Look at this GORGEOUS COVER!! A few weeks ago, during some down time, I was able to read through The Violinist of Venice, a beautiful book, without some of the usual interruptions. I was happy for that, as it allowed me to submerse myself into the lyrical prose and storytelling of the novel, anxiously turning the pages to unfold the life of Adriana, the protagonist, who is a young noble woman in Venice who falls in love with Vivaldi, the famous violinist and composer. It’s more a story of Adriana, as well as doing a really good job of showcasing the struggles of rich, creative type women who lived in the 18th century.
However, within this ambitious debut novel we learn so much of Vivaldi, as well as the church, the classic and operatic music scene of Venice, and the customs and the culture among the city and the various social classes. We also learn about the struggles between men and women and the dichotomy of much of the social rules and regulations. Most of all we learn about not giving up or giving up whatever it is, whether playing the violin, singing, or art, because someone tells you simply that you aren’t worthy. Sometimes when you heart calls you to create and perform, all you can do it listen. Additionally, with it’s romantic elements it also shows us that sometimes who we love is the best person to love us.
For her first book, Alyssa did an astounding job and I can’t wait to read more from her in the future. There will be more to this review in a separate post soon, but for now, please read my interesting interview with Alyssa! Enjoy!
Hi Alyssa, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you’ve joined me for a discussion of your book—The Violinist of Venice, which is your debut novel. How does it feel to have just launched your very first book baby (release date Dec. 15, 2015) and just in time for the season of giving?!
Alyssa: It’s SO exciting, as you might imagine! It’s also a bit scary to think that so many people will soon (hopefully, anyway!) be reading my words. This is literally a dream come true, though – I’ve wanted to have a novel published for as long as I can remember, and hopefully Violinist will be the first of many.
Erin: I hope so too! Will you join me in my study, we’ll sit in my big comfy chairs, and I can bring in some tea? I usually like to brew a holiday spice tea this time of year or a holiday chai. What’s your favorite and how do you take it?
Alyssa: I love tea! I’m with you; this time of the year I enjoy a lot of different holiday teas. Twinings of London’s Christmas tea and Stash’s Holiday Chai are two of my favorites. Whatever tea I’m drinking, though, I always take it black.
Erin: Sounds lovely! I love both of those. Let’s have the holiday chai. Now we have tea, I’ll bring in some fresh baked gingerbread cookies, it’s what i make this time of year and I always offer to guests, and we can start to chat about your book journey. Let’s get started!
Alyssa: You are a perfect hostess! Yes, let’s go! 🙂
Q: You’re a trained classical musician, yet you studied English and creative writing. I know I can’t ask you which one you prefer, music or writing! You most love them both, so it’s amazing that your passion for both can come through in your novel. How did you choose to write your historical fiction surrounding Vivaldi? What was your inspiration?
A: Oddly enough, the idea for the story came from a dream that I had. The dream itself was essentially what became the first chapter of the novel, when Adriana shows up at Vivaldi’s house and asks him to give her music lessons. I couldn’t think why I would have such a seemingly random dream, yet it was so powerful and vivid that when I woke up I couldn’t stop thinking about it. By the end of that day I had the first chapter written and had a vague outline in my head of where I thought I wanted the story to go, though of course that changed and evolved quite a bit even over the course of the first draft.
As you say, I do love both writing and music – they’re my two favorite things in life – so being able to combine them was nothing short of pure joy. Part of the reason it just felt so right to me to write this story was that I was able to write about music, and some of the passages in which I’m describing music are my favorite in the book.
Q: Vivaldi’s pieces are a joy in which to listen and sometimes I’ll put his classical music on rotation with a few others when I’m writing myself. Which pieces are your favorite and why?
A: Oh gosh, this might end up being a long list! My absolute favorite is the Concerto in B Minor for 4 Violins, Op. 3, No. 10. That is the concerto that, in the book, is both Adriana and Vivaldi’s favorite as well, and it is their favorite for no other reason than it is mine, and I think that it is really representative of Vivaldi’s work in its liveliness and energy and passion. I also love the Concerto in A Minor for 2 Violins, Op. 3, No. 8, specifically the second movement, which makes an appearance in the novel in chapter 5.
