On Music Sunday, April 28, the First Parish Choir, along with an orchestra of First Parish and guest musicians, will present Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria, one 
of the most performed Baroque sacred music masterpieces. Vivaldi wrote as many as 50 operas, countless concerti, and around 40 religious works. For the majority of his career, he was employed in Venice as a violin teacher – and as a composer in residence – at Ospedale della Pietà, a combined orphanage, convent and music school, where he had earlier been ordained as a priest.

Ospedale della Pietà was one of four rather grand ospedali in Venice. Each was populated in great part by abandoned children of the local aristocracy and professional community. Babies male and female could be left there anonymously, and they were well financed by the families who gave them up. The Ospedale della Pietà was distinguished from the other ospedali by its extraordinary, all-female ensembles of up to 60 players and singers. This may have influenced Vivaldi to score his Gloria, written and performed at the Ospedale in the early 1700s, for soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists.

Female students who showed a high aptitude for music were given what was regarded as one of the best musical educations available in Europe. In exchange many of them remained, essentially as indentured servants, for the rest of their lives, performing in the Ospedale church to enthusiastic audiences from across Europe.

They never traveled and could only be heard at the Ospedale, performing unseen in galleries overlooking the floor, obscured by metal screens. The mystery surrounding their identities further fueled their appeal. But when you join us on Music Sunday, April 28, you’ll identify us easily enough as we perform at the front of the Sanctuary – singers and instrumentalists – led by Music Director Polly Oliver.