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Learn about a new composer: Antonio Vivaldi, "The Red Priest" & "The Four Seasons"


About Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote a tremendous amount of music. He composed over 500 concertos, namely works for solo instrument and orchestra. Musical snobs often say that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto over and over 500 times - not very nice and not altogether fair. How did Vivaldi come to write so many concertos? Well…

Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy in 1678. His father was a violinist and he taught the young Vivaldi to play the violin. But Vivaldi decided to study for the priesthood. As a young man, he became a priest and due to his red hair was known as “The Red Priest.”  The story might have ended there, but when Vivaldi tried to celebrate mass, he started to cough uncontrollably. Vivaldi had asthma. With all the incense in the church, it was impossible for him to celebrate mass. What to do with a priest who could not celebrate mass? The church had an idea. It assigned him to be the music director at one of the church's orphanages in Venice. In the late 17th century there were four orphanages for young girls in Venice. Vivaldi became the music director at La Pietà, the one that specialized in musical training. He worked there for many years and there he composed a vast number of concertos for the girls. Concertos for violins, bassoons, cellos, flutes, piccolo, horns, harpsichord, recorders, trumpets, lutes, and even mandolins flowed from his pen. The girls must have been quite talented because many of the concertos are not easy to play. Every Sunday afternoon, the girls would give a concert and before long it became a major tourist attraction. Tourists and arts patrons from all over Europe would flock to hear them. No visit to Venice was complete if you missed hearing Vivaldi's all-girl orchestra at La Pietà. Why were there so many orphanages in Venice at this time? Who were all these girls? They were the daughters of families who could not afford a dowry and without a dowry, often no man would marry them. Also, some were the girls of unwed mothers. It was not unusual for a girl to be sent to an orphanage or a convent in these situations. Remember, a son could be sent out to be an apprentice or work in the fields, but unwed daughters were a burden. Undoubtedly the orphanage hoped that some man would come to a concert, hear one of these gifted young women and perhaps want to marry her. And sometimes it did happen. Many, however, probably spent their entire lives there.


To learn more about Vivaldi, watch this wonderful PBS Great Performances video

Vivaldi's most famous piece is The Four Seasons. You can listen to it here.


Time for some questions!

1. Where was Antonio Vivaldi born?

2. What instrument did Vivaldi learn to play from his father?

3. What else was Vivaldi trained in besides music?

4. Why was Vivaldi called "The Red Priest"?

5. What position did Vivaldi hold for many years?

6. What is the most famous piece of music Vivaldi composed?



1. Venice, Italy 2. Violin 3. He was trained to be a priest 4. He had red hair 5. Violin teacher & orchestra conductor for girls at La Pietà orphanage  6. The Four Seasons 

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