In September 1728, the Habsburg ruler Charles VI, Archduke of Austria, King of Germany, Hungary, Bohemia and Spain, Holy Roman Emperor etc etc, travelled to the Duchy of Carniola in order to inspect the port of Trieste. Antonio Vivaldi made the eighty-mile journey northeast of Venice to attend on him. It is not known whether the two men had met before, although the previous year Vivaldi had dedicated his twelve concertos Op.9, entitled La cetra (The Lyre), to Charles, suggesting they probably had met or at least corresponded. This encounter seems to have been the highlight of an otherwise disappointing trip for the Emperor, judging by two letters which survive from a Venetian Abbe?, Antonio Conti, to a French lady, Mme de Caylus. On 23 September Conti wrote, ‘the Emperor is not too happy with his Trieste. . . . He has spent a lot of time discussing music with Vivaldi. It is said that he has spoken with him more in two weeks than he has with his own ministers in two years. . . . His appetite for music is very strong.’ And in another letter Conti wrote, ‘the Emperor has given Vivaldi a large amount of money together with a chain and gold medallion.’
Cash and baubles were no doubt welcome to Vivaldi but probably not the reward he was hoping for: to become one of Charles’s court composers. Of all the arts, the Emperor favoured music in particular. Like his grandfather, Ferdinand III, and father, Leopold I, Charles was an able composer, mainly of church music, and a generous patron. He funded the publication of Gradus ad Parnassum (1725), one of the most influential works of western music theory by his composition teacher and Kapellmeister, Johann Joseph Fux, and he was skilled enough as a performer to direct performances of operas by Fux and the vice Kapellmeister Antonio Caldara. Charles maintained the Habsburg tradition of employing Italian artists at court, and Venetians in particular. As well as Caldara, Marc Antonio Ziani, Fux’s predecessor as Kapell- meister, was from Venice, as were Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, who painted altarpieces for the Emperor’s new Karlskirche, and the court poets Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio. Vivaldi no doubt had high hopes that he might join his countrymen in Vienna, perhaps with a dual role as player and composer, such as that of Francesco Bartolomeo Conti. Conti, no relation to the letter writer above, was for many years the principal theorbo player as well as court composer. Holding two posts meant receiving two stipends, which raised Conti’s income higher than that of Fux himself. It was not to be, however. Perhaps Vivaldi’s compositional style was too modern for the Emperor’s—or Fux’s—conservative tastes. When a new court composer was appointed a few years later, Matteo Palotta was chosen, a master of the stile antico. This was the ‘old style’ of Palestrina, ‘the brightest light in Music, whose memory I shall never cease to honour with the greatest reverence’ (Fux, Gradus).