Antonio Vivaldi’s father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, … was a barber before becoming a professional violinist, and was one of the founders of the Sovvegno dei musicisti di Santa Cecilia, an association of musicians. He taught Vivaldi to play the violin and then toured Venice playing the violin with his young son.
In September 1703, Antonio Vivaldi became maestro di violino (master of violin) at an orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice. While Vivaldi is most famous as a composer, he was regarded as an exceptional technical violinist as well. The German architect Johann Friedrich Armand von Uffenbach referred to Vivaldi as “the famous composer and violinist” and said that “Vivaldi played a solo accompaniment excellently, and at the conclusion he added a free fantasy [an improvised cadenza] which absolutely astounded me, for it is hardly possible that anyone has ever played, or ever will play, in such a fashion.” — “Antonio Vivaldi,” Wikipedia
This is by far my favorite Vivaldi concerto. He wrote over five hundred of them. In Conversations with Igor Stravinsky (1959), Robert Craft asked Stravinsky his opinion on a recent revival of eighteenth century Italian composers and transcribed his response: “Vivaldi is greatly overrated–a dull fellow who could compose the same form so many times over.”
I don’t, for the most part, buy into Stravinsky’s assessment of Vivaldi. Vivaldi’s vocal and sacred music is, in a word, splendid. But, I feel that there is legitimacy to the comment when Vivaldi’s concertos are considered. An often repeated joke is that Vivaldi didn’t actually compose 500 concertos, he just wrote the same concerto 500 times.
More than two thirds of Vivaldi’s five hundred-plus concertos are for solo instrument: violin (in more than 230 concertos), bassoon, cello, oboe, and mandolin. Only three of Vivaldi’s concertos were written for the “flautino” — “little flute” or high-pitched recorder — which is the equivalent of today’s piccolo.
The solo role is more virtuosic and demanding than Vivaldi’s normal woodwind writing (the solo enters with an unbroken string of eighty-four eighth notes, and that’s just the beginning). Vivaldi must have had a superlative player in mind. The pattern is classic Vivaldi: the two outer movements are dazzling display pieces (the last seemingly endless run of triplets in the finale is particularly breathtaking—especially for the performer); the central Largo is an eloquent, highly expressive monologue [italics added].
— Phillip Huscher, program note, Chicago Symphony Orchestra