Saturday, November 03, 2007

ket del Clarinet

Title: Vivaldi's Virgins
By Barbara Quick

Anna Maria del Violin is an orphan being raised in the Pieta orphanage in Venice. Also there? Vivaldi, as the resident priest and music director. The girls who display some sort of talent are trained as musicians, and perform music Vivaldi composes for them, while the others perform manual labor tasks until they become adults.

Anna Maria, unlike some of the other students, doesn't know who her parents were. Many of her friends know that they are the product of a scandalous affair, or the daughter of a famous courtesan, but she knows nothing, and spends most of her youth trying to learn where she comes from.

Along the way, she performs as part of the coro, and is the most talented violinist they've had for quite some time. She receives strange gifts from the Jewess seamstress that hint at her past; she's kindof headstrong, and ends up in the 1700's Venice version of solitary confinement often, where the nuns encourage her to write letters to her mother.

Vivaldi is a major player in all their lives; he and Anna Maria have a close relationship, and he composes many works to have solos just for her (even writing "for Anna Maria" on the top of the score). He would do just about anything to further his music, and gets himself, Anna Maria, and a few of the other girls into trouble while acquiesing to the King of the Netherlands' wish to take them all to a masque.

Among her friends, though she has a temper, Anna Maria is the innocent. Claudia comes as a paying student from England, and she teaches the girls to masturbate as a way of understanding the passion Vivaldi wants from them while playing. Marietta sets up an assignation on a special field trip, and ends up pregnant, resulting in a hasty marriage to the son of a wealthy citizen (who wasn't her lover on the island, but he wants her, and she wants all he can offer her and her singing career, so they lie tothe nuns and get married).

Anna Maria found her true love while at the masque with the king - Franz - but he followed his family's orders and married the woman of their choosing, but for decades visited Anna Maria every year.

Silvio, was another student at the orphanage, and he and Anna Maria were close friends until she went to study music and he was sent away because only female students are kept after about age 9. Silvio went to live with Rebekkah, the aforementioned Jewess seamstress, and helps Anna Maria search for her past.

Eventually, it is revealed that Silvio is actually the son of Rebekkah's deceased sister, who used to be a student of the former maestro at the Pieta, and then he learns that the former maestro is his father. Anna Maria realizes that he has everything going against him - the son of a priest, half Jewish, and a "sodomite". However, he becomes a successful businessman in the end, and always friends with Anna.

One of the reasons for the continued friendship? Anna Maria learns her parentage. One of her favorite nuns, Sister Laura, died while Anna was in her late teens. After her death, a letter was given to Anna - Laura was her mother. She had been another student, a talented violinist, though not as talented as Anna Maria, and she too had had an affair with the former maestro, making Anna and Silvio half siblings. After Anna's birth, she became a nun so she could look after her. And to reinforce how small a community Venice was at this time, Laura was the older sister of the man Marietta married, so Marietta is now Anna Maria's aunt.

Anna Maria received several proposals as a young woman, but declined them all because of her love for Franz, deciding instead to stay at the Pieta as a member of the coro and teacher.

Many of the characters in the book were actual historical personnages; several other story-lines were based on actual happenings. Anna Maria lived, though all that's known about her childhood was that she was very talented but didn't progress through the ranks of the coro anywhere near the pace her talent would demand, leading to specualtion that she had disciplinary problems.

The book is incredibly interesting, jumping between Anna's letters to her mother and "real time" - and is a highly detailed illustration of Venitian life at its' peak.

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posted by ket at 10:52 AM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

Wait...all those scandals and interesting people passing through, and Anna Maria doesn't find her true love?! It must be a serious book.

Did Vivaldi actually write For Anna Maria atop many of his works?

11/03/2007 6:36 PM  
Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review--although I do wish you hadn't given away quite so much of the plot! Readers who want to know more about the history of the real Anna Maria and her world--and to download a free podcast of music to accompany their reading--can go to my website at

11/15/2007 12:06 PM  

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