Daughters of the Chorus
March 3, 2015 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Unwanted babies had perhaps the best opportunities of all. If carefully placed in a basket in the portico of the Ospedale della Pietà on the Riva degli Schiavoni, they would be taken in, fed, clothed and educated ‘at enormous expense both public and private’. ‘Their prioress is appointed by the Doge himself,’ wrote the Venetian historiographer Francesco Sansovino in 1581. More than this, they would also learn singing or a musical instrument..."
Venice's Ospedale della Pietà was one of the 18th century's greatest centers of musical instruction and development, and the foundling girls who lived there were counted among the finest musicians of the age. Antonio Vivaldi taught and conducted at the Pietà for 36 years, and the vast majority of his work was written expressly for performance there. The documentary Vivaldi's Women follows a modern attempt to understand and recreate the original context of that music—with women playing every instrument and singing every part, from soprano to bass.

The Figlie di Choro produced composers of their own, Anna Bon among them. Her recorded works can be found on YouTube.
posted by Iridic (7 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
‘Their prioress is appointed by the Doge himself’



posted by Juliet Banana at 1:15 PM on March 3, 2015 [38 favorites]

The part about women singing bass rings true to me. I used to be involved with an amateur women's choir. To accommodate their actual vocal ranges, we were constantly having to buy music arranged for Soprano Alto Tenor, and even then sometimes having to transpose downward. A couple of the women with lower voices said they weren't used to being accommodated in that way, that previous choir directors had told them if they couldn't sing the full designated range for altos, there was not a place for them in choir.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:33 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by ocherdraco at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2015

My family has some background in Barbershop quartets where women sing bass so it isn't that weird a concept... But I guess I can see how someone who only knew classical might be confused.
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 3:03 PM on March 3, 2015

Fascinating—I'd heard of the Ospedale but had no real idea how it worked. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 3:23 PM on March 3, 2015

Maybe this is why Indiana is gearing up to legalize "baby boxes" in our fair state.
posted by ffmike at 3:30 PM on March 3, 2015

Very interesting!

Thank you especially for linking Anna Bon; I am finding her music delightful.
posted by mountmccabe at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2015

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