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Links to Venetian writing and painting

The central repertoire for cornetts and sackbuts is Venetian music of the 16th and 17th centuries. The two winning pieces will be performed in October 2018 as part of a recital of Venetian music entitled 'Echoes of Venice'. We are therefore looking for pieces to complement that programme. You can take any sort of Venetian inspiration you wish, but it should be your own response to something about Venice. To help get you started, here are some examples of how writers in the past were inspired by the city, and links to some paintings of Venice.

Of all the cities in the world Venice is the easiest to visit without going there.
- Henry James

The Venetian combination of water, sky and marble (dubbed 'the three elements of Venice') has inspired countless artists, travellers, writers and musicians over the centuries. Here are some links to the literature and art of Venice.

Charles Dickens's beautiful essay on Venice, 'An Italian Dream'  

Lord Byron, the 4th canto of his Childe Harold    

I stood in Venice on the 'Bridge of Sighs';
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the Enchanter's wand:
A thousand Years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O'er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the wing├Ęd Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!
In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone--but Beauty still is here;
States fall, arts fade--but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

Extracts from other writing on Venice, [these are taken from Venice, A Portable Reader, edited by Toby Cole (Frontier Press, 4th ed. 1995). This slim anthology of writing by Casanova, Machiavelli, Ruskin, Dickens, Mark Twain and many others is available second-hand online]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
September 29th, 1786

I seated myself in a gondola, and, quitting the narrow streets with the intention of witnessing a spectacle of an opposite description, went along the northern part of the grand canal, into the lagoon and then entered the Giudecca canal, going as far as the square of St. Mark. Now was I also one of the birds of the Adriatic sea, as every Venetian feels himself to be whilst reclining in his gondola .... All that surrounds me is dignified - a grand venerable work of combined human energies, a noble monument, not of a ruler, but of a people. And if their lagoon is gradually filling up, if unwholesome vapours are floating over the marsh, if their trade is declining and their power has sunk, still the great place and the essential character will not for a moment be less venerable to the observer. Venice succumbs to time, like everything that has a phenomenal existence.

October 9th, 1786

The lagoon is the work of old nature. First of all, the land and tide, the ebb and flow, working against one another, and then the gradual sinking of the primal waters were, together, the causes why, at the upper end of the Adriatic, we find a pretty extensive range of marshes which, covered by the flood-tide, are partly left bare by the ebb. Art took possession of the highest spots, and thus arose Venice, formed out of a group of a hundred isles and surrounded by hundreds more.

George Sand, from 'Lettres d'un voyageur', 1834

The absence of horses and carriages and the resonance of the canal make Venice the most delightful city for unceasing songs and serenading. One must be an enthusiast indeed to fancy that the gondolier choruses are better than those of the opera at Paris, as I have heard asserted by some individuals of a particularly happy temperament, but it is quite certain that one of those choruses, heard from afar under the arcades of these Moorish palaces, looking so white in the moon's rays, gives more pleasure even than better music executed under a colonnade formed of painted canvas. These rough uncultivated dilettanti shout in tune and time; and the calm marble echoes prolong these rude and grave harmonies, like the winds over the sea. The magic of acoustic effect, and the desire to hear some sort of harmony in the silence of these enchanted nights, make one listen with indulgence, and almost I may say with gratitude, to the humblest melody which floats by, and is lost in the distance ... Fairy days of Venice .... No one has ever said enough of the beauty of the heavens, and the delights of the night at Venice. The lagoon is so calm, that in fine evenings, the stars do not even tremble on its surface. When you are in the midst, it is so blue, so quiet that the outline of the horizon cannot be distinguished, and the waves and the heavens form an azure veil, where reverie loses itself and sleeps.

When the breath of midnight passes over the linden trees, and scatters their blossoms over the waters, when the perfume of wallflowers and geraniums rises in gusts, as though the earth gave forth her sighs of fragrance to the moon; the cupolas of Santa Maria  raise towards heaven their alabaster hemispheres and their turban-crowned minarets; when all is white, the water, the sky, the marble, the three elements of Venice, and when from the tower of St. Mark a giant sound hovers over my head, then I begin to feel life through every pore.

Links to paintings of Venice:

Works by Canaletto at the National Gallery 

Works by J.M.W. Turner (creative commons licence) 

Works by John Singer Sargent (creative commons licence)