Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published: July 3, 2007 by Harper (1st published June 26, 2007)
Setting: 17th Century Venice
Anna Maria was abandoned as an infant at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a foundling home and music school, where she is being raised with the other orphans. Because of her remarkable musical talent, she is spared a life of drudgery and devotes herself to becoming an accomplished violinist. As part of the figlie di coro, “daughters of the choir,” she performs for kings and nobles as well as priests.
The maestro, Antonio Vivaldi, “the Red Priest of Venice,” takes a special interest in Maria and composes music for her to perform. At fourteen, yearning for a rich life and a sense of belonging outside the convent walls, she is determined to learn where she comes from. Who are her parents? Is her mother alive and, if so, why doesn’t she come for her?
Sister Laura, who has taken a special interest in Anna Maria and her music, encourages her to write to her mother, hinting that she might have a way to deliver the letters. Yet the secret of Anna Maria’s birth remains a closed book.
This novel alternates between a epistolary story, as Anna Maria writes to her mother, and her memories and reflections as a 40-year-old woman. The two parallel voices — the intense adolescent Anna Maria, longing for a different life, and the more circumspect lady, who knows who she is and has learned to find joy in small things — work beautifully. And the author couldn’t have chosen a more delicious setting for a historical novel.
I also loved the music woven into the story — Vivaldi is probably my favorite classical composer. This “freakish violinist and eccentric cleric” didn’t enjoy real success until several centuries after his death. Barbara Quick included a discography at the end of the novel, encouraging readers to listen to the music in which she immersed herself while writing Vivaldi’s Virgins.
This is an excellent choice for music lovers and historical fiction aficionados.