Vivaldi, Venice, 1715, a sonata at the Pieta: in the first few bars, first Pelegrina comes in with the Oboe, then Prudenza and then Lucieta, they are all stars

In picture of the “Partenza del Bucintoro” by Antonio Stom, the Pietà of Venice is perfectly shown,
which is the large red building in the centre of the painting. The main door is that of the
church. Beside the Pietà to the left is a row of shops, among which is a chemist, a hat shop, a pork butcher, and a dry cleaner. This is the scene that Vivaldi was familiar with in his lifetime

26 mai 2013(ANTONIO STOM ; La partenza del Bucintoro; post 1729?; olio su tela, 132×265 cm)

What was the Pietà?

It was an institution for unwanted and abandoned children. Known as “Ospedale della Pietà”. “Ospedale” in this sense is Hospice, and not “Hospital”. In Venice at the time of  Vivaldi were four main “Ospedali”:

– the Mendicanti, being the biggest which was for the poor, war wounded, the homeless, and the nobility who had fallen on hard times,

– the “Ospedaletto” for orphans,

– the “Incurabile” for those with incurable diseases

– the Pietà.

Babies would be put in a niche in the wall called the “Scaffetta” by the mother,  relative, parish priest who had found a baby left on the roadside. The child was sent either into the country or in Venice, to be brought up by the whet nurses that the Pietà employed, and then returned to Venice after several years, to start life at the Pietà.

The boys were separated from the girls, and then left at the age of 16, having been trained in skills such as stone–cutting, cotton–beating and weaving, in preparation for a job in later life.

The women had three options, to become nuns, but few entered into convents,  marriage, or to live at the Pietà all their lives. The majority, stayed.

They were well looked after, had food and a roof over their heads, but they were put to work.

Inside the Institution, the woman were in two categories:

– the musicians, known as the “Figlie di Coro”,

– and the non–musicians, the “Figlie di Comun”, who would do the sewing, embroidery, silk and cotton weaving, and take care of various tasks in the institution, they would then sell the work they produced.

The musicians were the elite of the Pietà. In Vivaldi’s day there were 60 or 70 in the  Coro. They however also worked and earned their living always within the Institution, they had their own separate rooms and apartments. On of the most lucrative sources of revenue, was to have a “Figlia in Educazione”. The Rich and noble families of Venice and Italy would send their daughters to been educated, at the Pietà, and whom ever received these Children had the title of “Una Figlie Priviligiata”. There were only 14 from the Coro, and ten from the Figlie di Comun who were allowed this privilege.

The head of the household was the Priora, who was in charge of everything that happened in the Institution. The next senior posts were the two Maestre di Coro, and then the two “Scrivane”, whose responsibility it was to look after all the babies who entered the Pietà, they over saw the whet nurses, both in house, Venice and in the country, paid their
salaries, and were present in any disputes there might have been with parents. A mother or the family could claim their child back at any time.

The Pietà was overall governed by about thirty noble and wealthy Venetians

The Music Room into the Pieta:

in this room Vivaldi gave his music lessons, the Figlie di Coro practiced, and Concerts were given to visiting nobles and Royalty from Italy and Europe. It would have been in this room where the famous Gloria of Vivaldi would have been first heard in practice form by the neighbours. Before finally been performed as part of the Mass in the Chapel. Th eMusic Room was a very large room, with a fireplace, the roof was that of wooden beams, the walls were plain, and at the far
end were 13 wooden steps, restored later into stone, leading to an upper part where the Figlie performed, behind an iron grille, as they did in Church.

Vivaldi first went to the Pietà as Maestro di Violin in 1703. He had a 38 year association with this Ospedale. He had been ordained to the Priesthood in March of the same year, and was given what is known as a “Mansionaria”, which is the duty of saying a specified number of Masses for the soul of a woman named Lugrezia Molin Memo, who in her will, stated that she left 2500 ducets for Masses to be said at the “Altare Privileggiato” of the Church of the Pietà. For this he was paid 20 ducats every few months

One of Vivaldi’s pupils playing his work for violin:

Anna Maria is the Figlia for whom he wrote 37 violin concertos, and two for Viola d’Amore, she was an
exceptional musician, and already when she was 16 he could see her exceptional talent.

The relationship between Vivaldi and some of Pieta women (specially Pelegrina, oboe player and Prudenza, violinist ), was very special.

there was an energy between them that was electric, they recognised in him a musician and composer
of exceptional quality, and he saw the same in them. But it is his sensitivity that is remarkable, which show in his writing for them. They all had the same beginnings, they were all unwanted and abandoned, which in a situation such as this, made them more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive, and Vivaldi had understood this, and adapted his
music accordingly.

Playing the sonata that Vivaldi writes for Oboe, Violin, Organ and Salmoè (a small reed instrument,resembling a small clarinet):

in the first few bars, first Pelegrina comes in with the Oboe, then Prudenza and then Lucieta, but they are given equal importance and time. This shows also in his Concertos for Molti Strumenti, they are all stars.

Source:

http://www.oxfordgirlschoir.co.uk/events/Micky_White_lecture.pdf

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