|As I type this in May 2008
I'm reading my third novel in a little over six months conjecting on the
life of Antonio Vivaldi. I've also listened to a BBC radio play and
watched a DVD of a more substantial play put on in San Francisco. In addition
there are two films of the composer's life currently in production.
So I thought that this surge of interest and ideas deserved a special page to bring together the strands of these conjectures and relate them to reality. Vivaldi's life is so open to imaginative theories because not much is known about his life beyond the details of what he composed and who he composed for. Doubts have even been cast as to whether some of the accepted portraits of him, including the one to the right, are actually of him.
Vivaldi was born in Venice on the 4th of March 1678 and baptised at the church of San Giovanni Battista in Bragora (see below right). He was later ordained as a priest but an illness (probably asthma) provided an excuse for him to be excused celebrating mass, leaving him free to devote his time to music. He taught at, and composed for, the Ospedale della Pieta, where the orphaned females who trained as musicians performed his music and lived lives that have been much researched in recent years. Later, having been sacked by the Pieta to save money, he moved to Mantua to take up the post of Maestro di Cappella at the court of Prince Phillip and stayed for seven years. Whilst living here he became attached to Paolina Trevisana and her younger half-sister, Anna Giro. They travelled back with him when he left Mantua to return to Venice. The Pieta hired him again, and he also became an opera impresario. Paolina became his personal assistant, and Anna Giro developed into his protégée. Later in his life he moved to Vienna, for reasons uncertain. It was planned that he become court composer to Charles VI, but the sudden death of the king soon after his arrival left him high and dry. He died soon after. His reputation did not long survive his death and it's only in recent decades that he has been properly appreciated. I have a guide book to Venice written in the 1920s that despite having entries for the church of the Pieta and San Giovanni in Bragora does not mention Vivaldi at all.
(For fuller biographical details there's a site where you can download pdf files of a couple of good biographies for free.
The elements of this sparse personal biography most fruitful for novelists are, unsurprisingly, the bits that involve the famous composer and priest's enigmatic relationships with girls and women. This tack also allows the inclusion of juicy titbits and biographies from that recent research into the lives of the Pieta girls.
The links are to the full reviews on my Venice page.
First off the blocks last October, was Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick which firmly foregrounded the lives of the orphans, in particular violinist Anna Maria. It was basically the story of a girl growing up but with much fun had with the spicy 18th century Venetian background. The lure of the sparkling life of palazzo parties and the mystery of the lost mother were other non-musical themes explored.
November 2008 sees the publication of The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona, which again uses Vivaldi as something of a secondary, though charismatic, character whilst exploring the lives of two sisters left at the Pieta. One of the sisters becomes Vivaldi's violin protégée and there's a good deal of smothered passion too. The character is called Maddalena but the strong echoes of the Anna Giro mystery are there. The real Anna and Paolina appear too, with Anna particularly presented as something of a demanding tart. The radio play Daughters of Venice by Don Taylor also deals (in a lighter-hearted way this time) with the facts of life for the girls in the Pieta, with Vivaldi the late-appearing star turn.
In Hidden harmonies: the Secret Life of Antonio Vivaldi André Romijn concentrates on the composer and makes some more wild guesses at the nature of his relationship with Anna Giro, but also deals deeply and revels in the music, as a novel about Vivaldi should, you'd think. The theory put forward here (spoiler alert!) is that Anna is the fruit of a drunken 'encounter' at a party between Vivaldi and Paolina. The memory of the encounter haunts Vivaldi and so when he finds her he rescues her from her violent child-molesting father, she becomes his (chastely loved) lifetime companion and secretary and together they bring up Anna in Vivaldi's family home. Paolina doesn't tell Vivaldi that Anna is his daughter, but he suspects.
In her play
The Red Priest of Venice Lisa Jean Murphy
deals with the developing relationship between the composer and Paolina in
a much less liberty-taking way, but she also doesn't go so far as to expect
them to deny their feelings or growing attachment.
There was a
French film that actually di get made, called Antonio Vivaldi,
un prince à Venise. This one was written and directed by someone whose
previous work includes a bio-pic of J.S. Bach. It
does feature Anna Giro and judging by the pics on the (now lost) website
it looks like a
bit of a flouncy lace-fest. It hasn't seen a release outside France
except, it seems, in South Korea. There is
a trailer on YouTube.
Venice // Florence // London // Berlin