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Distant Bells Sat Apr 25


Saint Ignatius Catholic Church | 740 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Hear a 22-year-old Handel composing in a fiery Italian style during his sojourn among the campanili of Rome, and Vivaldi's most beloved choral work, written in the shadow of the towering San Marco belfry. Our finale is a sublime example of tintinnabuli, Arvo Pärt's compositional technique in which he transforms the conventions of chant into a revolutionary contemporary idiom.

Handel Choir and Handel Period Instrument Orchestra

Emily Noël soprano
Sarah Berger soprano
Sarah Davis mezzo soprano
Jason Rylander tenor
Brendan Curran bass

Arian Khaefi conductor

Preconcert lecture at 7 pm by Aaron Ziegel, PhD, assistant professor of music history and culture at Towson University.

Image: San Giovanni, Sardegna by Antonio Trogu.

Distant Bells is sponsored by Venable, LLP.

Venable LLP




I have not an idea of anything so voluptuous and affecting as this music; the richness of the art, the exquisite taste of the vocal part, the excellence of the voices, the justness of the execution, everything in these delightful concerts concurs to produce an impression which certainly is not the mode, but from which I am of opinion no heart is secure.

Ospedale della Pieta

--Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the extraordinary performing ensembles comprised entirely of girls and women at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, as recounted in his Confessions (1770).

The story of these ensembles is also the story of Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria (RV 589) and it does not begin auspiciously:

Ospedali were institutions set up in what is now Italy for the care and welfare of abandoned and orphaned babies and children. To reduce the rate of infanticide during the population surge of the medieval period, a papal decree required each ospedale to install a scaffetta (aka wheel of fortune, foundling wheel or baby window) in an exterior wall where people could leave an infant anonymously. Due to overcrowding, disease and neglect, death rates for infants at some ospedali were as high as 90%, but those who survived were fed, clothed, educated, and, in the case of many girls, trained in music.

Musically speaking, the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice gained a reputation as the best of the best, funded by the civic leaders of Venice and by noblemen who provided additional money for the welfare of the illegitimate children of their mistresses. Thus a horrific human crisis eventually yielded some of the finest instrumental ensembles and choruses in 17th century Europe.

Enter Antonio Vivaldi. Ordained at 25 but unsuited for the work of a priest, the violin virtuoso became violin master at the Pietà in Venice in 1703 and rose to become music director. (He was called "the Red Priest" for his red hair.) In his time at the Pietà he composed an astonishing number of concertos and other works for education and performance, and on the side made his name as a composer of opera.

Vivaldi was famous across Europe during his lifetime, but he died in poverty and his music fell into relative obscurity. Even The Four Seasons was unknown in its original edition during the Classical and Romantic periods. We might not be enjoying much of Vivaldi’s work in the present day were it not for some fortuitous housecleaning.

In 1926, a Roman Catholic school in Piedmont sent crates of manuscripts found in their archives to the Turin National University Library for identification and appraisal. A professor of music history at Turin University immediately recognized them for what they were and held them in secret until he could raise the funds for the Library to buy the whole collection. Included were 300 concertos, 19 operas and more than 100 vocal-instrumental works, including Gloria (RV 589).

The establishment of the Turin Collections led to a Vivaldi renaissance, beginning with a Vivaldi week celebrated in Siena in 1939. The push to publish Vivaldi’s complete works was halted by WWII, but after Italy was liberated, a young Venetian businessman founded the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi for the publication and promotion of Vivaldi's music and enlisted the cooperation of the Casa Ricordi, the greatest Italian music publishing house. The Ricordi printing presses had been bombed and their warehouses burned down in the war, but Vivaldi’s compositions nevertheless were soon heard in Italy and spread throughout Europe.

In 1951, the Royal Festival Hall opened in London on the Thames' south bank for the great postwar Festival of Britain and presented a season devoted almost entirely to the newly re-discovered baroque master.

Painting by Gabriele Bella

Today Vivaldi is recognized as the great Italian contemporary of Bach and Handel, and Handel Choir is delighted to present his most beloved choral composition, Gloria, in our upcoming 80th anniversary season finale, Distant Bells.

--Compiled by Anne C.A. Wilson


Top: Pio Ospedale della Pietà in Venice (first building to the left of the bridge). Antonio Vivaldi was based here for most of his career.

Bottom: Concert given by the girls of the hospital music societies in the Procuratie, Venice*, by Gabriele Bella (1730-after 1782). Museum: Galleria Querini-Stampalia in Venice.

*Not shown: The performers of the ospedale ensembles at times performed behind metal mesh to dissuade gawking and to protect the performers' "modesty."

Sources include:

Adie, Kate. Nobody's Child. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005.



Artists and programming subject to change. No refunds. 

Special thanks to Preston and Nancy Athey for their sustaining support of Handel Choir's 2014-2015 subscription concert series.

Maryland State Arts Council Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences William G. Baker, Jr Memorial Fund GuideStar logo


Handel Choir of Baltimore's 2013-2014 concert season is made possible by support from Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and National Endowment for the Arts; the Citizens of Baltimore County; and the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Awards.