Vivaldi's Virgins
  • Vivaldi's Virgins
  • Vivaldi's Virgins

Vivaldi's Virgins

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by Barbara Quick

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Abandoned as an infant, fourteen-year-old Anna Maria Dal Violin is one of the elite musicians living in the foundling home where the "Red Priest," Antonio Vivaldi, is maestro and composer. Fiercely determined to find out where she came from, Anna

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Abandoned as an infant, fourteen-year-old Anna Maria Dal Violin is one of the elite musicians living in the foundling home where the "Red Priest," Antonio Vivaldi, is maestro and composer. Fiercely determined to find out where she came from, Anna Maria embarks on a journey of self-discovery that carries her into a wondrous and haunting world of music and spectacle, bringing eighteenth-century Venice magically to life.

"Quick gives us a vivid sense of both the pleasures and the frustrations of living within [the] cloistered world...of Venice....An accomplished novel."—Chicago Tribune

"Anna Maria's strong spirit shines throughout....Quick creates a hauntingly authentic setting rife with cruel punishments and brief moments of grand rewards."—Publishers Weekly

"An affecting tale...a diverting and entertaining read."—Philadelphia Inquirer


"Quick has chosen a fascinating backdrop. Her novel shimmers with details about music and Venice in the early 1700s, as well as life within the Pietà...A good read."—Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Quick (Northern Edge) takes readers into the cloistered world of the Ospedale della Pietà, a convent orphanage and music school. Narrator Anna Maria dal Violin, an actual violin prodigy and 18th-century resident of the Venetian Pietà, is among the orphanage girls who studies under maestro (and priest) Antonio Vivaldi. Anna Maria's strong spirit shines throughout, whether stealing into the Jewish ghetto to learn about her parents, struggling to master Vivaldi's grueling violin passages or doing penance for her independent nature. Quick creates a hauntingly authentic setting rife with cruel punishments and brief moments of grand rewards. Anna Maria's quest to discover her identity is the centerpiece, though readers may find it less intriguing than the other story lines (among them Vivaldi's relationship with renowned young singer Anna Girò). It's a noble effort that misses a few high notes. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In Venice's crumbling waterways, the Ospedale della Pietà is a foundling orphanage that takes in all children, be they from noble families or homeless. In 1709, Anna Maria dal Violin is the star of the coro,the Pietà's musical ensemble of voices and musicians, which is the jewel of Venice. Her violin master is none other than "Red Priest" Antonio Vivaldi. And while Anna plays with the skill and emotion that makes her a star, her willful independence keeps her status low within the walls of the orphanage as she tries to balance finding the truth, becoming a woman, and being allowed to play the music so much a part of her soul. Quick, who has written for newspapers like the New York Timesand the San Francisco Chronicle, finely details the different aspects and classes of Venetian society, especially delving into the lives of the women of the Pietà. The rich tapestry of Venice unfolds before us so that we can take in all the decadence and excitement of La Serenissima in its last great era. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/15/07.]
—Anna M. Nelson

School Library Journal

Adult/High School
The 18th-century world of Venice and famed composer Antonio Vivaldi come to life in this novel. The story depicts the imagined life of the real Anna Maria dal Violin, an orphan at the Ospedale della Pietà who was his renowned pupil. Through Anna Maria's eyes, Quick introduces readers to the dazzling world of Venetian society, but she does not flinch from portraying the darker side of a city in decline. Anna Maria experiences a life of ambiguity. As an orphan living a cloistered and regimented existence, she wants desperately to uncover the mystery of her mother's true identity. As she blossoms into a young woman and an amazing talent, her private pain drives her to risk all in order to discover who she really is and where she came from. Like Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring (HarperCollins, 1999), this book has great appeal, especially for teenage girls; it also offers much to those readers interested in the composer and his influence on Venetian society in the early 1700s.
—Catherine GilbrideCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Violin virtuoso in Vivaldi's all-girl orchestra observes the intrigue of early-18th-century Venice in Quick's second novel (Northern Edge, 1990). The Ospedale della Pieta is a convent/orphanage/school where the nobility of Venice deposit their illegitimate infants. Particularly talented and fortunate foundlings may become Figlie di coro, musicians or singers with the famed all-female choir of the Pieta. Child prodigy violinist Anna Maria is the latest protegee of Antonio Vivaldi, nicknamed the "Red Priest" for his hair color and fiery temperament. Like many figlie, "Annina" is ignorant about her birth parents, but Sister Laura, her kindly mentor, has instructed her to correspond with an imaginary mother to unburden her heart. Though a Maestro of this august institution, Vivaldi can't suppress his mischievous streak. He encourages young Annina and her friends to sneak out of the cloister to slide on a frozen canal, attend the opera and crash a masked ball (honoring Vivaldi's patron King Frederick of Denmark) where the girls witness a keyboard showdown between handsome Scarlatti (who knew he was a hottie?) and the "Dear Saxon," Handel. At the ball, Annina meets the love of her life, Franz. On a rare school-approved outing to the island of Torcello, Annina helps best friend Marietta keep a date with a lover. When Marietta becomes pregnant, Annina schemes to help her, and in the process causes major problems for herself. Forty-one-year-old Annina relates the events, so her future is known, which diminishes the suspense. Since much of the action takes place during Vivaldi's enforced sabbatical from the Pieta, he is (regrettably) sketchily rendered. Nonetheless, an intriguing glimpse at thedecadence, debauchery and prudery of Baroque-era Venice. Agent: Felicia Eth/Felicia Eth Literary Agency
“Quick has chosen a fascinating backdrop. Her novel shimmers.…This is a good read.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Quick’s descriptions of Anna Maria’s violin playing soar off the page, evoking Vivaldi’s own compositions.”
Houston Chronicle
“A genuine successor to [Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring].”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.09(d)

Read an Excerpt

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. Whycan 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.

