“Brought up at the expense of the State, these girls are taught and instructed simply so that they may distinguish themselves in music. Thus they sing like angels and play the violin, the flute, the organ, the oboe, the cello, the bassoon; in short there is no instrument, however great it may be, that can daunt them.”
Thus wrote the French humanist and historian Charles de Brosses in 1739 in his Lettres Historiques et Critiques sur l’Italie, about the instrumental and vocal abilities of the girls who were brought up and educated in music in the Venetian Hospitals, institutes whose task it was to recover and look after orphans and abandoned children. It was for these girls that Antonio Vivaldi… wrote a great number of concertos, that were destined for celebrated public performances that excited so much the enthusiasm amongst travellers who arrived from all over Europe. Vivaldi was commissioned to keep producing new compositions for the “Ospedale della Pietà”, and this fact certainly encouraged him to explore and experiment varying and original solutions in the Concerto that took into consideration the availability of a great number of performers who were experts even with unusual or, indeed, unknown instruments (a particular feature it seems of the members of the “Pietà”). And so he created Concerti which required the use of salm, of “violini in tromba marina”, of “viole all’ inglese” etc., searching for almost “experimental” juxtapositions of colours and sonority. It is in this spirit that we can include a group of concertos for a reduced number of players — between three and five real parts with no doubling up of instruments — that were known as “Concerti da Camera” (Chamber Concertos).