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2.110306 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - VENICE: A Musical Visit to the Lagoons and Islands of Venice (NTSC)

A Musical Visit to the Lagoons and Islands of Venice, Italy
With music by Antonio Vivaldi




The lagoons of Venice are those expanses of water sheltered from the open sea by sandbanks and by the longer island of the Lido, the beach resort of the city. The lagoons are divided into Laguna Viva and Laguna Morta, alive and dead, the latter only under water with the high tides of spring. Among the islands of the lagoon is the cemetery island of San Michele. Here is found the earliest Renaissance church of Venice, dating from the 15th century. The cemetery itself is a temporary resting place for many, their bones later disposed of elsewhere. More permanent graves include those of the great Russian impresario Sergey Dyagilev and the composer Igor Stravinsky, with the American poet Ezra Pound.

Music Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 1 in D major – I. Allegro • II. Largo e spiccato • III. Allegro

Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678, studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time he won a reputation for himself as a violinist of phenomenal ability and was appointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Pietà, a charitable institution, established for the education of orphan, indigent or illegitimate girls and boasting a particularly fine musical tradition. Vivaldi’s association with the Pietà continued intermittently throughout his life, from 1723 under a contract that provided for the composition of two new concertos every month. At the same time he enjoyed a connection with the theatre, as the composer of some fifty operas, director and manager. He finally left Venice in 1741, travelling to Vienna, where there seemed some possibility of furthering his career under imperial patronage. He died there a few weeks after his arrival in the city, in relative poverty.

The set of twelve concertos known as L’Estro Armonico, which may be loosely translated as Harmonic Inspiration, was first published in Amsterdam in 1711 and proved immensely influential. The concertos are variously scored. Concerto No. 1 has four solo violins, solo cello, string orchestra and harpsichord. It is in the usual three movements, an opening Allegro, with interplay between the solo instruments, a B minor slow movement in which two solo violins predominate and a final Allegro in 9/8, in which all join.


Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta • Torcello • Church of Santa Fosca

At one time a refuge for the people of Altinum against Lombard attack, Torcello later lost its importance, as Venice prospered and malaria affected the health of the inhabitants. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta has its origin with the early settlers and was founded in 639 and rebuilt in the 9th and again in the 11th centuries. Above the apse is a mosaic of the Madonna and Child and on the west wall a vast mosaic of the Last Judgement, dating from the 12th and early 13th centuries, but subjected to later restoration. It shows the Crucifixion, with the Harrowing of Hell below and finally Christ in Judgement. The Church of Santa Fosca was built in the early 12th century and is seemingly octagonal in plan, with a tiled conical roof.

Music Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 2 in G minor – I. Adagio e spiccato – Allegro • II. Larghetto • III. Allegro

Visitors to Venice had borne witness to Vivaldi’s prowess as a violinist, although some found his performance more remarkable than pleasurable. He certainly explored the full possibilities of the instrument, while perfecting the newly developing form of the Italian solo concerto. He left nearly five hundred concertos. Many of these were for the violin, but there were others for a variety of solo instruments or for groups of instruments. He claimed to be able to compose a new work quicker than a copyist could write it out, and he clearly coupled immense facility with a remarkable capacity for variety within the confines of the three-movement form, with its faster outer movements framing a central slow movement. Concerto No. 2 of L’Estro Armonico has two solo violins and a solo cello, with string orchestra and basso continuo. There is a slow introduction to the first movement, followed by an Allegro in which passages for the solo instruments alternate with the full orchestra. The slow movement brings dynamic contrasts and the concerto ends with an Allegro in the gigue rhythm of 9/8.


Lagoons and Torcello

Many of the smaller islands in the lagoon are now deserted. Channels for boats are clearly marked by piles, and there is still a livelihood to be had by fishermen. The way to Torcello would take a boat past the island of San Francesco del Deserto, with its cypress trees, the home of Franciscan friars, who recall the period that the saint himself spent there.

Music Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 4 in E minor – I. Andante – Allegro assai • II. Adagio • III. Allegro

Concerto No. 4 is for four violins, two violas, cello and basso continuo. Dotted rhythms prevail in the opening Andante, leading to an Allegro with contrasts of instrumental groupings. The second movement serves as a very short, slow introduction to the final Allegro.



The island of Burano is a fishing village, with local shops, canals and, in particular, the lace for which Burano is famous. The main street is named after the composer Galuppi, who was born on the island and is widely remembered among English-speaking peoples for a poem devoted to him by Robert Browning. The Church of San Martino is at the head of the street.

Music Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 7 in F major – I. Andante – Adagio • II. Allegro – Adagio • III. Allegro

Concerto No. 7 is scored for four solo violins, solo cello, strings and basso continuo. The first movement continues with a final Adagio, which leads directly to a lively Allegro, opened by the first and second solo violins. A final brief Adagio passage is followed by the entry of the first two soloists, with the solo cello, in the final Allegro.



Since the late 13th century the island of Murano has been at the heart of the Venetian glass-making industry, still continuing a technique of crystal glass-making first discovered in Venice. Venetian glass is known for its delicacy, its lightness and its bright colours. The original siting of the workshops came about as the result of attempts by the authorities in Venice to isolate the city itself from potential danger of fire.

Music Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 8 in A minor – I. Allegro • II. Larghetto e spiritoso • III. Allegro

Concerto No. 8 is described in its title as a Concerto Grosso. It has a small solo group of two violins, with basso continuo, which is duly deployed in contrast with the full orchestra. All join together in the opening of the second, D minor slow movement, before the deployment of the two solo violins, and there is a similar contrast of texture in the final Allegro.


Lagoons and Torcello

From the lagoons the outline of the city of Venice can be seen. There is a glimpse of the Arsenale, founded in 1104 and enlarged in later centuries. It has a great gateway, built in the 15th century, and at one time employed some 16,000 workmen, when Venice was an important maritime power. Other discernible buildings include the great Campanile in the square in front of the Basilica of San Marco and the island of San Giorgio Maggiore opposite, with its great Palladian church.

Music Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 10 in B minor – I. Allegro • II. Largo – Larghetto • III. Allegro

Concerto No. 10, again with the title Concerto Grosso, makes use of various groupings of four violins, two violas, cello and basso continuo of harpsichord and bass. In the second movement the dotted rhythms of the opening leads to a Larghetto with varied simultaneous arpeggio figuration for the four violins. This is followed by a brief link to the final Allegro.

Keith Anderson

Recording Capella Istropolitana conducted by Jozef Kopelman [Naxos 8.550160]

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