As a singer I really love the first movement of the Stabat Mater and the aria “Cosi potessi anch’io” from the opera Orlando furioso, both of which also appear in the novel and which I’ve performed. Both are so much fun to sing. Maybe my favorite Vivaldi vocal piece I’ve sung, though, is an aria called “Tu dormi in tante pene” from the opera Tito Manlio, which didn’t make it into the book. It’s just gorgeous and an absolute joy to sing.
Pictured: Vivaldi, violinst/composer
Q: How did you choose to incorporate his music into your novel, making sure to feature them at the exact moments to create an ebb and flow to your work?
A: For each scene in which Adriana and Vivaldi are playing the violin, there is a specific piece that I chose for that scene, to fit the mood and tone and emotion of what is happening. When I was drafting, I honestly wasn’t thinking about structure or spacing out those scenes or how often they should occur; I just wrote what I wanted to write at any given time, or what I felt should come next, and then sorted through it all in revision (which is how I prefer to work – I try to turn off my inner editor for the first draft as much as possible). Some scenes where they are playing together ended up getting cut, simply because there were already quite a few and some didn’t really move the story forward at all; they were just me getting caught up in writing about music. In most of the scenes, Vivaldi and Adriana are saying something to each other with the music they are playing, whether that is something about their feelings for each other or whether they are saying something about the music itself. Music is what brings them together, and it remains a constant in Adriana’s life, so I wanted to get onto the page all the many emotions involved in performing and hearing music as much as possible.
Q: Also, there was a lot of research on his work and how and what he composed in your novel. How long did that take you to study or conduct? Did you do it all before hand or as needed when writing?
A: As needed; as such, I can’t really say how long that one aspect of the research took me altogether. I was always listening to his music and finding new pieces while writing.
When I started writing the novel initially I knew very little about Vivaldi or Venice, so I did all of the research as I went (and I don’t know if I necessarily recommend this method for writing a historical novel, but it worked out for me in this instance). In choosing what piece I wanted to feature in each scene, I had to make sure that it was something he would have written by that point in his life, which was easier in some cases than others. Vivaldi’s music was lost for a very long time (there are still some pieces that are missing, that we know he wrote but don’t have the manuscripts for) so in some places the chronology of his life and work gets fuzzy. Mostly I just tried to listen to the music and think about how it made me feel, and then imagine how it might make Adriana feel in whatever moment she herself was hearing it based on everything that was going on around her.
Q: How did you create your protagonist, Adriana, and construct her, while trying to stay true to creating Vivaldi with historically accuracy and yet also, creating him in a “what if” scenario?
A: Adriana really came to life on the page right from the start; her voice was so vivid in my mind that she was relatively easy to write. The fact that she is a fictional character gave me a lot of freedom to have her life take whatever course I wanted – though in many ways she charted her own course – so that was nice. With Vivaldi I took the facts that history told me about the man and his personality and sort of blended that with my impression of him based on the music he wrote. The latter is probably a pretty flawed method of characterization, but his music is just so vivid and alive that I couldn’t resist letting that color my portrayal of him.
Q: On the cover of your novel the sub-title reads “A story of Vivaldi” but I believe this reads really as the story of Adriana, spanning her adult life. I loved some of the sections in your novel that spoke to the turmoil of the imprisonment that women of nobility were destined to in the 18th century. Were you channeling some important statements about women’s rights?
A: Yes, definitely, and I agree that this novel is really Adriana’s story. Obviously, things were very different for women in Adriana’s day as compared to now, and I wanted to capture her anger and dissatisfaction with the limitations that surround her and show her try to rise above them and shape her own life to the extent that she can. One of the things that I love most about historical fiction is that it prompts us to meditate on how far we’ve come in some respects as well as how far we may still have to go in others, and I hope that there is a place for readers to do that with Violinist. Eighteenth century Venice was very much a world on the brink of change; in terms of musical life specifically, there were roles for women on the opera stage and performance opportunities for the cloistered musicians at religious institutions like the Pietà, but nothing beyond that. Things were moving forward for women musicians, but not fast enough for Adriana, and she is aware of this and frustrated by it. I like to think that if she were around today she’d be a rocker chick playing electric violin in a symphonic metal band!
Q: In addition, you also made great parallels between living a life surrounded by art but with less money and living a life of noble luxury at the expense of emotional and creative freedom. That was a bold and, I think, still in some ways pertains to culture today (just in a little different way). And yet, what would we do with art, music, writing, etc. in our lives? It enriches so many. Thoughts?
