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Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678 in Venice, where he lived for all but the last two years of his life. As he turned 60, his music fell out of favor in the city of his birth and he left for Vienna, where he died a year later in 1741, poor and forgotten.
His life makes a remarkable story, and a new children’s book, I, Vivaldi by Janice and Tom Shefelman tells the story and vividly shows us what life in Venice was like in the 18th century.
Vivaldi was taught to play the violin by his father, who was a musician at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Vivaldi’s father began taking him along to his rehearsals while he was still a young boy. Vivaldi was recognized as a prodigy on the violin.
Vivaldi had been weak and sick at his birth and his mother had vowed that he would become a priest if he survived. He dutifully studied theology and was ordained, but clearly, his heart and passion were for music. While he remained a priest, the Bishop of Venice eventually released him from obligations at the Cathedral and assigned him to teach music at a girl’s orphanage in Venice.
Under his direction, the young girls became some of the most accomplished chamber musicians in all of Europe and attracted visitors from abroad who came to hear them play the original scores Vivaldi had composed for them.
The story is clearly told and the pictures capture both the beauty of Venice and her canals and squares as well as the interior spaces of St. Mark’s and the ornate music halls where Vivaldi played. This would be a great introduction to Vivaldi’s music for students in the elementary grades. The books authors recommend the book especially for ages 7-11.