Antonio Vivaldi’s Secret Venice

Venice is a city of continued fame, and it counts many notable Italians among its sons and daughters. In that long list, the name of Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) shines especially bright. The undisputed star of Italian Baroque, he spent most of his life in the city affectionately known as the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’. As a masterful composer and a violin virtuoso, Vivaldi achieved great success and international recognition during his lifetime. However, the marks he left on his hometown were scarce and subtle.

Thus, a Vivaldi tour Venice could involve a bit of detective work, but it is all the more exciting and rewarding. The composer’s Venetian life centred in Castello, a quarter on the city’s eastern outskirt where tourists seldom go. Still, to the history fanatic and Vivaldi admirer, the district is a veritable goldmine. Here are some landmarks and sightseeing ideas that will take you off the beaten path and into the Baroque giant’s footsteps.

Vivaldi’s ground-breaking early years

On the night Antonio Vivaldi was born, 4 March 1678, an earthquake shook Venice, as if to signal his arrival and the ground-breaking role he would play. Because of this ominous circumstance, his family brought young Antonio into the protective realm of the Catholic church. He was baptised at San Giovanni in Bragora, a small yet beautiful Gothic church. It is an important station in your Vivaldi Venice tour. Look for the commemorative plaque that confirms the future Baroque composer’s baptism there.

The Vivaldi family house is not known or preserved till the present, but young Antonio’s spiritual home was undoubtedly St Mark’s Basilica at Piazza San Marco. Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, a barber-turned-violinist and head of the Vivaldi family, was an active member of the church’s orchestra. He brought infant Antonio into the musical craft. Soon enough, father and son were staging violin concerts across town, and the student would greatly surpass his teacher.

The Red Priest takes Venice by storm

Young Antonio’s family directed him towards the study of theology from an early age. He pursued that path with zeal, driven equally by piety and by the opportunity to continue his musical studies as part of his religious training. With regular performances at St Mark’s, Vivaldi soon became a violin virtuoso. He also started learning composition from the basilica’s musical director Giovanni Legrenzi and quickly developed a bold, adventurous style of his own.

In 1703, Vivaldi concluded his religious education and became chief violin instructor at Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in his home district of Castello that also bears a commemorative plaque today. Over roughly three decades, il Prete Rosso (or ‘Red Priest’ as Vivaldi was known for his ginger hair) composed most of his timeless concertos, symphonies, and operas within the ospedale’s walls. The success of his compositions and his highly technical, flamboyant style on the violin also earned him a management position at the famous Teatro Sant’Angelo on the Grand Canal. Today, the theatre has been converted into a hotel, but it retains some of its original architecture and all of its opulence and charm.

Vivaldi’s abrupt departure and lasting legacy

After the decades of performances, compositions, and international fame, Vivaldi left Venice in the early 1730s and never came back until his death in Vienna in 1741. In his beloved hometown, he left a few landmarks and many memories that slowly faded over the centuries. As your footsteps echo on the volcanic rock that paves much of Castello since the early 18th-century, you can imagine walking in the Maestro’s elusive footsteps.

What better way to round off your Vivaldi tour around Venice than with the Maestro’s inspired compositions? The talented musicians of the Interpreti Veneziani string ensemble offer regular performances of Baroque classics by Antonio Vivaldi as well as some of his fellow greats, like Johann Sebastian Bach, Tomaso Albinoni, or Luigi Boccherini, to name a few. After visiting stations of Vivaldi’s life, you can hear his best works live with newly found appreciation!