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Vivaldi's Virgins 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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dnDN More than 1 year ago
i found this book to be very much like unto a soap opera---i didn't like the faux letter format,which totally interrupted the narrative flow.--2 much time was wasted on the boring characters. i kept waiting for vivaldi to appear.i skimmed the 2nd half of the book-a much better book on the same topic is--the four seasons-- by laurel corona.
Chocolattez More than 1 year ago
Very intersting book - insights in to the time period in Venice - what happened to foundlings,how and where Vivalid lived, who he was - just in time to coincide with his anniversary year and all the hoopla that is planned. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in music and history. Not as much about his life as i would have wished but it does spark one's interest to investigate more serious works about him. I enjoyed the use of the italian words that others found distracting. Higly recommended for a young musician who is involved in concerts etc this year. well written, but not spectacular.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Vivaldi's Virgins is a story of young orphan girls who through their talent of music or chorus are trained by the great Maestro Antino Vivaldi. I am not a history buff or a lover of clasical music and found a lot of the terms of the time beyond my understanding. The Italian language use was made easy for me by the glossary in the back of the book. Once I got pass the lack of understanding to the times I found the story line to be very entertaining. Over all the story is highly recommended based on the characters and what it takes to persevere over all odds. One of those books you would never think to read, since I have, I recommend it to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Love history? Love classical music? You'll love this book. The reader is taken inside the convent-hospital of the Pieta of 18th-century Venice, where abandoned babies are left in hopes they will have a better life. One of these is Anna Maria, who becomes a violin prodigy in the Pieta's famous orchestra/chorus - and a favorite of Antonio Vivaldi, who composes music especially for her. Most of the story centers on Anna Maria's longing to learn her true parentage, and the various means she uses to solve the mystery. This is a beautiful and moving story. My only criticism is Ms.Quick's constant insertion of Italian words into the text when English equivalents would have been just fine. Though some readers may find this evocative of the time and place, I found it a distracting affectation! Otherwise, a fine novel - put on a Vivaldi CD and enjoy!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 18th century Venice, when orphaned Anna Maria dal Violin was very young she displayed talent at playing the violin. Thus she is one of the fortunate selected to practice at Ospedale della Pieta under the tutelage of maestro Vivaldi.---------------- Although she and her female peers are forbidden to leave the orphanage, they sneak out whenever they can to tour the city. Anna Marie especially wants to know more about her parents beyond what she has been told that they are dead. Still in spite of her restrictive life, Anna Marie loves playing the violin, but Sister Laura worries about her soul. She orders Anna Maria to begin writing things down hoping that will cool off the fervor that her charge seems to emit. Anna Maria takes to writing with a passion as she pens notes to her mother staring in 1709 knowing obviously that her dead mom, whomever she is, will never read them.------------- This is an interesting historical drama that focuses on Vivaldi and Venice through Anna Marie who tells the tale in a first hand account or through her letters to her mom. It is the letters that give the credence to the early eighteenth century setting even as the notes show how much the heroine needs her mom, whom she never met. Genre readers will be enthralled by Anna Marie¿s quest to just know who her mom was, but Venetians hide behind masks making her efforts impossible. With a delightful final twisting coda, Barbara Quick provides a superb biographical fiction story as Vivaldi is showcased through the life of a real student of the Four Seasons composer.------------ Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Vivaldi's Virgins is a coming of age story set in 18th century Venice utilizing and transforming a literary form popular during that era. As a violinist, the narrator allows the reader to experience the richness of Vivaldi's music from a perspective unavailable today to modern listeners. Barbara Quick presents a vivid image of 18th century Venice and Vivaldi through the eyes and life of the narrator Anna Maria. An orphan in the cloistered halls of the Ospedale della Pieta, Anna Maria dal Violin has been handpicked at an early age to join the elite musical group within the foundling home and be taught by the maestro Vivaldi. Although cloistered within the Pieta, the reader learns of Venice through those who come to visit the Pieta and through the tours and secret escapes of the curious girls. Barbara Quick's novel removes the masks so carefully worn by the upper strata of Venice society. Vivaldi is seen through the eyes of his students and musicians. Vivaldi's Virgin's is a combination of first person narrative in which Anna Maria tells her life story and an epistolary novel 'a novel told through letters', a genre emerging in popularity during the 18th century. As a disciplinary measure, Sister Laura instructs Anna Maria to write to calm Anna Maria's growing passion. She writes letters to her unknown mother never knowing whether they will be read nor by whom. Anna Maria lies hidden and almost invisible, living behind a grille from the public. Barbara Quick's novel removes the grille and allows the reader to peer inside the life of this 18th century woman who cries out for her mother and makes Vivaldi's genius heard by his public. Anna Maria dal Violin is the body and the violin through which Vivaldi's music is heard. Images of the voice of the violin and the voice of a child's body maturing merge with the search for her mother and her prayers to the Virgin Mother. A special plot twist at the end will delight all readers. This novel will appeal to a wide range of readers: those craving something of literary beauty, Vivaldi and classical music lovers, women wanting to experience history through the eyes of the women who lived it but for whom history rarely relates their story, and anyone wanting to peek into the lesser known history of Venice or music.
Alexandra_von_Wrede More than 1 year ago
Unusual subject matter. Very well written, sometimes amusing. Too short!

Wish this author was more prolific. This is a highly entertaining book.