Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is perhaps the most popular piece of classical music in the world. But did you know that it was virtually unknown, as was all of Vivaldi’s music, until 1950? And did you know that the famed American writer, Ezra Pound, played a large role in his re-discovery?
One of only two known likenesses of Vivaldi (by Ghezzi)
When Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741 in obscurity and poverty, his music was already forgotten. During his life, he was a priest, virtuoso violinist, music director of La Pietà (a home for orphaned girls), and the toast of Emperors and Archbishops across Europe. His vast collection of choral music for the Church, keyboard and violin music, and operas, none of which were printed in his lifetime, vanished.
Then, in 1926, the National Library in Turin, Italy, received a letter from the monks of Monferrato offering to sell their music collection to pay for repairs to the Monastery. A Professor Gentili from Turin University was dispatched to examine the works, and, realizing that he had stumbled on a treasure trove he immediately set about finding a benefactor, as the Library was short of funds. He found one in Roberto Foà, a wealthy Turin banker, who purchased the collection and donated it to the Library.
As it turned out, they discovered that this was only half of the Vivaldi collection; the other half was still outstanding. A massive search traced the other works to a Marquis Durazzo who was persuaded by his Jesuit Father Confessor to sell his collection to the Library and, by 1930, the collection was complete.
At the same time, Olga Rudge, an American violinist and Ezra Pound’s long-time mistress, was Secretary of the Accademia Musicale in Siena. Pound had founded the Concerti Tiguilliani, an annual music festival, at Rapallo, where he lived at that time. Pound was captivated by Vivaldi’s music and he and Rudge organized at the 1936 festival a special performance of some of Vivaldi’s works. This was the first time they had been heard in over two hundred years!
Unfortunately, the increasing interest in Vivaldi’s music was interrupted by the Second World War, and only in the late 1940s were the first recordings made. Many of his operas have been heard for the first time as recently as 2006! Motezuma, a story of the Conquest of Mexico, was only discovered in Kiev in 1999.
In his book Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque, H. Robbins Landon recounts his first encounter thus:
In 1950, I happened to be in New York when the famous Cetra recording of “ The Four Seasons” arrived at The Liberty Music Shop and a clerk put it on. The shoppers, myself included, stopped their own activities and started to listen, entranced, to this seductive music which had lain forgotten on library shelves for two hundred years…The Vivaldi renaissance had begun.
But Providence must have had her eye on Vivaldi, because when he died, although his pauper’s funeral could only afford the six pall-bearers and six choirboys, one of those choirboys was Franz Joseph Haydn, himself to become a giant in the world of music some years later.