The orphanage, called the "Pieta," was founded in 1492 by a poor friar as a home for abandoned babies. Young children were typically raised by older girls already at the center, and while the boys were taught a specific trade and ousted at the age of 15, the girls were trained as musicians if they had the ability. If not, they were taught a different trade, such as reading or sewing.
The most talented of the girls stayed on and became members of the hospitals renown orchestra and choir. Vivaldi worked at the hospital from 1703-1715, when he was voted off the faculty. He was voted back in 1723, and remained until 1740, composing some of his most famous works during that time.
However, after just a year of being a priest, Vivaldi requested a dispensation form celebrating Mass due to his poor health. From birth he had been afflicted with a serious, unknown, health condition thought to be a form of asthma.
All that is known about the mysterious illness comes from the letter Vivaldi wrote asking for the dispensation, in which he referred to it as a "tightness of the chest."
According to White, "it would have been very hard for Vivaldi to give up saying Mass. It would have been his own decision, a decision of nobody but himself, and he also gave up a good salary."
She pointed to rumors alleging that he had been kicked out of the priesthood or even excommunicated, saying they "are so ignorant and so stupid," because if one actually looks to the facts, the rumors are "not proven."
She also addressed rumors that Vivaldi had abused the choir girls as the reason he was kicked off the Pieta faculty in 1715. These rumors, she said, "not only are they not true, they're impossible."
Not only would Vivaldi have never been welcomed back in 1723, but many of the girls who remained in the orchestra stayed until they were 70 or even 80 years old. The hospital was also overseen by several governors, so had there been abuse, Vivaldi would have been kicked out right away, "so that doesn't add up," White said.
People often make assumptions about the past or judge by their opinions, telling others that "'it must be like this' or 'so and so said that,'" White said, adding that when this happens "you go from bad to worse."
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But when she first started digging into her research on Vivaldi and putting the information into context, "then everything made sense," she said, because "research is a matter of fact, it's not a matter of opinion, and it's not a matter of ideas, it's fact."
She insisted that his priesthood was likely an essential element of his music. Even after stepping down from his liturgical duties, Vivaldi never stopped being a priest, White said. "Once a priest always a priest."
"He was ordained, he was a priest his whole life (and) his spirituality comes out in his music, all you have to do is listen and you'll hear it."
Although in poor health, Vivaldi made great strides in his musical career. He continued to write a variety of compositions, and received many commissions from all over Italy and Europe, for which he traveled frequently.
During one jaunt in 1722, Vivaldi moved to Rome, where he was invited to play for Pope Benedict XIII before moving back to Venice in 1725.
The various pieces he wrote throughout his career include several different types of concertos – from violin to orchestra – arias, sonatas, operas and sacred music.