Venice’s Thousand-Year Ascendancy
For approximately 1,000 years—from 770 to 1797—the city of Venice played a preeminent role in the Mediterranean and in the history of the world. Located in a lagoon fed by two rivers where a number of small, precarious settlements had grown up along the coast, Venice was founded by Byzantines who made it a crossroad between East and West. This essentially maritime city, with its network of canals, became the domain of merchants from many different parts who nevertheless worked together with a common aim: to create a thriving hub of business, exchange, and interests. The city gradually developed an exchange of goods from the East (especially spices, silks, precious metals, and luxury items) to the West that were traded for other goods and commodities (like salt and timber) bound for the East.
Loosely based on ancient Roman models, Venice established itself as an oligarchical republic: a system of government led by a small number of ruling families overseen by a Doge (or Duke) who was elected for life. Venice gradually achieved independence from Byzantium, finally becoming a trade partner rather than a vassal.
Over the course of 1,000 years, this legendary city became rich, independent, and powerful, thanks to the development of its naval fleet. Having staved off Charlemagne’s attempt to conquer the city, Venice rivaled Rome and eventually emerged as the leading economic power in the Mediterranean basin. Such economic and military accomplishments enabled the city-state to advance in the technological, scientific, and cultural fields, as witnessed by its architecture as well as its artistic achievements in painting, literature, and especially music.
Thanks to its merchants and their contacts throughout the Mediterranean, Venice established trading posts on the islands and along the coast, exchanging goods and attracting people of all ethnicities. It was therefore open to influence not only from across the Christian realm—from the Latin West to the Greek Orthodox East—but also from Ottoman, Jewish, Armenian, and Muslim cultures as well.
All these influences are evoked through the music on this program, bringing to life the different sounds emanating from the towns, regions, and countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Music both sacred and secular from the ancient Orthodox traditions of Byzantium, the music of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, from Greece, Turkey, and of course Italy all shaped and influenced the wonderful music that Byzantium and Venice have contributed to the history of European music. Willaert, Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Vivaldi, and many other outstanding composers proclaimed throughout Europe in their time—and in the present day too—attest to the grandeur of this extraordinary city of such long-lasting ascendancy.
The Republic of Venice surrendered to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797, and Venice, which like Rome could be called eternal, became one of the crown jewels of Italy.