When André Romijn kindly sent me a copy of his new book, “Hidden Harmonies: the Secret Life of Antonio Vivaldi” I began to wonder why I had agreed to review it. I am not a fast reader, and rather than historical novels (I mistrust the genre), I prefer known historical facts which I can absorb slowly. My main musical interest has always been JS Bach, and here thanks to the meticulous records of Courts and the Leipzig Council, together with preserved contemporary newspaper records, there is plenty of hard fact to go on. With Vivaldi however, there is relatively little factual material available. So what is to be made of a historical novel about Vivaldi – more precisely, what proportion is fact, rather than pure fiction. I was also somewhat dubious about the elegant lady featured on the cover; could this book turn out to be flowery pulp fiction on Vivaldi's secret amour?
It only took a few pages however, to discover that this book is serious, well-researched, and a good read into the bargain (= it's difficult to put down!).
The author has indeed gathered all the factual information on Vivaldi currently available. But it is in the background detail that he excels. His descriptions of cold Venice winter mists, the cramped often window-less living conditions, the odour of the canals at low tides serve to create an authentic backdrop. Add to this descriptions and relevant historical detail of the aristocrats, ambassadors, cardinals and patrons Vivaldi meets as his reputation grows, details of his journeys, the economic background and environment of the cities visited all of which would satisfy the most ardent historian. And yes, Antonio's love life figures too, but credibly, and never disproportionately.
The wealth of historical detail, as well as the dearth of material on Vivaldi, recommend this book to libraries and colleges, while its very readability make it a very acceptable gift for any music-lover.
MM, editor BaroqueMusic.org