Anna Maria dal Violin

The narrator of Vivaldi’s Virgins is based on a real person, known in childhood as Anna Maria dal Violin (with the accent on the last syllable, pronounced “leen”), and throughout her adult life as Anna Maria della Pietà. Her life followed the basic outlines set out in the novel. She was brought as an infant to Venice’s home for foundlings, the Ospedale della Pietà, in 1689. The priest and composer Antonio Vivaldi was her teacher—and she was evidently one of his favorite students: he dedicated 28 violin concertos to her. Anna Maria’s “letters” to her mother are, like the rest of the novel’s emotional content, the product of the author’s imagination.

The real Anna Maria came to enjoy a tremendous reputation during her lifetime as one of Europe’s finest violin virtuosos—several contemporary travelers and critics sang her praises. Despite her cloistered status at the Pietà, she became the 18th century equivalent of a celebrity.

Devotion, modesty, good behavior, silence, obedience, and avoidance of idleness were the basic requirements of survival at the Pietà. Although Anna Maria’s promotions came late in comparison to those of her peers, she rose through the ranks of the coro to the highest level of musical achievement, mastering six instruments in addition to the violin and eventually becoming concertmistress and conductor of the Pietà’s orchestra. She lived to the amazingly ripe old age, for the time, of 86.