A Little about the history of Venice and its characters... travel through this fascinating world.
Origins of Venice
Origins of Venice
Horses of Saint Mark, brought from Constantinople in 1204
The history of the Republic of Venice originated as a set of lacustrine communities pooled for mutual defense against the invaders as the power of the Byzantine Empire diminished in the northern Italian peninsula.
Although there is no historical record directly linked to the origins of Venice, the available evidence has led several historians to agree with the theory that the original population of Venice was made up of refugees from Roman cities such as Padua, Aquileia and Concordia (modern Portogruaro) fleeing from the successive Germanic (Lombardos) and Huns invasions to the Itálica Peninsula in Century V.
The byzantine domination in Central and Northern Italy was altered by the emergence of the Ravenna Exarchate, which was a Byzantine administrative branch in the Italian peninsula, which grouped from the end of the 6th century until the middle of the 8th century, the territories not conquered by the Lombards.
During this period, the local headquarters of the Byzantine government (the Duke's residence, later called the doge), was located in Malamoco (one of the three entrances linking the lagoon to the Adriatic Sea).
There was a gradual loss of the Byzantine territories before the Lombardo advance until their final takeover.
In the first decades of Century VIII, the population of the lagoons chose its first leader, Orso Ipato, that was confirmed by the Byzantine Empire and received the title of doge (Duke). There are two versions, the first one says that he was the first doge of Venice, but the second claims that the Venetians first proclaimed Pauline Anapestus as Duke in 697.
During the reign of the doge Agnello Participazio (811-827), the ducal headquarters was moved from Malamoco to the protected island of Rialto (from "rivoalto", ie, high coast).
Veneza 700 - 1.797
Venezia Millenaria - Jordi Savall
"Bucentaur’s return to the pier by the Palazzo Ducale” by Canaletto
For approximately a thousand years, from 770 to 1797, the city of Venice played a pre-eminent role in the Mediterranean and in the history of the world. Situated in a lagoon fed by two rivers where a number of small, precarious settlements had grown up along the coast, Venice was founded by the Byzantines, who made it a crossroads between the East and the West. This essentially aquatic city, with its network of canals, attracted merchants of many different origins who worked towards a common goal: to create a thriving hub of business, exchange and interests. The city gradually developed a trade in goods from the East (spices, silks, precious metals, luxury items) to the West, which were exchanged for other goods and commodities (such as salt and timber) bound for the East.
By setting up a “Republic” in which the system of government by an oligarchy led and represented by an elected life Doge, Venice gradually gained independence from the Byzantines, eventually becoming more of a trading partner than a vassal.
Quite rapidly over the course of the millennium, this legendary city grew rich, independent and powerful, thanks to the development of its fleet. Having resisted Charlemagne, it successfully competed with Rome to emerge as the leading economic power in the Mediterranean Basin, which made possible the technical, scientific and cultural progress so evident in Venetian architecture, painting, literature and music, among others.
From the beginning and, especially, towards the end of the 15th century, Venice benefited from two great advantages: first, it enjoyed total freedom to print books, as it was not subject to the dictates of the Vatican and the Inquisition; and second, it was the Gateway to the Orient, and home to people from around the world – Byzantines, Italians, Arabs, Jews, Slavs, Armenians and Turks. All of this goes to explain the extraordinary development of its publishing industry.
In an age marked by so much religious conflict, it is remarkable that Venice produced the first printed editions of the Koran and the Talmud, and the first Bible in the Italian vulgate following the Protestant Reformation, as well as the first books to come out of the German Reformation.
The fact that it was a city of immigration also accounts for the fact that books were published there in all languages: thus, we see the first printed books in Greek, Armenian, and in the Cyrillic alphabet… And more than half of all European books were printed in Venice. It was, moreover, the city that invented the bestseller and the paperback, as well as printing the earliest editions of erotic books, cookery books and medical texts. Venice also devised the first rudimentary systems of copyright and what we now call marketing and business techniques.
Arthur Streeton - Veneza
It was also in this multicultural city that music printing began at the end of the 15th century. Although we now symbolically date the birth of music printing to 1501, with the publication of Ottaviano Petrucci’s Harmonice musices Odhecaton (One hundred songs of harmonic music), in fact, as early as 1480, Ottaviano Scotto (c.1440-1498) a native of Monza in Lombardy, printed among other things some splendid missals in red and black lettering. He was the founder of a dynasty of typographers who were to dominate music printing in Venice throughout the 16th century.