A: I hadn’t been intending to make a parallel there with today’s culture, but I agree that it is there; we still have that notion of the “starving artist”. It has always been difficult to make a living from one’s art; today as in the past, not many manage to do so. What I’ve found in my own life, though, and in seeing the lives of other artistically-minded people around me, is that if you feel the drive to create something, you’ll do it, whether anything in the way of material success ever comes of it or not. But I agree with you completely that all forms of art enrich our lives immeasurably, whether we are the artists ourselves or merely enjoy the work of those artists.
Q: For your book, you also must have done a great amount of research on Venice and its culture, from how they lived to their festivals like Carnevale to mourning observances. What was one thing you found that surprised or intrigued you? Did you visit Venice? How did you conduct your research?
A: I did a ton of reading about Venetian history, from its founding to the present, though of course I focused on the history and customs of the eighteenth century. It’s essential to understand how a place came to be to understand where it ended up, and so learning how a bunch of enterprising folks built a city on the water for protection after the fall of the Roman empire was really vital to understanding the attitudes of eighteenth century Venetians. It’s an absolutely fascinating place to read about – not a lot of people know that during the Renaissance, Venice was the wealthiest and most powerful nation in Europe. During the eighteenth century that power and wealth were fading fast.
I think what surprised me the most was that women in eighteenth century Venice were permitted a good deal of sexual freedom – not as much as the men, of course, but more than I would have anticipated. In the novel, Adriana’s friend Giulietta is an example of this. I was also surprised to learn that, what with Carnevale and the whole city going around in masks for months at time, the results were even more scandalous than I had imagined!
I did visit Venice before starting the third and final draft of the novel, only because I knew that I had to see it for myself. Physically there is really no place else in the world like Venice, and I knew that I couldn’t write about it anymore without having seen it. I also wanted to have a better handle on how people moved around in such a space – even in the early drafts I had my characters walking most places, and even after poring over maps and photos I still wasn’t sure if that was a possibility. Turns out it is! I’ve been back to Venice again since that initial trip, and I know I’ll be back anytime I have the opportunity. It is truly my favorite place in the world; it’s just so beautiful that I could sit and look at all of its picturesque views forever.
Q: Now that you have your first book under your belt, what are your next plans? Will you continue to write musical inspired novels?
A: Currently I’m working with my editor at St. Martin’s on revisions to my second novel, which is again historical but doesn’t feature music – it takes place in Renaissance Florence and is very much about the magnificent artwork of that period. I’ve also started drafting another historical novel, which I hope will be my third, in which music is again something my heroine and hero share, but it is not as much a part of the story as Violinist. I do have a contemporary manuscript that I play around with when I have time that is rather like Violinist in that it again explores music and the life of a musician and the effect of music on a life – except in this case, the musicians are in a heavy metal band! The short answer to your question, though, is that I think I’ll be including music in the things that I write whenever I can – it’s such a big part of my life that I think I’ll always want to be writing about it.
Q: What is some of your favorite music? What’s on your playlist?
A: Heavy metal is my favorite genre by far, but I also like genres such as pop, hard rock, classic rock, blues, and singer-songwriter (think Tori Amos, Vanessa Carlton, Sara Bareilles, etc.). Obviously I love classical music as well, and I’m a huge fan of musical theatre. Phantom of the Opera is my all-time favorite musical (and definitely ended up influencing Violinist), but I am a new and passionate convert to the Hamilton fandom as well – hopefully I can see it live soon!
A brief list of my favorite artists would be: Nightwish, Kamelot, Delain, Lacuna Coil, Stream of Passion, Epica, and Serenity. Lately (when I’m not listening to Hamilton) I’ve been loving Phantasma’s album The Deviant Hearts, and Nightwish and Kamelot are always heavy in my rotation as well.
For anyone interested, my playlist for The Violinist of Venice can be found on my website!
Q: Heavy metal music was not what I was thinking you’d say!? But I like it too! What books do you enjoy reading for pleasure or to work on your craft?
A: I read a lot of historical fiction, obviously, but I also read a lot of young adult and literary fiction, and will read any novel with a premise that intrigues me. Lately I’ve been getting more into thrillers and fantasy as well. I think that reading anything, in any genre, can really inform my craft as a writer; just because I don’t write thrillers, for instance, doesn’t mean that I can’t learn something about pacing or plot twists from them. On the nonfiction side, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I love to read history, and I’ll often be reading something as research for whatever I’m working on.
