[1] Rodolpho Baroncini, 'Dario Castello e la formazione del musico a Venezia: nuovi documenti e nuove prospettive', Recercare 24 (2017), 55-100, at 88.

[2] Baroncini, ‘Dario Castello’, 89.

[3] Figures extrapolated from the RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales) database <https://opac.rism.info/>, accessed 28 August 2020.

[4] Payment records transcribed in Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Venetian Instrumental Music from Gabrieli to Vivaldi, 3rd edition (New York: Dover, 1994), 330-348.


Epilogue, 2020

As I complete this exposition under COVID-lockdown conditions, reflecting on 1629 as a high point of musical culture in Venice prior to the plague which ravaged the city in 1630-31, the music of our seventeenth-century forebears seems to take on an added resonance and relevance. Our own experience during this time might engender a more profound sense of empathy with those who lived through a pandemic without the relative safety net of modern medicine. Perhaps most poignant is the story emerging from recently discovered documents of Giovanni Battista Castello losing both his sons (Francesco and Dario) and his second wife to the plague within the space of just 20 days in 1631.[1] It is easy to understand his decision, in the face of such devastating loss, to resign his prized position as violinist at St Mark’s and to seek solace in priesthood.[2]

On the other hand, the story of economic and artistic recovery in Venice during the 1630s might provide a source of optimism in our own time. As early as 1631 construction work began on the great domed church of Santa Maria della Salute at the entrance of the Grand Canal (featured somewhat anachronistically on the cover design of the Venice 1629 booklet), built as a very public and collective votive offering for the city’s deliverance from the plague.

The Venetian music presses gradually restarted in 1632 (5 publications) and 1633 (15 publications) rising to an average of 24 publications per year between 1634 and 1639, while 1640 witnessed another bumper year for music, with the publishing houses of Vincenti and Magni producing 38 editions between them.[3] By 1640 the sound of the cornett was once again heard in St Mark’s, two musicians previously employed as singer and violinist taking the chance to retrain and make the switch in the intervening period. In 1641 Giovanni Battista Castello was re-engaged at the basilica, now as a bassoonist.[4] The experience of these musicians speaks of resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.

Perhaps the most significant musical and artistic development of the 1630s is marked by the opening of the first public opera houses in Venice: Teatro S Cassiano in 1637, quickly followed by Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo in 1638 (location of the production of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria in 1640), thus beginning a bright new chapter in the history of music in which Venice would once again play a central role.