Although Ottaviano Petrucci’s book of music published in 1501 was not the first to be printed using movable type, it was the first work devoted entirely to music, rather than containing only brief fragments inserted into a liturgical or poetic text. For more than three centuries, the Venetian printing industry was to play a key part in the increasingly influential role of both music and Italian and European music theory, an influence that would continue to spread across borders and through the centuries.
Finally, it was also thanks to trade and therefore its contacts all round the Mediterranean as a result of setting up trading-posts on the islands and along the coast to exchange goods, but also welcoming people of all origins, that Venice received the various influences of the Eastern Christian, Latin and Orthodox worlds, as well as those from the Ottoman, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim cultures.
These are the influences that we set out to evoke through music as we trace the landmark events over a thousand years of the city’s amazing history. The unique history of a distinctive city, fashioned by men who had the vision to create and preserve the prosperity and freedom of their Republic for more than a thousand years thanks to their courage, know-how, thirst for adventure and dialogue, and, above all, their love of the arts and beauty.
We shall offer insight into those influences as we explore the varying sound landscapes of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, depending on the city and region, as well as their neighbouring countries. With the splendid singers of the Orthodox/Byzantine ensemble under the direction of the outstanding Orthodox chanter Panagiotis Neochoritis, our guest musicians from Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Armenia, and the soloists of La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI and Le Concert des Nations, we present a selection of sacred and secular music from the ancient Orthodox traditions of Byzantium, Crusader songs, music from Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, Greece, Turkey and, of course, Italy.
They were to enhance and influence the wonderful music that Byzantium and Venice bequeathed to the history of European music.
Composers such as Guillaume Dufay, Clément Janequin, Adrian Willaert, Joan Brudieu, Claude Goudimel, Ambrosius Lobwasser, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Adolph Hasse and many others, including Mozart and Beethoven, proclaimed and evoked in the Europe of their age and up to the present time the grandeur of an exceptional city which for so long reigned supreme.
In 1797 the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte occupied the Terra Firma, thus hastening the fall of the Republic of Venice. To evoke the end of this thousand years of history, which was precipitated by the influence of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s imperial ambitions, we have chosen an unusual and moving piece composed some years later, the revolutionary hymn “La Sainte Ligue” La nuit est sombre by Luigi Bordèse (1815-1886), sung to a text by Adolphe Joly adapted for 4-voice male choir with organ (or piano) set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven the Allegretto from his Seventh Symphony and the closing Allegro from his Fifth Symphony. Our musical version adds to these 4 sung parts the essential instrumental texture found in Beethoven’s original score, the difference being that it is performed here by the varied line-up used in the second part of the programme.
Although the Republic of Venice ceased to exist in 1797, La Serenissima’s Oriental dream did not, indeed, as Olivier Lexa points out, it continued to inspire a large number of artists and intellectuals, including John Ruskin, who wrote that the Venetians deserved special mention because they were “the only European people who appear to have sympathised to the full with the great instinct of the Eastern races.”
At the dawn of the 20th century, the artist and designer Marià Fortuny y Madrazo, the son of the famous Catalan painter Marià Fortuny i Marsal, paid tribute to the Oriental history of Venice in his celebrated designs for lamps and fabrics.
After its annexation to Austria under the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797, which put an end to the war between France and Austria, Venice finally became part of the kingdom of Italy in 1866. Together with Rome, it became one of Italy’s “eternal” cities, and remains to this day one of the loveliest jewels in the nation’s crown.
Bellaterra, 2 October, 2017
Antonio Vivaldi, the Red Priest of Venice
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice on March 4, 1678, the eldest child of a violinist who was also, by trade, a barber. At the age of 15, young Antonio began his training for the priesthood, despite—or perhaps because of—his extraordinary aptitude as a violinist. (Then, as now, it was difficult for professional musicians to get by without a day job!) In 1703, at the age of 25, Vivaldi was anointed as a priest and, later that same year, appointed violin master to the foundling girl musicians at the Ospedale della Pietà.
Because of his flaming red hair, Vivaldi came to be known as il Prete Rosso (the Red Priest). His association with the Pietà lasted, with various ups and downs, for 37 years. He was the lead teacher for violin and viola all’inglese for the famed orchestra of the Pietà, teaching the best performers who would in their turn became teachers, teaching according to his methods; among them was Anna Maria Girò, who would become her most famous apprentice.
Francesco Guardi (1.782)
In 1716, he was given the title of Maestro de’ Concerti and resident composer, producing a prodigious body of both choral and instrumental works that kept the foundling home—through its highly touted public performances—financially afloat. On the side, Vivaldi wrote and produced operas, winning riches and accolades but always walking along the edge of a financial precipice.
