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Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (4 March 1678 – 28 July 1741), nicknamed il Prete Rosso (“The Red Priest”) because of his red hair, was an Italian Baroque composer, priest, and virtuoso violinist, born in Venice. Vivaldi is recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread over Europe. Vivaldi is known mainly for composing instrumental concertos, especially for the violin, as well as sacred choral works and over 40 operas. His best known work is a series of violin concertos known as The Four Seasons. Many of his compositions were written for the female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children where Vivaldi worked from 1703 to 1715 and from 1723 to 1740. Vivaldi also had some success with stagings of his operas in Venice, Mantua and Vienna. After meeting the Emperor Charles VI, Vivaldi moved to Vienna hoping for preferment. The Emperor died soon after Vivaldi’s arrival, and the composer died a pauper, without a steady source of income. Though Vivaldi’s music was well received during his lifetime, it later declined in popularity until its vigorous revival in the first half of the 20th century. Today, Vivaldi ranks among the most popular and widely recorded Baroque composers.
Antonio Vivaldi’s Opus Four consists of a collection of a dozen concertos for violin, string orchestra, and basso continuo. Owing to some unusual and sometimes daring melodic and harmonic twists it carries the title La Stravaganza (The Extravaganza). The solo music includes a lot of melodic cantabile flights and also a lot of figural passagework that often rises to a virtuosic level. This concerto, cast in two official movements, is the most unorthodoxly organized of the collection. There is no initial ritornello. The soloist glides starts off the opening Allegro with a gliding solo passage that moves over accompaniment from the continuo. Eventually the ensemble comes in and punctuates the solo discourse on several occasions with interludes. A half-cadence in a single-measure Adagio leads to a Presto that features figural solo lines and chordal support and interludes from the tutti, and another half-cadence leads to a transitional Adagio that features sustained chords for the tutti that move through many unexpected harmonic turns and clashes.