The musical orphanages of Venice, known as the ospedali, are famous the world over for the celebrated virtuoso female musicians who lived and were trained there. A modern listener of classical music, but also anyone who has even been put on hold on the telephone, is familiar with Vivaldi’s “4 Seasons”, and tourists in Venice are seductively lured to concerts where pretty girls in 18th-century costumes play the piece in imitation of the pute or young women of the Ospedale della Pietà for whom it was written. Yet already in the 17th century, the women musicians of other Venetian Ospedali were renowned, as this quote by a Russian traveler in 1698 attests:
“In Venice there are convents where the women play the organ and other instruments, and sing so wonderfully that nowhere else in the world could one find such sweet and harmonious song. Therefore, people come to Venice from all parts of the world to refresh themselves with these angelic songs, above all those of the Covent of the Incurabili.”
Note that it is the Incurabili whose praises are being sung here, and at a time when Vivaldi had not even begun his employment at the Pietà.Our program sheds light on an earlier and less familiar period of female music-making in Venice. It presents a Vespers service by Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, one of the finest Venetian musicians of his day, who was employed at various churches including the Basilica of St. Mark’s, and served also as maestro di cappella for the Patriarch of Venice. In 1648, he reprinted his collection of Messa e salmi a Tre Voci, con due Violini, & Quattro Parti di Ripieno à beneplacito, and that same year he died in office, at the untimely age of 35. He was buried in the church of the Incurabili and his tomb bears the inscription: “Musicus eximius docuit cantare puellas” (Esteemed musician who taught the girls to sing).