When he was 46, the Red Priest sponsored the operatic debut of a young contralto named Anna Girò. She became his favorite prima donna and, along with her older sister, traveled with Vivaldi throughout the rest of his stormy career as an opera impresario. Many people in high places—especially the Red Priest’s fellow clerics—were very unhappy with this arrangement.
In large part because of the scandals that dogged his name, Vivaldi was effectively exiled from Venice, the city he loved so well. He died at the age of 63 in July 1741 in Vienna, where he was buried in a pauper’s grave.
Vivaldi commemorative plaque at the Technical University of Vienna
Vivaldi immediately fell into utter obscurity for nearly two hundred years (if he is even mentioned in musical histories of Venice published before the 1960s, it is as an eccentric priest and violinist!). His rehabilitation as a composer only began when scholars recognized the direct and profound influence of Vivaldi’s compositions on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Little by little, and sometimes by great leaps, the Red Priest’s large body of both secular and sacred music is being brought to life again
New scores by Vivaldi are still being discovered, and much of his music remains to be recorded. Many of the exquisite choral works he composed for the Pietà, from around 1713 until 1739, are available on compact disc from Hyperion Records Limited of London, England.
Since the explosion of his popularity in the 1960s, Vivaldi’s resurrection has been nothing short of spectacular. His Four Seasons is now the most widely played and most recognizable piece in the classical music canon. His operas and oratorios are being revived on concert stages all over the world.
The Ospedale della Pietà
The charitable institution that is the setting for Vivaldi’s Virgins, the Ospedale della Pietà, was founded sometime between 1336 and 1346 in the Venetian parish where it still stands today, San Giovanni in Bragora on the Riva degli Schiavoni, just a short walk along the waterfront from the Piazza of San Marco.
Ospedale della Pietà (1.686)
The only requirement for admission to the Ospedale della Pietà was illegitimacy. Unwanted or otherwise inconvenient babies were deposited in the scaffetta, a sort of revolving drawer in the stone wall that could be opened from the outside by whatever despairing mother was placing her infant there. She would ring a bell that hung close-by, and then scurry away before the assistant Prioress gathered up the baby from the opening on the other side of the wall. A detailed intake of the child and its condition was made with the help of a scrivana, one of two functionaries whose job it was to take notes and record them in the Pietà’s closely guarded secret registers, the libri della scaffetta.
Some babies arrived wrapped in nothing but filthy rags. Others were dressed in garments indicating that one or both parents were wealthy and perhaps even members of Venice’s storied nobility. The origins of each foundling were kept secret except for the rare cases in which a parent would come—sometimes years or even decades later—to reclaim her child.
Both boys and girls were kept and educated at the Pietà until the age of ten, when the boys were apprenticed out to learn a trade. The quality of this education was apparently so high that the Doge had to publish an edict promising excommunication to any parents who left their legitimate offspring in the scaffetta, hoping to have it receive its education and upbringing at the State’s expense.
Beyond the age of ten, girls were taught a trade that could keep them profitably employed. The Pietà was like a small city unto itself, with several flourishing industries; running the institution required a good deal of expertise and labor. Girls were trained as pharmacists, cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, lace-makers, sail-makers, and menials, depending on their aptitude.
From the mid-sixteenth century onwards, a small proportion of girls who exhibited an unusual degree of talent were chosen for musical training as figlie di coro—literally, “daughters of the choir” (in this case, coro refers to instrumentalists as well as singers). Their concerts were a major tourist attraction in Venice, as well as an important source of income for the Ospedale della Pietà. The figlie di coro, while housed and kept in relative comfort, were indentured servants to the Republic of Venice, charged with keeping the rest of the population in God’s good graces through the surpassing beauty of the sacred music they performed.
Anna Maria dal Violin
Anna Maria was taken as a child to the home for orphans in Venice, Ospedale della Pietà, in 1689. Father and composer Antonio Vivaldi was her teacher, and she was evidently one of her favorite students: he dedicated 28 violin concerts to her.
Anna Maria went on to have an extraordinary reputation during her life as one of the best violinists in Europe - several contemporary travelers and critics praised her qualities. Despite her cloister status in Pietà, she became the (18th century) equivalent of a celebrity.
Devotion, modesty, good behavior, silence, obedience, and avoidance of idleness were the basic requirements of survival at the Pietà. Although Anna Maria’s promotions came late in comparison to those of her peers, she rose through the ranks of the coro to the highest level of musical achievement, mastering six instruments in addition to the violin and eventually becoming concert-mistress and conductor of the Pietà’s orchestra. She lived to the amazingly ripe old age, for the time, of 86.