Few names are as synonymous with the great city of Venice as that of Antonio Vivaldi. The composer, best known for The Four Seasons, lived here from his birth in 1678 until his death in 1741.
But was the composer touched by infernal hands? Our investigation today leads us into the shadowy realm of the Devil, and his claim over the maestro.
So come with me once more into the twisting streets of the Castello district. We’ll find out if Lucifer prevented Vivaldi from writing his finest work.
We’ll start with a church.
The church of San Giovanni in Bragora lies not far from the brick heart we investigated a couple of weeks ago.
Founded in early 8th century and dedicated to St John the Baptist, the church itself has an interesting name. No one is sure where ‘Bragora’ comes from. Does it come from the Venetian word bragola, meaning market square? Or does it come from agora, the Greek word for square? These candidates seem more likely.
Yet others harken back to the days when Venice was a pair of twin islands. The cult of Castor and Pollux held sway here, and this area would have been found on one of those islands. The word b’ragal, meaning two men, could give the area its name, referring to this mythical pair. We know Castor and Pollux better as the constellation Gemini, or the patron saints of sailors.
Anyway. The area around the church is linked with Vivaldi, who was born nearby. He was baptised quickly, apparently being at Death’s door upon birth. Even more strangely, the infant was subjected to a range of exorcisms in the church two months later.
Vivaldi enters the Church.
According to the legend, the Devil still managed to get his claws into Vivaldi during the first two months of his life. He left a diabolical spirit in the infant that the exorcism didn’t fully evict. His decision to become a priest sprang from his awareness of his unique nature.
Ordained as a priest at 1703, Vivaldi was nicknamed il Prete Rosso, ‘The Red Priest’. The name referred both to his red robes, and his flaming hair colour. Ill health meant he was excused from saying mass and withdrew from his religious duties.
Was it really ill health? According to a letter Vivaldi wrote to a senior member of the church, he suffered great pain when he said mass. The pain grew so fierce he even left the altar three times during his first year as a priest. Was this because of the evil spirit within him?
Susan Adams speculates that constant travel outside of the Venetian Republic wore Vivaldi out. Perhaps a weak constitution prompted his retirement from saying mass, rather than demonic possession.
He remained a priest but instead became a music master for a nearby conservatory for orphaned girls. The noted violinist started composing music, with his first works appearing in 1705.
Vivaldi makes his music but annoys Lucifer.
Despite his skirmishes with the infernal, Vivaldi continued to write angelic music. He angered the Devil with his refusal to give in to demonic urges. Satan knew he’d lose Vivaldi’s soul to God, and in an act of supreme spite, stopped the composer from committing his greatest work to paper. If the Devil couldn’t have Vivaldi, then the world couldn’t have his finest melody.
Given the beauty of a piece such as ‘Winter’, from The Four Seasons, we can only imagine what it would have sounded like.
Vivaldi continued to resist the Devil right up until his death. Some say his only regret on his deathbed was his inability to write that final piece. He clearly didn’t benefit from his infernal links since he died in poverty.
Or did he find a way to preserve the music after all?
If you believe the legend, the spirit of Vivaldi remains in the great city. On those nights when the wind ruffles the canals, Vivaldi writes on the water itself. While no one ever sees him, some swear you can sometimes hear stray notes carried on the wind.
If you find yourself in Venice, try to listen out for the lost symphony on breezy nights.
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