Vivaldi's Virgins

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-01-01
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Pairing the seductive appeal of a legendary composer with the coming of age of a violin prodigy, Quick's enthralling novel recreates Vivaldi's Venice at the height of its splendor and decadence.


Vivaldi's Virgins
A Novel

Chapter One

Anno Domini 1709

Dearest Mother,

Since I was first taught to dip a quill and pen my ABCs, I have imagined writing to you. I have written many such letters in my mind, and you have read them. They made you weep. With the power of exquisite music exquisitely performed, they called you back to this place to claim me.

Have I ever been in your thoughts, as you have been in mine? Would my eyes remind you of the infant I was when last you saw me?

When I happen on my reflection in a dark window, I am sometimes startled to see a young woman's face looking back at me. How much more surprised would you be to see the transformation wrought by Time?

Here, within these stone walls where you left me, I have grown like those plants that are cultivated indoors, with shallow roots and always turning toward whatever sunshine can be stolen from the day outside.

I have heard that children often resemble their parents. I have looked at my long-fingered hands and wondered, are they like your hands? Is my profile like yours? Do you have fair hair that seems not to belong with your dark eyes? Is there also a hunger inside them?

Until this morning, I had no hope that any letter of mine could ever reach you—nor any assurance beyond the promptings of my own imagination that you even lived.

Today all of that has changed.

Who you are, where you are—both are as much matters of darkness to me as before. But I pray to the Holy Virgin, even though I have never seen her. I play my violin for God, even though I cannot know if He has ever listened. Why can I not then write to you? Sister Laura has never, as far as I know, lied to me before. And today Sister Laura told me to write to you.

But I must explain.

On this one day a year, the figlie di coro—the daughters of the choir, as both the singers and instrumentalists are called—are allowed to visit whatever blood relations on the outside are willing to welcome them. Girls look forward to it, plan for it, dream about it, and then spend the rest of the year hoarding every detail of it, like squirrels with their treasure of nuts, until the next year's visit comes around.

Last year on this day, while servants beat rugs and shook out draperies, I sat beneath the arch of my favorite window, near the rooms occupied by the privilegiate of the coro. The window affords a splendid view, through the iron grating, of all the life that moves upon the water below. I sat on the little bench there, in the silvery storm of dust that danced in the light, my arms wrapped around my violin. I heard and then watched Maestro Vivaldi climb the stairs.

He has been my teacher—and one of the very few men who has ever seen my face or spoken to me—for nearly half my lifetime. I was only a girl of eight when, newly ordained as a priest, Antonio Vivaldi, native son of Venezia, was hired by the governors of the Pietà to be our master of the violin.

I can remember the day when Sister Laura brought me before him. Don Antonio sat in the sacristy unwigged, his hair as red as the branding irons they would use to mark the infants when they were left here—just like the one that marks me on my foot, a small, ornate letter P to designate a foundling enrolled at the Pietà.

"What's this?" Don Antonio asked. Looking up from the papers and quills that lay in disorder on his writing desk, he protested that he was hired to teach the advanced students, not the piccoli.

Sister Laura pushed me forward, even though, with all my heart, I longed to turn away and run. The color of his hair frightened me—it put me in mind of the flames of Hell. And the impatience in his voice bespoke a man who had no love of children.

But Sister Laura urged him to hear me play.

When I was done, he took the instrument from me and examined my hands, turning them over in his. He tipped my face up so that he could peer into my eyes, and it was then that I could see the happiness my playing had given him. He asked me my name.

"They call me Anna Maria dal Violin," I told him.

Sister Laura explained to Don Vivaldi that none of the foundlings is allowed to know her surname, if she has one. Many of the babies brought to the Pietà are sent out to the country after they are enrolled, to be nursed and raised by a foster mother until they return, at the age of ten, to complete their education. But I was one of those suckled by a wet nurse here (we still had wet nurses, nenne, then, who lived on the premises). My musical training was begun as soon as I was able to hold a violin.

I hoped she'd explain further, for my benefit as well as his. But she only stood there beside me, with one of her hands resting on my shoulder. That hand was trembling. Sister Laura was my teacher until Maestro Vivaldi came to the Pietà.

"Anna Maria dal Violin," said this red-headed priest. "You will be one of our fourteen iniziate, an apprentice musician in the coro. Work hard!" He turned back to his papers then, dismissing us with a wave of his hand.

I felt myself fill with happiness like the water that fills the empty bucket when it is dropped into the well. Sister Laura told me that she had never heard of an eight-year-old being made an iniziata. It would mean classes and rehearsals with the girls and women of the coro, under the direction of Maestro Vivaldi.

Vivaldi's Virgins
A Novel
. Copyright © by Barbara Quick. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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