“For the hour it took the baby’s wails to run their course through misery to fury to exhaustion, no one though of anything but how God had favored Venice above all other cities. The radiance of the Blessed Virgin and all the saints emanated from one spot, the balcony over the altar of the chapel of the Pietà. From there, benediction flowed over the black-cloaked nobles seated on the scarred wooden benches to the ragged workers crammed in at the rear. It filtered out the door to the people spilling onto the walkway of the Riva degli Schiavoni, and to those straining to hear on small boats bobbing in the Venetian Lagoon.
For that hour, heaven opened and God spoke. Two dozen women in red and white dresses were his messengers. No counterpoint, however frantic or interlocked, was beyond the skill of the musicians of the Pietà, hidden behind an iron grille draped in black gauze. No subtlety of harmony was overlooked, no languid musical line ever rushed. If music were fabric, that of the figlie di coro would be brocade, lace, gossamer.”
This is a story set in the age of Venice when music and art were everywhere. Two sisters, Maddalena and Chiaretta, are abandoned by their mother to the Pietà, one of four orphanages for girls in Venice. The pair are raised behind closed doors, with Maddalena as a violin prodigy and Chiaretta as an astounding singer. However, beyond the music, the sisters are as different as black and white. Chiaretta is beautiful, outgoing, and longs to find a life outside the walls of the Pietà where she’ll be admired and surrounded by finery. Maddalena is introspective, a great lover of losing herself in music, and lives only to play her violin and be with her sister. When the red priest , Vivaldi, becomes one of the instructors, he and Maddalena form an instantaneous attachment to each other through the music, and though their relationship cannot proceed beyond anything else, they begin to form a bond that will last until death. Chiaretta works to become the premier vocalist of the Pietà, to protect her sister, and to find happiness wherever she can.
It’s hard to tell if this is a story about Maddalena, Chiaretta, Vivaldi, or the music itself. The entire novel is written like a musical number – points and counterpoints, the stories of the sisters’ stories playing off of each other and intermingling with that of Vivaldi’s as he becomes inspired and works on his greatest compositions in “The Four Seasons.” We are allowed to see events unfold from both the point of view of Chiaretta, and of Maddalena. Each one faces her hopes, her goals, her reality, her love for someone else, and overall the necessity for music in their life.
The gorgeous thing about this story is that you need not know a single thing about music in order to feel the melody of this story. You can sense the great love of music, and impossibly beautiful music at that, which each of the characters holds within them. Whether they are heartbroken or uplifted, the music is always there alongside them – bringing them closer to each other or to God. This novel is as much a testament to the pristine power of the written note as it is to the written word.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. I appreciated that it was more than a story of two orphaned sisters growing up, and more than a love story. It was more than a book about the composition of a great piece of music and more than a forbidden romance. The combination of all these put so flawlessly together was an impressive work itself, and I highly recommend this novel.
“The Four Seasons” was written by Laurel Corona and published in 2008.