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Antonio Vivaldi (Born: 4 March 1678  Died: 28 July 1741)

Born in Venice, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was a Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, and music tutor for most of his career. He was also an ordained priest earning him the nickname, “il Prete Rosso” (The Red Priest) on account of his red hair. Vivaldi tutored girls in music at the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four music conservatories in Venice run by the state and supported by the wealthy men of the city. Known colloquially as ‘orphanages’, it was said that the Ospedale were institutions set up to support the illegitimate children of these generous patrons and their mistresses. He was a prolific composer of some 500 concertos, 73 sonatas, and 46 operas – of which only 20 have survived. His most famous work, The Four Seasons, is a series of four violin concerti, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each accompanied by a sonnet penned by the composer himself. The Four Seasons is seen as one of the earliest examples of programme music, that is to say, music with a narrative aspect. In his lifetime, Vivaldi was commissioned to compose works for wealthy clients including kings and cardinals. This patronage enabled musicians like him to earn a living, albeit a precarious one. In 1740 the composer was set to take up the position of Royal Court Composer to one of his biggest fans, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII but shortly after he arrived in Vienna, Charles VII died leaving the composer jobless and penniless at the age of 62. Vivaldi died in poverty and was buried in a modest grave in the grounds of a public hospital in Vienna.

Johann Sebastian Bach (Born: 31 March 1685  Died: 28 July 1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Thuringia, Germany. A key composer and musician of the period, it is in Bach’s work that the full potential of the Baroque style was realised and perfected. His music is lauded not only for its supreme technical qualities, but also its artistry and creativity, and its intellectual depth. From a musically-gifted family, Bach was a true innovator in form and style. This can be evidenced in some of his best-known works including, the Brandenburg Concertos and Air on the G String. His musical career saw him take on several roles as church organist, and he was also court composer to German royalty, including Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar and Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. The Duke actually imprisoned Bach for many weeks to prevent him leaving to take up his post with the Prince. As his career progressed, his eyesight started to fail. He opted to have an operation to improve his vision but the operation went wrong and Bach was left completely blind. He died a year later of a stroke in Leipzig. Bach was a highly respected organist in his lifetime but did not achieve recognition as a great composer until long after his death. Mozart and Beethoven both admired his work and he is now widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of
all time.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Born:  27 January 1756  Died: 5 December 1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart in Salzburg, Austria. The young Mozart was a musical child prodigy, learning to play the piano aged three and giving his first public performance at the age of six. He was a prolific composer, originating over 600 works in his career, including masses, operas, concertos, symphonies, and sonatas. The sheer range, volume and quality of his works coupled with the frequent “black moods” he admitted experiencing, have led some historians to suggest that Mozart suffered from bipolar disorder. Starting out as assistant concert master to Archbishop von Colloredo in Salzburg, Mozart soon grew tired of the limitations of the role and eventually moved to Vienna and established himself as a freelance performer and composer with great success. He and his wife, Constanze, lived a lavish lifestyle in one of the most exclusive districts in a city noted as the cultural and artistic centre of Europe. Mozart’s professional rivalry with Italian composer Antonio Salieri is legendary but it is unlikely that Salieri had a hand in Mozart’s death as had been rumoured. Within the limitations of medical science at the time, it is unclear what finally killed Mozart, but historians consider rheumatic fever the most likely cause of death. Unlike many composers, Mozart enjoyed fabulous wealth and success in his lifetime, and although dogged by financial insecurity in his later years, he was always able to procure work and managed to pay off most of the debts he had incurred, supporting his earlier life of luxury. His influence on western classical music cannot be overstated.

Ludwig van Beethoven (Born: 16 December 1770  Died: 26 March 1827)

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany and is a key figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic periods. Like Mozart, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age. However, unlike Mozart, the young Beethoven was pushed to develop his skills by his alcoholic father who beat him and locked him in the cellar each time he made a mistake. Beethoven performed his first public recital aged seven and published his first composition at the age of twelve. His first job in music was as an Assistant Court Organist and it is the court that sent the talented young musician to be schooled in his art in Vienna. After returning to Salzburg for a short period, Beethoven moved back to Vienna aged 21, and began studying composition with Joseph Haydn. It is at this point Beethoven earned the reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He debuted in Vienna in 1795 and from here his career as a composer became established attracting many patrons. However, it was at the height of his success that Beethoven began to lose his hearing, a fact he attempted to conceal. In the last decade of his life, Beethoven was almost entirely deaf, yet surprisingly, it was during this period that he produced some of his greatest works. Beethoven is widely regarded as the greatest composer of all time with a creative imagination second to none.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Born: 7 May 1840  Died: 6 November 1893)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Vyatka, Russia and was the first Russian composer to make an impact worldwide, largely as a consequence of his work as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. Tchaikovsky was educated for a career in the civil service, as there was no formal system of public music education in Russia at the time, and so few opportunities to forge a musical career. He began his studies in music comparatively late, aged 21, taking lessons at the Russian Society of Music. Clearly determined to change career, he enrolled at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory to study full time. By the age of 24, Tchaikovsky had moved to Moscow to become Professor of Harmony at the Moscow Conservatory. Just two years later, his first works were performed for the public. After leaving the Moscow Conservatory in 1878 to focus on composition, he entered his most productive period, writing 169 pieces, which included operas, ballets, symphonies, concertos, and cantatas. His music has remained popular amongst audiences throughout the world and Tchaikovsky is much admired for transcending the stereotypes of Russian
classical music.

Johann Strauss II (Born: 25 October 1825  Died: 3 June 1899)

Known as “the Waltz King”, Johann Strauss II came from an established and respected musical family. His father, Johann Strauss the Elder was a talented composer and conductor, but his son would surpass him in terms of output, popularity, and legacy. His father did not want his eldest son to follow him into a music career and so Johann Strauss the Younger became a bank clerk while studying the violin in his spare time, unbeknownst to his father. A rivalry ensued between father and son in Salzburg after Johann Strauss the Elder left the family. Strauss II established his own orchestra and was in open competition with his father. Later in his career, Strauss II ceased conducting his orchestra and turned his complete attention to composition, extending his growing reputation with tours in the United States and Europe. He chose to focus his art on operettas and waltzes, though it is his success as a composer of the latter that has led to his enduring popularity long after his death.

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