Music Book Review: Venetian Curiosities by Donna Leon, Baroque Era Title #2 With Vivaldi Concerti CD

by DerdriuMarriner

Venetian Curiosities by mystery writer Donna Leon brings together seven each of Venice's favorite tales to hear on streets and of Antonio Vivaldi's concerti to listen to at events.

Venice brims with local artists, musicians, and storytellers

Venetian Curiosities assumes, as a 2012 release the second niche in the book and CD series by Donna Leon, world-renowned creator of the Guido Brunetti mystery novels, on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century creations and inventions contemporaneous with Baroque music. It therefore belongs amid releases of:
• Title #1, Handel’s Bestiary in 2011; and
• Title #3, Gondola in 2013.

The first and third publications respectively contain performances of:
• 12 aria by George Frideric Handel (February 23, 1685 – April 14, 1759); and
• Venice’s hallmark folk music, the barcarole, connected with Venice’s signature water transport, the gondola.

The third publication contrastingly details:
• folklore of Venice’s beloved city-specific tales; and
• music of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678 – July 28, 1741).



Presumed portrait of Antonio Vivaldi: 1723 oil painting by unknown Bolognese painter

A disputed Baroque portrait, deemed to be either of composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi or of composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli
Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica (International Museum and Library of Music), Bologna, Italy
Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica (International Museum and Library of Music), Bologna, Italy

Venice cherishes bread-sellers, Carnival-goers, gold-diggers, high-stakers, sausage-makers, street-walkers


All permanent settlements engender their share of local histories. A World Heritage Site since 1987, Venezia, La Serenissima (Venice, the most serene) and its lagoon furnish locals, tourists, transients, and visitors with unforgettable stories to hear and repeat. As world-respected ideator of Commissario Guido Brunetti detective and mystery novels, Donna Leon gathers a septet of tales, including:

  • a baker being commemorated by one of the basilica’s ever-burning oil lamps for false accusation of theft and hanging;
  • a customer discovering fingers of missing children in the neighborhood sausage-maker’s meats;
  • a family dropping gold dinner plates into canals;
  • a gambler risking the family palace;
  • a pachyderm seeking sanctuary during Carnavale (Carnival); and
  • prostitutes turning Venice into sixteenth-century Eurasia’s hot-spot. 


An Island in the Lagoon with a Gateway and a Church: 1743-1744 oil on canvas by Giovanni Antonio Canal (October 17/18,1697 – April 19, 1768)

view of Venice, a city of 118 islands linked by bridges and separated by canals in the Venetian Lagoon
Saint Louis Art Museum, Forest Park, western St. Louis, east central Missouri
Saint Louis Art Museum, Forest Park, western St. Louis, east central Missouri

Venice dabbles in the finest canal-scapes and vignettes


Venetian Curiosities has appeal as sources not only of folklore but also of art and music. For example, the text also introduces samples of the artistic output of:

  • Giovanni Antonio Canal (October 17, 1697 – April 19, 1768); and
  • Pietro Longhi (November 5, 1701 – May 8, 1785).  

Posterity judges the first-mentioned etcher, painter, and print-maker particularly adept at memorable Venice-scapes by:

  • conferring the nickname Canaletto (little canal), in honor of his father being a theatrical scene painter and his stature being diminutive; and
  • painting from nature, not inside studios.

Critics also know of the second-mentioned artist as an astute painter of:

  • altarpieces and frescoes in his early years; and
  • everyday life at Carnival, entertainments, and gambling later on. 


"Exhibition of a rhinoceros at Venice": real event captured via ca. 1751 oil on canvas by Pietro Longhi

Clara the rhinoceros fascinates spectators in carnival costume while showman holds whip and Clara's horn, removed or rubbed off in Rome in 1750 ~ The rhino curiosity, one of less than a handful seen in Europe, arrived in Venice in January 1751.
National Portrait Gallery, London, England
National Portrait Gallery, London, England

Venice expects super-beautiful concerts, masses, operas, and suites


Music-lovers link Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678 – July 28, 1741) with:

  • cantatas, especially Pianti, sospiri;
  • concerts, especially Le quattro stagioni;
  • operas, especially La costanza trionfante and Farnace;
  • oratorios, especially Juditha triumphans;
  • sacred choral works, especially Nulla in mundo pax sincera;
  • sonatas, especially Santo Sepolcro; and
  • symphonies, especially al Santo Sepolcro.

They particularly memorialize his output as:

  • ordained priest with Ospedale della Pietà’s choir and orchestra of abandoned girls; and
  • violinist.

So Venetian Curiosities nudges audiences into culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, geo-historically enthralling journeys through seven each of image-rich, information-packed vignettes and stringed instruments-rich concerts on an enclosed 64-minute compact disc, thanks to:

  • Donna Leon’s authorship;
  • Riccardo Minasi’s and Il Complesso Barocco’s performances; and
  • Antonio Vivaldi’s concerti. 


Venetian Curiosities by Donna Leon ~ available via Amazon

Includes CD of Music by Antonio Vivaldi with Riccardo Minasi conducting Il Complesso Baroco
Venetian Curiosities



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Wien aus dem Luftballon gesehen von Südwesten (Vienna seen from southwest from air balloon): 1847 watercolor by Jakob Alt (September 27, 1789 – September 30, 1872)

St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephandom), venue for impoverished Antonio Vivaldi's music-less funeral
Vienna Museum, northeastern Austria
Vienna Museum, northeastern Austria

Sources Consulted


Leon, Donna. 2012. Venetian Curiosities. Music by Antonio Vivaldi with Riccardo Minasi Conducting Il Complesso Barocco. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. 


The Frozen Lagoon in 1708: 1708 oil on canvas by Gabriele Bela (ca. 1730 - 1799)

Although strongly associated with his birthplace of Venice, Antonio Vivaldi spent the last decade of his life with financial difficulties in Vienna, where he died and was buried.
Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice, Italy
Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice, Italy
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Fireworks in Venice: black t-shirt ~ available via AllPosters

illustration by George Barbier (October 10, 1882 - March 16, 1932) for Fêtes Galantes by Paul Verlaine (March 30, 1844 – January 8, 1896)
Fireworks in Venice, Illustration for "Fetes Galantes" by Paul Verlaine 1924
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 05/14/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 06/04/2015

Mira, Thank you for mentioning the number of famous St. Stephen's churches in Europe. It's an interesting fact to keep in mind. One of my favorites is the elegantly simple Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry in the Aquitanian region of France.

Mira on 05/29/2015

P.S. are -> there are :)

Mira on 05/28/2015

Just as you find Donna Leon's books interesting, I find that your articles, too, are very inspiring. I didn't know Vivaldi's funeral took place in the Stephansdom! By the way, I'm surprised how many famous St. Stephen's churches are in Europe.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/28/2015

All three of Donna Leon's book+CD combos impress me with the information which she shares and the selections which she makes for musical and textual themes. For example, Handel's Bestiary lists animals referenced in the composer's music and Gondola tells the story of the boat's evolution in form and use (even though nobody knows for sure the origins of the name). And Venetian Curiosities, like Donna Leon's novels (especially By Its Cover), makes a lovely Venice-inspired gift regarding popular culture.

Mira on 05/26/2015

As someone wrote on Amazon, this book+CD combo is a curiosity in itself. Not enough of a book, I'd say, but certainly interesting and nice as a Venice-inspired gift.

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