Venetians were extremely inventive, musically

The Venetians were extremely inventive, musically. The organ was developed in Venice; a native son of the Veneto made the first violin. The madrigal was invented in Venice by a Dutchman named Willaert. Galuppi was born in Burano; the Gabrielis, Vivaldi, and Benedetto Marcello were born in Venice. Monteverdi was maestro di cappella for many years at St. Mark's -- one of the great choirs of Italy, the rival of the cappella in Mantua and St. Cecilia's in Rome. Monteverdi, like Cimarosa, died in Venice. The Venetian passion for music was symbolized by Sansovino, the Florentine, in his statue of Apollo on the Loggetta. During the sixteenth century, the most ordinary parish church had its choir and its organ; flutes were peddled on the street, like today's glass beads and pigeon food. Sir Henry Wotton sent a lord of the Privy Council "a set of glasses of my own choosing at Murano and some lutes and strings for your music."

Indeed, Venetian music has the delicate, fragile sound of a fork struck on glass. This music -- Cimarosa, Galuppi, Cavalli, Monteverdi, Benedetto Marcello -- is still heard on summer and fall evenings at concerts given in the court of the tall Ca' Pisani, which is like a Veronese palace, or in the court of the Palladian San Giorgio Maggiore. The music played in the Piazza cafés is of rather poor quality; the Quadri side, which used to be the Austrian side during the Austrian occupation, now -- because Venice is changeless -- entertains German tourists with Viennese waltzes and "Ach du lieber Augustin." For the Americans there is "Arrivederci, Roma. . . Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye."

The municipal band plays the usual classical repertory on a stand in the Piazza several nights a week during the summer and fall. More Venetian are the bell of the Marangona in the Campanile, tolling out the main divisions of day -- sunrise, noon, midnight --, the bell of the enameled clock tower, struck every hour by the two giant bronze figures amid a scattering of pigeons, the bell of San Francesco della Vigna sounding over the Laguna Morta. The Venetians recognize all their bells by sound. Their dialect has its own peculiar music, high and sweet, like the chirping of birds.

It has the same lively rhythm as the quick, tapping step, up-and-down, up-and-down, that the Venetians have developed to match the form of their multitudinous bridges, which are seldon thown straight across the water but arched, with flights of stairs up and down. The Venetians, when giving directions, do not say "Across the bridge," but "Giù il ponte" ("Down the bridge").

In the eighteenth century, society went on Sundays to the orphanages to hear the renowned girl-choirs. Some of these orphan soloists were famous as artistes while they were still children. Rousseau went to hear them and was disappointed in their looks, which were not as heavenly as their voices. From Venice, he brought back to France his revolutionary musical ideas, just as (he said) he found inspiration for his theory of the Social Contract in the government of the Republic.

But the music floating in the Venetian air, like the sex that still seems to charge it, never deepened into full-throated passion but retained its gossamer virtuosity. Except in painting (the perennial great exception in this city that is all eyes), there are no crashing chords in Venetian life or history. The Campanile, when it fell, is said to have subsided gently, as though making a curtsey. The Republic started declining after the Chioggian War, in 1380, but it took five centuries for the social structure to topple, gently, like the Campanile, which had gone through fire and earthquakes and been struck three times by lightning, and when it fell on Bastille Day morning, 1907 -- everything in Venice is an allusion -- was found to be nothing but a heap of dust.

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