On a sunlit square in the heart of Venice, a building that was once a church houses a small museum which will make you appreciate music in a completely new light.
Called simply Museo della Musica, it has a collection of old musical instruments, the type no-one uses anymore, but which look absolutely beautiful and make you yearn to hear how they sound. The museum also contains large displays showing the many stages of making a violin and it is equipped with a studio for crafting string instruments.
Parallel to it all runs an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of one of the greatest Venetians and world-renowned composer Antonio Vivaldi.
On this bright and sunny day though its entrance beckoned me and not sure what I would encounter, but desperate to escape the sun for a while, I walked in.
Inside it was calm and the loveliest music was playing lifting your spirit higher and higher up. Large black exhibit cases were placed around the room. Hexagonal in shape, they contained fabulous musical instruments several centuries old.
The former altar of the deconsecrated church had been turned into an altar celebrating music.
Large posters were dotted around the space. In Italian and English they were telling the story of the composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi in the context of his time.
People were walking around, talking in hushed tones, browsing through the countless CD’s at the music stall to the left of the entrance and admiring the exquisite instruments in the exhibit cases.
I was drawn to them, too.
Instruments with whimsical shapes, like this guitar lyra of 1815, captivated me with their elegant bodies and skilful decoration.
I was seeing most of them for the first time and I wondered time and time again what must have happened to the music which had been composed specifically to be played on such instruments, like this salterio from 1700 for example…
… or this gorgeous mandolin with an inlaid mother-of-pearl butterfly.
There were musical instruments there with lovely and unusual for our modern times names. For example, ghironda and violin of love. The ghironda was crowned with a tiny male head, carved out of wood. The violin of love had seven playing strings and seven under-strings for better resonance and soft sound. I spent a long time trying to photograph them to show you their exotic looks.
Unfortunately, there were so many reflections in the glass displays that it was impossible to capture well these instruments.
My best bet was to simply position the camera lens against the glass and try to cut off the reflected bodies and faces of the museum’s visitors around me. So, here is the best I could do. It is a close-up of a guitar from 1750.
To the right of the altar there was a small corridor. Eager to explore the museum further, I went to have a look.
A huge display showed in detail the long and laborious process of creating a violin.
It is quite incredible how hundreds of hours of inspired work can turn a piece of wood into a musical instrument which can literally sing and cry in the right hands.
I wonder how many people still have the knowledge, the skill and the dedication to create musical instruments from scratch.
Another tall glass display contained samples of the different varnishes used to lacquer the violins.
Again, I felt like a mystery had been revealed to me. When we listen to a violin, do we think of the skilful hands which made it?! I personally don’t. I am mostly concerned with the pair of hands holding it and either playing it with panache or scraping it terribly.
Now that I have glimpsed the complicated process of creating a violin, I hope to be more mindful and appreciative of it, always remembering the long road a simple piece of wood had to walk to become an instrument able to stir our emotions with its resonance.
Right between the exhibit cases charting the creation of a violin, there was a heavy glass door. It was locked, but through the glass you could see that it led into a studio. It was messy, with several instruments at different stages of completion spread around the room. Tools of the trade covered the work bench.
Once again, it was a revelation to see how a musical instrument is crafted out of wood.
I loved spending time in the Museum of Music in Venice.
It is one of those museums where you can pass five minutes quickly glancing around and then rush out of the door to more glamourous places. Or you can easily spend there over an hour, studying the many displayed musical instruments, reading in detail the informational posters and simply taking in the loveliness of the place.
If you have some time to spare in Venice, I wholeheartedly recommend this museum to you. Oh, as it happens, it is also free of charge to visit and enjoy.
Museo della Musica
Chiesa di San Maurizio
Campo San Maurizio 2761
Tel: 041 241 18 40
Web: Museo della Musica