This week’s interesting fact was supplied by Gerald Elias, author of the Daniel Jacobus mystery series. The latest title is this series, Spring Break, is due for release in hardcover and ebook on 1 August in the US.
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Did you know that Antonio Vivaldi, the great Italian Baroque composer of the 17th and 18th centuries, was employed by a convent in Venice for almost forty years?
The Ospedale della Pietà was a convent, orphanage, and music school in Venice, almost exclusively for figlie, girls. Not all the students were orphans, nor even poor for that matter. Initially, and through the seventeenth century, the ospedali—there were four—provided training in sacred music. As the excellence of the Pietà’s training grew, so did its reputation. It attracted the attention of the nobility, who sometimes enrolled their infants, legitimate or otherwise. Many of the concerts were arranged especially for important, wealthy visitors.
But unlike concerts these days, the young ladies, because of mores of modesty, were constrained to perform behind an iron grille lattice, like a wall. Even though they comprised the finest orchestra in Venice, they were never seen!
La Pietà hired the best faculty in the city and promoted its high quality concerts. None other than the great Antonio Vivaldi was appointed a violin teacher in 1703 and served in various roles on and off until 1740. Much of his greatest music was written for performance at the Pietà.
One would not imagine that life in an orphanage had much to offer, so it might seem surprising that for the young ladies the status that came with being successful figlie was much coveted, and created incentive for excellence. Though most remained at the ospedale their entire lives, some were lavished with gifts from admirers, a few were permitted to marry and were even provided dowries, and many were offered vacations in villas on the Italian mainland.
The ospedali’s activities provided countless commissions for local violin and other instrument makers, liuter del loco, not only for the manufacture of good instruments but also for the constant maintenance and repair of such instruments, adding significantly to Venice’s economy as well as its culture.
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