I’ve just been in Venice for a few days. The city was on the cusp of autumn – warm and sunny but with thunderstorms looming, and mist in the morning on the day we left.
We visited about 547 churches. As ever in Italy, I’m disappointed by how rarely one hears any music being made in them. It comes as a surprise that the Italians, with their love of the human voice, seem to have so little tradition of choral music in their churches. No choir ever seems to be rehearsing, no organ being played, and if you happen upon a service the music is restricted to a little priestly chanting. It’s a great shame when those magnificent buildings seem to cry out for music to resonate across them. We searched for announcements of church concerts, but found only the usual touristy offerings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played in historical costume by candlelight.
I’ve always wanted to hear music sung in St Mark’s, whose galleries inspired Monteverdi and others to write for choirs singing antiphonally across the basilica, but I’ve never succeeded in hearing any music but the aforementioned liturgical chanting. On my last visit to Venice we got up early one Sunday and went to St Mark’s, convinced that at least the big Sunday morning services must include choral music. An official stood at the door barring the way to anyone who looked as though they might not be a member of the congregation. We explained that we were there in the hope of hearing music in St Mark’s. To which he memorably replied, ‘There is no music, only singing’, a phrase I’ve had reason to remember once or twice since then. But it turned out that ‘singing’ meant only the usual chanting, and once again we left without hearing music in that magical place.