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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Vivaldi's Virgins

Quick, Barbara. Vivaldi's Virgins. This novel was interesting, but very low-key. It is the fictional story of Anna Maria dal Violin who lived in 18th c. Venice and for whom Vivaldi wrote 37 Violin Concertos, his most difficult violin pieces. Little is known of the real Anna Maria, but Quick has taken that little bit of information and created a quiet and well-researched novel set in Anna Maria's confined world of the Ospedale della Pieta with frequent venturing into the larger setting of the creative, musical world of Venice in the early years of the 1700's.

Anna Maria was left at the Ospedale della Pieta, an institution that cared for abandoned infants. She was placed in the Scaffeta, a niche in the wall for the specific purpose of receiving those unwanted babies. The babies were cleaned, their clothing - often rags - removed, then the baby was registered in a book known as the Libro della Scafetta by one of the two Scrivane. A Scrivana then recorded the available information which would include a detailed description of the clothing and any items left with the child, a note of any abnormalities, the time the baby was discovered, etc. The Scrivana who received the infant also assigned it a number that was often referred to later in the child's life.

There is good deal of information about the Ospedale della Pieta and the way the institution worked, how the children were separated by gender, how they were trained, etc. in this link. More interesting articles about the Ospedale, some with references to Anna Maria dal Violin are here and here. Just one more note, though, the last names of the children in the Coro were given according to their most dominant instrument. There were many "dal Violins" over the years, as well as "dalla Violas," "dal Organistas," and for the singers, "dal Contralto" or "dal Sopran." Thus, Anna Maria dalla Violin and Clementia dalla Viola and Oliva dal Sopran.

The story is about Anna Maria and her life in the Coro (those with musical talent were eventually part of the Coro). Anna Maria's gift is recognized early and Vivaldi, the Red Priest who teaches at the Ospedale, writes his most difficult pieces specifically for her. Anna Maria, like many of the children, has no clue about who her parents were (some children knew and visited their parents who were so poverty-stricken they could not afford to keep them) and her desire to know her mother becomes almost an obsession. Sister Laura suggests that she write letters to her mother, and Anna Maria does, although there is never a reply and she is not certain that the letters are even delivered.

Details of life in the Ospedale in the Coro, tidbits about Vivaldi and other musicians who were in Venice at the time, information about the Jewish Quarter, about Carnivale and the rhythm of life and activities in the early 18th c. Venice...all are fascinating to me.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the narrative itself is low-key; while there are some sub-plots involving the escapades of Anna Maria's friends, her own life is mostly confined to the Ospedale and her quest to discover something about her parentage.

There is further interesting information in the Acknowledgments and a Discography of CDs that contain much of the music Quick references in her novel.

Fiction. Historical. 2007. 278 pages.


  1. I know how you feel! I'm 8 behind on my posts and of course I can never catch up because I'm always adding more.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this book also. I had no idea of the background of Vivaldi's music, which I love.
    Congratulations on your beautiful new family member. What a doll!

  3. Ladytink-- :) As long as we still have something to read, we'll be O.K. As you say, we will never be really caught up!

    Pamela - I was surprised to learn that Vivaldi's music fell out of favor after his death and was not "rediscovered" until the 20th c. Hard to believe The Four Seasons lay practically dormant all of those years when Vivaldi was not appreciated and his music seldom played.

  4. This is the very appreciative author of VIVALDI'S VIRGINS, to thank you for your lovely posting. Readers might enjoy cruising around my website
    There's lots of background information about 18th century Venice, as well as the inside story about how the book came to be written. Browsers can also download a podcast of music from the novel (nice to listen to while reading...)

    Cheers and best,
    Barbara Quick

  5. Thanks for the link! I wish I'd visited your site instead of searching all over the web to get much of the information you already had available. I am downloading the pod cast, too.

  6. The paperback edition of VIVALDI'S VIRGINS is being brought out by Harper this July. There's an additional essay at the end that tells the story about how and why the novel came to be written.

    I wanted to let you know that I'm making myself available to do "virtual" visits with reading groups, either by phone or video conferencing. These have been really satisfying so far for all involved (including me--I so enjoy connecting with my readers!).

    There's also the possibility that I can come visit in person, especially if a larger venue (like a bookstore or library) is involved.

    Check out the book trailer on my website--and please pass the link on to your friends.

    All best from California,