History and Architecture
The architectural exuberance of Venice defines an urban context in which human events, which also constitute the long narrative thread of its formation, succumb to the immediacy of the visual factor. It happens, therefore, that the mechanism built to give shape to the drives of human consciousness and desire ends up absorbing and canceling even the reason from which it originates.
The agile booklet Nell’isola della musica provides an important contribution to the reconstruction of the complex system that constitutes Venice as a civilization. Passeggiate musicali veneziane by the composer Marco Giommoni are accompanied by the beautiful photographic support of Maria Novella Papafava dei Carraresi. It is a guide in which places, characters and events propose a dialogue relating to the city and music with their appropriate historical location.
It is then possible to give substance to the relationship between Palazzo Corner and Antonio Vivaldi, between the Church of San Geremia and Andrea Gabrieli or to enter Palazzo Surian-Bellotto where the world premieres of works by Vivaldi and Albinoni were staged. Jean Jacques Rousseau lived in the palace and “became definitively convinced of the superiority of Italian music over any other music”, which may be irrelevant for the purposes of some musical qualification but is important with respect to the role of Venice in the history of music.
The publication is organized around four itineraries, to which a fifth dedicated to the islands is added, and is embellished with eighteen Excursus, cards that address specific themes such as “The courtesans in Venice”, the protagonists of Venetian music such as Antonio Vivaldi, Baldassarre Galluppi, Claudio Monteverdi, or “Mozart in Don Giovanni’s house” and the challenging topic of the birth of polyphony in Venice. Walks through Venice thus become encounters with the art of luthiers, with Elvira Malibran, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Legrenzi, with Monsignor Lorenzo Perosi, allowing you to rediscover the soul of the city.
By following the various routes indicated, you live with the suggestion of the many lives that have determined the city’s destiny – you can enter Ca’ Vendramin Calergi looking beyond the roulette or baccarat tables or the croupiers’ uniforms to hear the music of the great Wagner, who lived here and in Palazzo Badoer-Tiepolo, which today is the Hotel Europa.
There is no shortage of anecdotes that talk about Venice beyond its physicality, such as this one featuring Cecilia Zeno Tron. On the occasion of a show at the San Beneto Theater, the noblewoman rented the stage to the Grand Duke of Russia Paolo Petrovic, son of Catherine II and his wife Maria Teodorovna for an exorbitant sum. The matter became the subject of popular satire which underlined the event with the well-known biting and persuasive style:
Brava la Trona / La vende el palco / Più caro de la mona”, to which the woman replied without losing heart, “La Trona / la mona / la dona.
Places and characters emerge from the shadows of the hasty tourist ritual to re-enter the vital relationship between music and the city. Ca’ d’Oro appears in the ambient light of Amilcare Ponchielli’s Gioconda, the Scuola Grande della Misericordia offers suggestions of the librettist Gian Francesco Busenello, the author of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea and Francesco Cavalli’s Dido.
Cities are history and metaphor, image and narration, they are testimony, evocation and proposal. And in any case they are a fact of history, especially for a reality like the Italian one which has the privilege – a genuine profit of position – of having them. Because the categories of identity that have long gestation and lifetimes are revelations of potential and conditions; they possess social bonds, the possibility of conscious placement in a system of relationships where convergent and divergent thinking can coexist and be a project. Venice is a civilization, a conception of the world, and it is highly appropriate to reconstruct its synapses, to make visible the relationship between artefact and meaning, between places and characters, and finally, between reason and existence. In the echo of what Braudel says about Rome, we should get closer to Venice to imbue the world with its survival, to give visibility to its cultural value by entering into the reasons that are at the basis of its extraordinary architectural morphologies.
Theatres, Music and the Grimani Family
It is said that the servants of the Grimani family had to be able to play at least one instrument and this was to be of comfort in a moment of need. In the appendices to the detailed and precious descriptions by Francesco Sansovino in his Venetia città nobilissima et singolare of 1663, Giustiniano Martinioni recalls that “four top main Theaters” operated in Venice in the seventeenth century. One of them was located near the Fondamente nove and was called “di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, for being close to it”. It was owned by Giovanni Grimani who had it rebuilt “entirely in stone” on his land, “showing also in this the generosity of spirit which was always in his Maggiori and which is his own”. La Delia ovvero la Sera Sposa del Sole was performed at the theatre, a libretto by Giulio Strozzi, a member of the Accademia degli Incogniti, and set to music by Francesco Manelli. Claudio Monteverdi composed several works for the theater, including Le nozze di Enea con Lavinia (1641), L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642) and, probably, also Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria (1640); Francesco Cavalli presented Ciro (1654), Statira (1655), Xerse (1655), and Artemisia (1656).
The Grimani family also owned a theater in S. Samuele.
The music, we read in the text, was always exquisite, choosing from among the best voices of the city, also bringing them from Rome, Germany, and other places – especially women, who with the beauty of their faces, with the richness of their clothing, with the charm of song and the actions of the characters they represented brought amazement and wonder.
Music, then, is a part of theater, and in doing so it establishes references not only of life itself, but in life, as a part of collective coexistence. And this is what happens for the arts in general and for knowledge, which creates some legitimate doubts about the centrality of work.
The Church of San Marco and Polyphony
The city is like life, that is, it is all the names given to existence, otherwise an indefinable category if not as pure emptiness, it is the place where space and time acquire a physiognomy, a profile, become a fact of consciousness, a proposal.
Sansovino recalls that in Venice there were music studios such as that “of the knight Sanuto son of Gian Francesco in San Giovanni Decollato”, and of “Catarin Zeno in which there is an organ which belonged to Matthias king of Hungary”, specifying, furthermore “so harmonious and perfect and of such value, that his parents made a condition in their wills that it was never to leave that family”; the study of Luigi Balbi Causidico in Santa Maria Zebenigo, by Agostino Amadi, in which there are a very large number of instruments not only in the modern style, but in the Greek and ancient styles, and others, adds Sansovino, “it being a very clear and true thing that Music has its own seat in this city.
The list of composers is very long and reaches the present day without interruption. And it is vital to feel the Venetian places placed in the history of man expressed by music, such as the Church of San Marco, where polyphony was born.
It was precisely thanks to the support provided by the instruments to the voices and the precise and careful spatial distribution of the sound groupings inside the Basilica of San Marco that it was possible on the one hand to compensate for the intonation difficulties of this complex polyphony and on the other to make the words clearly intelligible: it was thus possible to arrive at solutions of particular effect and grandeur.
It is the origin of that “playing together” which “incredibly finds its roots precisely in the Marciana Polyphonic School.”
(Marco Giommoni, Nell’isola della musica. Passeggiate musicali veneziane, photographs by Maria Novella Papafava dei Carraresi, Diastema editrice, Treviso, 2022, pp. 184, Euro 25.00)
Article published by Nexus magazine, which ytali.com thanks for allowing its reproduction.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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