Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in E major, L'amoroso

On a program of Baroque music, the royal patrons of the composers involved often play as large a part in the story of a work as do the composers themselves. In the days before government money for the arts was doled out by granting organizations to whom anyone, theoretically, can apply, acquiring government support for your art meant making powerful friends. Or perhaps more realistically, subjugating one’s self to powerful masters.

The career of Antonio Vivaldi is somewhat unusual when compared to those of other great Baroque composers, for he spent most of it employed not by a court or a church, but by a school. Though the Ospedale della Pietà was technically an orphanage, its program of study meant that in practice it was both a comprehensive music school for its orphans and a concert destination for the general public. It became so celebrated as a musical institution, in fact, that not all of the children abandoned at its doorstep were strictly orphans, and eventually the institution started accepting adolescent music students who paid tuition or had it paid for them by a sponsor.

Despite Vivaldi’s unquestionably outstanding work as teacher and composer for the school, the board of directors was frequently at odds with him; once they even voted to fire him, before crawling back to him the following year. So he was well aware that his position was far from secure, and was constantly making efforts to diversify his income; which mostly meant dedicating works to various nobles, and hoping they responded positively. His first set of published concerti, L’estro armonico, he dedicated to Ferdinando de’ Medici , the same Tuscan Grand Prince for whom Scarlatti was employed as an opera composer. He was a patron of the Pietà already, and his substantial support of Bartolomeo Cristofori resulted directly in the invention of the piano. However, de’ Medici does not seem to have extended similar support to Vivaldi, despite the wild popularity of the set of concerti dedicated to him.

He had only slightly more luck with Charles IV of Austria. Vivaldi dedicated a first set of concerti to him, and when Charles asked to meet him upon a visit to the port city of Trieste, he gave the composer a large gift of money, a gold chain, a medal, and a knighthood. They also spent so much time together that the Paduan priest Abate Conti, better known for mediating between Newton and Leibniz in their calculus spat, commented sarcastically that Charles “spoke more to Vivaldi in private in two weeks than he speaks to his ministers in two years.” Vivaldi immediately put together another set of concerti to dedicate to Charles, including the Amoroso violin concerto, no doubt hoping to seal the deal with an appointment to Charles’ court. On that count, he miscalculated. Charles loved the concerti and gave Vivaldi enough encouragement that he quit his job at the Pietà and moved to Vienna to be close to his court– at which point Charles promptly died.