Q: What’s your favorite snack for late night writing or editing sessions?
A: Chocolate, always chocolate! When I’m on deadline I hit Trader Joe’s and stock up! 🙂
Q: Name five favorite women in history and why you admire or appreciate them.
A: Oh, this is such a great question. Hmmm, let me think.
-Lucrezia dei Tornabuoni: She was a brilliant and politically astute woman who advised her husband and later her son (Lorenzo the Magnificent) in their roles as de facto leaders of Renaissance Florence. She was also a patron of the arts and an accomplished poet. She’s not very well known, but I learned a lot about her in researching my second novel and found her absolutely fascinating.
-Caterina Sforza: Okay, so she may have been a pretty tyrannical ruler, but she was also a brilliant military leader whose men followed her without question. She once captured and held the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome to try to sway the papal election to be more politically in her favor.
-Jane Austen: Being a writer, this one is a somewhat obvious choice! J I’m a big fan of her work, and I admire all that she was able to accomplish in a time when women were not yet published widely.
-Clara Schumann: She was an extremely talented pianist with a professional performing career, and an accomplished composer as well. She’s sometimes overshadowed by her more famous husband, Robert Schumann, but my piano teacher in college was a big fan and t
-Alice Paul: She was absolutely instrumental in getting women in the United States the right to vote, and suffered imprisonment and being force-fed in prison for her protests for suffrage. She then spent the rest of her life trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed, though it hasn’t been yet.
Erin: Oh, I really like some of your choices, but especially Alice Paul! Thank you so very much, Alyssa, for stopping by for an interview with me today! I hope to read more of your work in the future. Stop back by anytime and best of luck with your book and future endeavors! Happy Holidays!
Alyssa: Thank you so much for having me, and for all the great questions! Happy Holidays to you as well! 🙂
The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo, Synopsis~
St. Martin’s Press/Griffin (400 pages)
Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.
Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana’s own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.
Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, Alyssa Palombo’s The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.
AUTHOR ALYSSA PALOMBO, Biography~
ALYSSA PALOMBO has published short historical fiction pieces in Black Lantern, Novelletum, and The Great Lakes Review.
She is a recent a graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively, as well as a trained classical musician.
The Violinist of Venice is her first novel. She lives in Tonawanda, New York.
For more information: Author Website
“This panoramic novel of composer Antonio Vivaldi’s life sweeps readers into a world of beautiful melodies and forbidden passion. Palombo allows music, more than the characters, to be the key to her sumptuous novel. One can almost hear the sweet notes while reading of the passionate and tragic star-crossed lovers. Those who adore the music and history will find what they desire in these pages.” – Romantic Times,
“A lovely book, engrossing and realistic. In simple, spare prose, Palombo gives life to an improbable romance between Vivaldi, the ‘Red Priest’ and Adriana D’Amato, the lovely daughter of a wealthy merchant. Music is Adriana’s downfall – she falls deeply and passionately in love with the composer – and ultimately her salvation. The most compelling aspect of the novel is Adriana’s love of music and the author’s virtuoso descriptions of the Vivaldi’s compositions. The passages are so evocative one can almost hear the ebb and flow of the music. We are in the hands of a not only a master story teller but also a dedicated music lover.” —Roberta Rich, international bestselling author of The Midwife of Venice
“The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo is a warm and compelling story of the secret love affair in the life of the famous Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi. Vivid and alive and thrumming with the exquisite strains of violin music, the novel explores the impossible choices between love and duty and the demands of art in the decadent world of early 18th century Venice.” —Kate Forsyth, international bestselling author of Bitter Greens
“A passionate, heartbreaking love story between a brilliant young violinist whose father forbids her to make music and the gentle, gifted composer Vivaldi who restores it to her. I was utterly swept away by their impossible love and the rich worlds which grew from it in this moving novel set among the aristocrats and musicians of 18th century Venice.” —Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart and Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet
“Vivid, emotional, and profoundly satisfying. This marvelous debut is a sumptuous tale of a passionate affair between Vivaldi and a promising student set to a masterful musical score. Palombo has created a fascinating portrait of both the beauty and limitations of life in aristocratic Venice.” —Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar
“Debut author and musician Palombo creates a lovely fictional account of a great love affair… a nicely crafted first effort that reimagines Vivaldi’s life in a bittersweet narrative.” —Kirkus Reviews