stagioni, “The Four Seasons”) were published and his works were being performed on operatic stages in Venice, Rome, Mantua, and elsewhere. Changing tastes, likely triggered by the success of the operas of Vinci, Hasse, Porpora, and others, combined with the relative stability of Vivaldi’s style, eventually led to declining interest in Vivaldi’s music within Venetian circles. Despite a few years at court in Mantua and travels to Rome and central European lands for operatic projects, Vivaldi was primarily based in Venice for most of his known life. The continuing interest in his music in French- and German-speaking lands during the 1730s and 1740s probably motivated his move to Vienna in 1741, but his arrival there was followed too shortly by his death for us to know whether he might have gained a more lucrative reception away from Italian lands. Recent research has found that in the decades following his death, Vivaldi’s reputation and music were not forgotten as completely as is often thought. Nevertheless, posthumous interest in Vivaldi’s life and music has tended to come in waves. In 1978, the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth saw the beginning of one such intense period of scholarship, performances, and recordings. As a result of this multistage revival, the scholarly literature is very diverse, and major studies have often emerged in a piecemeal fashion, only gradually countering popular misperceptions of Vivaldi’s life and works, such as the notion (inspired by a comment by Dallapiccola, echoed by Stravinsky) that his works are largely indistinguishable from one another, or the popular image of Vivaldi as the equivalent of a classroom music teacher and surrogate father figure for orphaned school-age girls.

Reference Works

Entries for Vivaldi in encyclopedias and general reference works tend to emphasize one particular aspect of his creative output, usually his role in the history of the solo concerto. Heller 2007 and Talbot and Lockey 2020 provide the most rounded overviews. Selfridge-Field 1994 provides a good survey of Venetian traditions in instrumental music of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, including a chapter on Vivaldi’s contributions. Selfridge-Field 2007 is a valuable resource for the performance history and chronology of Venetian operas around the time of Vivaldi. Of particular interest for an undergraduate course, Talbot 2005 provides a succinct assessment of Vivaldi’s contributions to the early history of the concerto.

  • Heller, Karl. “Vivaldi, Antonio.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. 2d ed. Personenteil 17. Edited by Friedrich Blume and Ludwig Finscher, 71–142. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 2007.

    Detailed overview of Vivaldi’s life and works, with general discussions of particular works grouped by genre and medium. Includes a nonthematic works list and a bibliography.

  • Selfridge-Field, Eleanor. Venetian Instrumental Music from Gabrieli to Vivaldi. 3d ed. New York: Dover, 1994.

    Useful history of Venetian tradition of instrumental music leading up to and including Vivaldi’s generation. Includes a chapter devoted to Vivaldi’s instrumental output. Many valuable illustrations, musical examples, tables, and a helpful glossary and bibliography. The revised edition includes an addenda section with corrections and additional information.

  • Selfridge-Field, Eleanor. A New Chronology of Venetian Opera and Related Genres, 1660–1760. The Calendar of Venetian Opera. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781503619975

    Contains a wealth of statistical information and analysis on opera productions in Venice. Main body is a catalogue of opera productions, with details on first performances and brief plot summaries and information about surviving sources. Also includes catalogues of works that cannot be dated with certainty.

  • Talbot, Michael. “The Italian Concerto in the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Concerto. Edited by Simon Keefe, 35–52. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521834834

    Provides a concise but valuable introduction to the early history of the concerto. Places Vivaldi’s contributions in the context of important Italian predecessors and contemporaries. Can serve in an undergraduate course as a brief introduction to the early history of the Italian concerto.

  • Talbot, Michael, and Nicholas Lockey. “Vivaldi, Antonio.” Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    Gives a basic overview of Vivaldi’s life, style, influence, and musical output. Includes a nonthematic works list and a bibliography.

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