Venice Explorer: The Music of Venezia

arc art bass bowed string instrument

Buongiorno, Good day! Welcome back to our tour of Venice, Italy…today we’re going to learn a bit about the history of Venetian music.

Truly we owe so much to the Italians for our current musical fabric. From wonderful church music to inventing the drama of opera – Italians love music. When I attended Belmont University (Nashville) and studied voice and piano most of my vocabulary works became Italian phrases – the word tempo itself is Italian for time.

These musical foundations and innovations paved the way…Venice is nicknamed “The Republic of Music”

  • Fun fact: An Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori, a music maker created the first piano…The piano is on view at The Met in NYC today!

As a music lover I was humbled as I walked the streets of Venice in the same steps greats like Vivaldi and Monteverdi took. I thought it would be fun to share a bit about The Music of Venezia.

  • Rich musical history goes back to the Middle Ages when the Republic of Venice worked develop church music. With their location on The Adriatic Sea and strong trading empire, Venice’s musical evolution was inspired by influences from Central and Northern Europe, North Africa to the Middle East.
  • Music was so important to the civilization of Venice that in addition to their own talented population, The Republic actively recruited talented performers of great skill through their diplomatic and trading networks.
  • We visited St. Mark’s earlier in our tour and you can imagine this Basilica is ideal for heavenly music. Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli wrote antiphonal compositions of brass music derived specifically for the acoustics of St. Mark’s including Sacrae Symphoniae(1597) and Conzoni(1608) – how cool is that?
    • Claudio Monteverdi also wrote specific works for St. Mark’s including – Vespro della Beata Vergine)

The stronghold of Opera:

  • Opera emerged in the late 1590s in Florence Italy, but Venice became its guardian at Claudio Monteverdi moved to Venice in 1613 from his hometown of Mantua. Monteverdi was recruited to rejuventate the musical life of Venice…and that he did. With Monteverdi, Venice quickly became a capital of Opera. Click here for a list of Monteverdi’s operas.
  • The first public opera house was opened in the 1630s (Teatro Tron) followed by The Teatro di SS. Gionvanni e Paolo in 1641.
  • The Opera Season corresponded with Carnevale.
  • In the weeks leading up to Lent, many in Europe and abroad would come to Venice to celebrate in the Carnevale celebrations so it made sense to showcase the Opera Season then.
  • The La Fenice Opera House opened in 1774 is still open today and providing world class shows. It’s name ‘la fenice =phoenix’ is an homage to the fact that it has risen above the ashes – surviving three fires. The last fire destroyed the house in 1996, but it reopened in 2003.
    • Many of the world’s most famouse operas debuted here including works by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi
    • Find your tickets and learn more about The La Fenice here

Vivaldi – The Master of Venice

  • Antonio Vivaldi is one of the most important classical composers in history. His Four Seasons is often heard in films, ads and is routinely performed by orchestras to this day.
  • Vivaldi was a native son of Venice, who specialized in the violin.
  • He joined the priesthood where he became a music director at one of the orphanages in Venice – Ospedale della Pieti.
    • At the time, given plague and other factors – there was a need for orphanages and a path to support and ensure these orphans had a future. Venice used four hospitals as orphanages where young children were taught a useful trade. One of these trades was music – Vivaldi worked with young girls to at the Ospedale della Pieti from 1703-1715 and 1723 to 1740
  • Due to his role as a cleric and red hair, Vivaldi is nicknamed ‘The Red Priest’
  • He wrote more than forty operas as well as sacred choral works
  • His best known work (my favorite classical music piece) is a series of violin concertos known as ‘The Four Seasons.’
  • After meeting the Emperor Charles VI, Vivaldi moved to Vienna, hoping for a preferment at the Royal Court. Unfortunately the Emperor died soon after Vivaldi’s arrival and sadly Vivaldi died less than a year later in poverty…still his music plays on.

Listen to his masterpiece here.

Until next time…Arrivederci

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