There was a time and place when the warm ticket in timeless music to be an all-female orchestra led by female conductors and also featuring mrs soloists. That is members lived together and studied through the leading global composers of the day. The government listed financial support, together did exclusive donors.

This was 18th-century Venice, and also the college in question was the Ospedale della Pietà, a structure that cared for abandoned and also orphaned children. Since there is nothing else quite prefer in the history of music, the Pietà has actually been the subject of significant fascination, chronicled in movies, novels, and also on recordings.

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Its reputation is largely connected to the illustrious residents composer and also violin teacher: Antonio Vivaldi. The ‘Red Priest’ to be affiliated through the Pietà for lot of his adult life, and though his tenure had its troubles — he can be strong-willed, flighty and also perhaps a little bit suspect — the fruit of his tradition are numerous and also include oratorios, sonatas and concertos for violin, cello, flute, oboe, bassoon and mandolin.

Who to be the Pietà Students?

In 1703, a 25-year-old Vivaldi to be ordained together a priest and joined the Pietà as maestro di violino. Fits that coughing, likely due to asthma, had required him to give up celebrating Mass, yet the Pietà hosted a liturgical role through that performances.

The Pietà to be one of four ospedali grandi in Venice, and home to almost a thousands students. The guys lived separately in the home and also learned a trade. The girls studied music, and the most completed were placed in a special class — the figlie di coro, (daughters that the choir) — wherein they could attain a specific celebrity and, if lucky, marital relationship offers from the nobility.

Eyewitness Reports

There were in between 40 and also 60 students in a coro. Windy performances took place in chapels and drew travelers from approximately Europe. Some of the (male) attention was plainly voyeuristic, as the girls performed in galleries, cloaked behind metal grills.


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“The chapel is constantly full the music lovers,” report the writer and also philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “Even the singers from the Venetian opera come so as to develop real taste in singing based upon these excellent models. What grieved me to be those accursed grills, which allowed only tones to go through and concealed the angels that loveliness of who they to be worthy.”

Another visitor, the French politician Charles de Brosses, asserted to steal glimpses that the girls with the latticework throughout or after ~ a performance.

“There is no instrument, but unwieldy, that deserve to frighten them,” he wrote. “They space cloistered choose nuns. The is lock alone who perform, and around 40 girls take component in each concert. Ns vow to you the there is nothing therefore diverting together the sight of a young and pretty nun in a white habit, with a bunch that pomegranate flower over she ear, conducting the orchestra and beating time v all the grace and precision imaginable.”

Palace Intrigue

The complete duration the Vivaldi’s affiliation through the Pietà lasted until roughly 1735, yet it was no without strains. The plank of directors voted every year on even if it is to store a teacher and, in 1709, the ruled versus him in a 7 to 6 verdict.

“No one yes, really knows how this especially state that affairs came about,” writes H.C. Robbins Landon in Vivaldi: Voice the the Baroque. “Obviously Vivaldi, currently a prominent number in the artistic culture of Venice, to be making not only friends and admirers yet enemies.” however the board evidently realized just how much they essential Vivaldi, and also in 1711 he to be reinstated and also eventually advocated tothe top write-up of music director.

Despite his constant travels, Vivaldi led rehearsals and wrote two concertos a month for the Pietà’s orchestra. Several dozen to be tailored for Anna Maria Della Pietà, a violinist and also mandolin player whose gifts once motivated an anonymous poet to compose that as soon as she played, “countless angels dare to hover near.”


Since spotting Anna Maria’s talent together a child, Vivaldi walk on to write for she the Violin Concerto in D minor (RV 248), the Violin Concerto in B-flat (RV 363), and also the Mandolin Concerto in C (RV 425), amongst other works. Through 1737 Anna Maria attained two management posts: maestra di violino and maestra di coro.

Yet eyebrows to be raised when Vivaldi started carrying on one ambiguous connection with an additional student, the gifted mezzo-soprano Anna Girò. The gossip mill especially began to churn in 1724, once Anna and also her elder half-sister, Paulina, relocated in through him. Vivaldi insisted the their connection was platonic and, indeed, priests in the 18th century regularly cohabited v women who provided meals, housework and also companionship. Still, Anna had actually a special location in Vivaldi’s heart, and also he wrote countless roles for her, consisting of Alcina in his opera Orlando Furioso.

Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot takes a measured check out of the composer’s sex life in one essay collection released in 2011. “The consensual view amongst scholars today,” that writes, “is that Vivaldi, return not lacking in such human being faults as vanity, self-righteousness and also paranoia, was in formal terms, a perfectly orthodox, correctly observant and not necessarily licentious (albeit probably rather indiscreet) priest.”

An Expansive Catalog

More important to our understanding of the Pietà is the breadth of music the inspired, and also certainly no all through Vivaldi. The late chronicler Jane Baldauf-Berdes estimated that over three centuries, over there were much more than 4,000 original works composed for the Ospedali by at least 300 composers, including Francesco Gasparini and also Giuseppe Sarti.

But for the Vivaldi enthusiast, the Ospedale della Pietà left a sizable imprint on his catalog, whether it’s the Oboe Concerto in C major RV 450 (likely composed for an orphan named Pelegrina), the shimmering psalm setup Nisi Dominus (written because that Girò), or hisonly making it through oratorio, Juditha triumphans (Judith Triumphs), through its affect arias and glorious choruses.

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- created by Brian Wise

Brian way writes about classical music forBBC Music Magazine,Musical America,and is the producer the the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s nationwide radio broadcasts.