Ever since Mnemosyne, the mother of the muses, gave the wax tablet to mortals,
memory, writing and technology have been interconnected.
—Carolyn Guertin

Today, Antonio Vivaldi would have been 332 years old. Google is marking the occasion by giving the composer of The Four Seasons his very own doodle.

Vivaldi Googe doodle

Vivaldi Google doodle

Quite a change in fortune for a man once consigned to the dust-heap of history.

In life, the musician-priest was known for his head of red hair, his virtuosity on the violin, and his frenzied output of music, both secular & sacred. In death, he was remembered briefly as a passé composer–then forgotten.

Forgotten until the 1920s. That’s when an Italian monk found a large collection of his hand-written scores, hidden in a cabinet in a mountain monastery. This discovery initiated a Vivaldi renaissance that has culminated in The Four Seasons being appropriated by tinny hold-music and turned in to classical Muzak.

For me, Vivaldi is a figure my imagination returns to again and again. My first novel centers around him. When I began my research, the priest seemed familiar and benign on the surface, like the bucolic theme he gives the violin in the Spring movement of his most famous piece.

But dig a little deeper, wait a little longer, and what is there? Turbulence. Defiance. Melancholy. Poetry.

The nod given by the world’s most popular search engine to the Red Priest is a tad ironic: Do a Google search on him. There are millions of hits, but scant information about the man himself. From birth to death, the circumstances of Vivaldi’s life remain mysterious.

Consider:

On this day, 332 years ago, the infant Antonio needed an emergency baptism by the midwife who delivered him. He’d been born only to be in immediate danger of dying. Whether from dire illness or the consequences of an earthquake that shook Venice that day, no one can say.

Vivaldi was a prolific writer—of music, but perhaps not of letters. Only 13 missives of his have ever been identified, and they reveal precious little detail about the composer’s life.

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Rumor has it the priest was involved with a beautiful singer, Anna Girò, who accompanied him on his travels around Europe. This mezzo-soprano was given the lead in many of Vivaldi’s operas, despite the fact that she didn’t sing very well.

Vivaldi was a violin instructor at a girl’s orphanage. He was fired from this position many times, only to be hired again weeks or months later.

The composer died in Vienna, far from his beloved Venice. Nobody quite knows why he was there.

The Viennese boarding house where he died was razed. Vivaldi, once famous throughout Europe, was buried in a pauper’s grave. A grave that no longer exists.

So despite diligent research, the Red Priest remains elusive—a remote figure off in the distance, with mysterious intentions, shrouded in crimson.

Actually, that’s not such a bad thing for a fiction writer.

Happy birthday, Antonio—whoever you are.