Vivaldi in Venice – a Special Interest day

November 6th 2017

Vivaldi in Venice.

A Special Interest Day led by Peter Medhurst

What better way to begin the day than by floating  down the canals of Venice to the music of Vivaldi’s Psalm 109. Peter then posed the question ‘What is it about Vivaldi’s music that is so indicative of Venice in the 18th. century?’ Vivaldi was born in Venice in  1678  and the entire structure and atmosphere of Venice was intertwined with Vivaldi’s music.

Canaletto’s painting   ‘Views of Venice ‘ show this  very well.

Vivaldi uses more instruments than other baroque composers and this creates colour and the Venetians adored colour. Vivaldi also uses delicate lines in music just as Canaletto does in Art.

Venetians also loved liveliness and dazzle in their music . Theme and variation is as core to the music of Vivaldi as it is to the architecture of Venice. Vivaldi appreciated that if you have an energetic baseline the singing seems to go faster . Venetians realised that  to entertain on the inside of the homes  needed to be the focus because there was no room to do it outside in squares etc. Pietro Longhi was a famous painter of the time and many of his paintings showed interiors of upper class homes and showed the important role that music played as in –

‘The Music Lesson ‘ by Pietro Longhi 1760.

A hallmark of Vivaldi was the necessity to create melodies to entertain the ear.

We know little about Vivaldi’s life. His father was a barber but he gave it up for music –he played the violin. Vivaldi was a sickly child . He was ordained a priest but never had sufficient breath to run a mass, so he took a position at the Ospedale della Pieta for gifted girls, where he taught the violin. These institutions were set up for orphans where the boys received instruction in the trades and the girls in music. Vivaldi and his contemporaries in Venice developed the use  of solo performers. This all fitted in well with the Venetian’s love of show and spectacle.

Vivaldi writes his sonatas in ritornello form ( a theme to which one returns ) He is bold and dramatic with his music . He stands out as writing music  which tells a story and paints a picture. The early 18th. century  painting ‘A Gallery of Women Singers’ shows the chapel where Vivaldi worked and shows the girls for whom he wrote much of his music.

The painting ‘The Concert by Four Ospedali in Honour of Visiting Russian Nobility’ shows all the girls from all the orphanages– not just the ones from Ospedali della Pieta where Vivaldi worked

Peter played piano pieces from several other composers to demonstrate how they were influenced by Vivaldi.

Rome prided itself in offering a cerebral experience, whilst Venice was for fun and amusement. A popular time to visit Venice was at carnival time, but they were not happy that people went for the two weeks of carnival  and then left; so they decided to extend the carnival to six months. There are few clocks in Venice as part of their wish for a suspension in time. With everyone in disguise and masked, an air of mystery was created. La Notte – Phantoms is so very atmospheric. however the very reason we love Vivaldi – the unexpected, was the very reason that Vivaldi fell out of favour. He had found his musical voice and style and he never really changed it, whilst his contemporaries were changing and developing. Listeners to his works would have difficulty dating it.

Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741

At the end of the day we were all very much more aware of how Vivaldi and Venice were so intertwined, and were more able to answer the question posed by Peter at the beginning of the day – ‘What is it about Vivaldi’s music that is so indicative of 18th century Venice ?’ How Vivaldi’s music was such a reflection of 18th century Venetian life.

An incredibly enjoyable and informative day.

I am sure that many of us went home and listened to music by Vivaldi with a much more informed and appreciative ear.

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture –  a lecture by Rupert Willoughby  -November 13th.

We were all fascinated to hear how Rupert was going to address the title of this talk. He began by saying that Basingstoke is a phenomenon and is one of the most derided towns- with nicknames that include ‘Boringstoke’ and ‘Basingrad’. In 2004 a PR campaign was launched to improve its image. Rupert then identified some of the reasons why the town is notorious, including  its succession of pointless roundabouts and its huge boring and seemingly pointless wall – known as the ‘Great Wall of Basingstoke’

It is often erroneously assumed that Basingstoke is a post war creation, but Rupert informed us that this is not so- it appears even in the Domesday Book.

Cosimo, 3rd. Duke of Tuscany  visited Basingstoke and took with him Magalotti to record their journey with sketches and writings. Magalotti  writes that they ‘ set out to explore it on foot but its wretchedness prevented them’

In 1830 there were two or three working farms right in the middle of town and in a painting of Basingstoke in 1831 it appears as quite an attractive town. 

In the Highway and Byway book Basingstoke is described as ‘a town to be hurried through’

In 1966 it was written of as ‘a town devoid of style though John Betjeman wrote that Basingstoke typified England at its best.

Basingstoke’s main problem is that it was developed in a coarse and brutal manner as a show piece in the south of England.  There was a lack of post war planning and Council Housing was the key. Sir Patrick Abercrombie – a very successful 20th Century architect  was approached by the government to develop ‘The Greater London Plan’ to move 1.330.000 Londoners to new towns like Stevenage and Harlowe and and  for it to be a show piece in the South of England.  Town planners at this time were very left wing and their theory was that council housing and mass production brought about a middle class structure for all. Hook was the original choice for this development but members of the Royal family objected as it would take up a favourite hunting area. Tragically the plan involved destroying many historical and interesting buildings in order to create a raised concrete monstrosity containing shopping malls and offices and but no trees.

