“When you hear this exquisite music, remember that it was premiered and solely performed during Vivaldi’s lifetime by a small group of virtuoso woman musicians every Sunday at the chapel of the Ospedale della Pietà on an elevated balcony behind metalwork frames and veils. The audience was composed of a Europe-wide pilgrimage of musical connoisseurs, curiosity seekers, and lonely young men, the last of whom would sometimes pass marriage proposals and love notes to the mysterious women on the stage through the bars. These musicians were recognised by authorities of the time to be among the greatest living performers. They were all personally trained by Vivaldi, and his concertos were tailor-made to feature specific musicians in the original manuscripts. Lesser-known secret: many of these musicians had been born with birth defects, and found the privacy of their secret lives a blessing. Vivaldi sometimes had instruments designed to accomodate their handicaps, and composed music for them that would work around their physical challenges while still remaining virtuosic.” From a commentator on YouTube
For 37 years he worked as music master in a female orphanage. Here babies, often abandoned for their deformities, were posted through a hole in the wall and brought up by the nuns. Boys reached adolescence and were sent away, but talented girls were kept for musical training.
…Vivaldi was sensitive to the girls’ sad start in life and had instruments specially adapted for some of the deformed musicians.
Dr John Kitchen, of Edinburgh University, says this was not so unusual. “Women were doing far more in the musical world at this time than the history books would have us believe,” he says. There were other orphanage orchestras in the city with female choirs. Yet outside Venice the concept of a non-religious female choir was unknown.
Antonio Vivaldi – Mandolin Concerti
Photo credit: International museum and library of music [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons