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Vivaldi and Canaletto

Report on the Lecture given by Elizabeth Gordon on 25th November 2009

Elizabeth Gordon is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music, lived in Italy for seventeen years and now lectures at many of the major museums of Europe, the USA and Australia and also on Swan Hellenic Cruises.

Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697-1768) was born in Venice, the son of Bernardo Canal, hence his mononym Canaletto (little Canal). He served his apprenticeship with his father and brother as a theatrical scene painter, which perhaps gave him his skill in the use of perspective. He was inspired by the Roman landscape artist, Giovanni Paolo Pannini, and started painting the daily life of the city and its people. His early paintings were done in fairly sombre colours but in his famous topographical style. He made sketches in notebooks from various angles and heights and then produced the completed paintings in his studio. "The Stonemason's Yard" (1726) in shades of tawny brown, grey and cream is a typical example of his early work and is in the National Gallery.

Later Canaletto became known for his grand Venetian scenes. His large scale landscapes portrayed the city's famed pageantry and waning traditions, making use of atmospheric effects and strong colours - red, green, yellow, blue and gold.

The merchant banker, Joseph Smith, acted as Canaletto's agent helping him sell to Englishmen on the Grand Tour. He himself was an avid collector and sold much of his collection to George III creating the bulk of Canalettos which are still part of the Royal Collection. .

In 1746 Canaletto moved to London to be closer to his market and remained in England producing views of London and his patrons' country houses and castles. His popularity waned as his work began to suffer from repetitiveness. On his return to Venice he was elected to the Venetian Academy in 1763 and continued to paint until his death in 1768.

Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) was influenced in his early work by Canaletto's landscapes. However, he developed his own style which was later to be highly regarded by the Impressionists with buildings which appear to be melting and sinking into the murky lagoon.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was also a Venetian. Known as "the red priest" for his flaming red hair, he was ordained in 1703. He inherited his father's musical ability on the violin and was a prodigious composer throughout his life. There is no record of his ever having met Canaletto although each must have been aware of the other.

Venice had one of the highest reputations for music in Europe. Much of this was based on the work of the Ospedali. These were often referred to as "orphanages" and, although they were ostensibly for illegitimate and orphaned girls, they were in fact homes for the female offspring of noblemen and their mistresses. The Ospedali were well endowed by their "anonymous" fathers with opulent furnishings and musical standards second to none.

Vivaldi was employed as a violin teacher by the Ospedale della Pietà. Many of his concerti are exercises which he would play with his talented pupils. The brilliance of the solo writing testifies to the extremely high standard attained by his pupils.

Between 1710 and 1720 Vivaldi travelled widely in Europe and was extremely active as a composer (with no less than twelve concerti published in Amsterdam in 1711) both for the concert hall and for the opera. In November 1716, for example, the Ospedale performed his first oratorio describing the victory of the Venetians over the Turks earlier that year. On one score, written in Mantua, in his own handwriting are the words "Music by Vivaldi, made in five days").

In Mantua he met the singer, Anna Giraud, and she moved in to live with him. He maintained that she was his housekeeper and good friend, just like Anna's sister, Paolina, who also shared his house. Vivaldi stayed with Anna until his death.

Commissions came from Louis XV, several Cardinals and the City of Venice itself. For example, he was required to send two concerti a month to Venice, being paid a ducat per concerto. He was well paid for the eight operas he wrote between 1725 and 1728.

"The Trial of Harmony and Invention", Opus 8, was published in Amsterdam in 1725 and consisted of twelve concerti, one of which was "The Four Seasons".

In 1740 he resigned from the Ospedale and moved to Vienna under the patronage of Charles VI, having worked in Prague, Mantua and Verona during the 1730s. His stay here was short-lived as he died probably from asthmatic bronchitis the following year. Like Mozart, fifty years later, he had a modest burial. Anna Giraud returned to Venice dying ten years later.

Until 1950 Vivaldi's huge output of music was hardly known. The pianist, Olga Rudge, discovered the long lost manuscripts in a library and "The Four Seasons" became an overnight sensation.

Judy Bennett

Elizabeth Gordon receives a warm welcome
from the CDFAS Chairman