So where once quaint cottages, interesting homes such as those of Jane Austen and her relatives and grand houses of families like the Merton family (who founded Merton College ) and Thomas Burberry ( inventor of the gabardine raincoat ) had once stood, there now were soulless concrete structures.

A Charming Place – Jane Austen and Bath –

A Charming Place – Jane Austin and Bath – a talk by  Elizabeth Merry on September 11th.

Elizabeth opened her talk with the quote from Jane Austen ‘Who could ever be tired of Bath?’ Bath was described as a ‘valley of pleasure’ at the time of Jane Austen. Elizabeth began her talk with an introduction to  the history of Bath and its sacred spring – its Roman origins and its demise after the Romans left. During the 12th. century it was used as a curative bath and then during the 17th. century Bath began to develop as a place to visit, a place with royal approval, especially the approval of Queen Ann. The development of Bath was especially due to Beau Nash. Hoare, who was a famous painter based in Bath painted this portrait of Beau Nash in 1705.
In the early 18th Century there were many  improvements in Bath. These included putting lighting in the streets and creating wide boulevards.  John Wood the elder established the city’s architectural style. John Wood the younger completed the first circular street  – The Royal Crescent. Development then went on apace

Jane Austen and her elder sister would have spent time as  young women  with their uncle and aunt in Bath. Her aunt was described as a lady who ‘ looks about with great success for inconvenience and evil’

In Spring 1799 Jane went to Bath with her brother who was taking the waters. She wrote very animatedly about shopping and  also attending a concert in Sydney Gardens which are the only Pleasure Gardens that remain to this day.

1805 – drawing of Sydney Gardens by Jean-Claude Nattes

When her father retired in 1800 they moved to Bath.

The fashion and frivolity of Bath was an excellent inspiration for Jane’s novels, especially Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

J.C. Nattes – The Pump Rooms

After her father’s death the family moved to Hampshire and here her career as a novelist really took off. In 1817 she died.

Cassandra’s Painting of Jane Austen 1810

Heritage of Storms -Lord Byron -his Romantic Inheritance and his Artistic Legacy

by Richard Westall, oil on canvas, 1813
Byron by Richard Westall1813

Our January lecture was given by Elizabeth Merry, who  delivered a fascinating and informative lecture on Lord Byron.

Her lecture began with a description of Byron as ‘a child of his times ‘ who lived his life against a backdrop of the developing romantic era. Described by one of his lady friends as ‘mad,bad and dangerous to know.’

He lived through a time of great political unrest. The revolution in France caused great concern in England, concern that a similar revolt would occur in Britain, as depicted in this cartoon by James Gilray in 1792

‘Un Petit Souper a la Parisien ‘an00046507_001_l Continue reading “Heritage of Storms -Lord Byron -his Romantic Inheritance and his Artistic Legacy”

Punch and Judy



Etching of Puccinella by

Bartolomeo Pinelli 1815



A fascinating and most entertaining talk was given by Bertie Pearce on December 12th. 2016.

He opened the lecture by surprising us all with the information that in 2006 there was an Icon Debate to find the 12 cultural icons who represented ‘Englishness,’ and Punch was 6th.

History tells us that in May 1662 on the piazza in Covent garden , Pepys passed an Italian puppeteer with a puppet he called -Puccinella,

“Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants.” Continue reading “Punch and Judy”

Marvellous Mosaics

Lecture on February 7th.  given by Christopher Bradley

Christopher began his fascinating talk by explaining the presence  of mosaics in  Roman homes – how  they were a common form of decoration in Roman houses from Morocco to Turkey. He explained how they captured the life of the people and are such a valuable insight into Roman life.

Christopher then gave us a brief history of mosaics explaining that though they are difficult to date.there are clues  within the mosaics themselves. Continue reading “Marvellous Mosaics”

The Founders and Treasures of the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection

A talk by Stephen Duffy on January 11th.

Stephen began his very interesting talk by giving us the background to the Wallace Collection. It is a National Museum based in Hertford House in Manchester Square. It contains one of the best collections of arms and armour and unsurpassed displays of 18th. century French painting, furniture and porcelain, along with excellent Old Master paintings. The whole collection was bequeathed to Britain by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace in 1897.

The collection was begun by the 1st. Marquess of Hertford about 1760 when he acquired six  paintings by Canaletto. Continue reading “The Founders and Treasures of the Wallace Collection”

Understanding Modern Art

Frank Woodgate led a fascinating Study day entitled ‘Understanding Modern Art ‘. His relaxed and knowledgeable style made it easy to follow and  stay focussed. In his introduction he made it clear that his aim for the day was that we would better understand art but not necessarily like it any more. However I think that many of us having understood it more, were  able to appreciate what the artists were endeavouring to achieve and gain greater pleasure from these works of art.

Continue reading “Understanding Modern Art”