Disembodied Hands

Disembodies hands floating before the church altar.

That’s what I saw last night, or thought I saw. Actually, it was the screen they had set up to project the image of the organist playing at the church of San Trovaso. It’s part of the Gaetano Callido series of sacred music concerts being offered this summer. Last night Silvio Celeghin’s hands tickled the keys. (Can one tickle an instrument so ponderous? It’s like tickling an elephant.) Silvio was accompanied on some pieces by the American soprano Malina Rauschenfels. She introduced each piece she sang, for instance, telling us about one song that was the Virgin Mary’s lament as she searched in the marketplace for her missing son, fearing the worst, panicking in this time “before cell phones.”

The best surprise for me was the first song Malina sang, written by Barbara Strozzi, the Venetian composer from the mid-1600s who wrote more music in her century than any other Italian man or woman. I’ve been studying the life of Strozzi for my new book, and in fact had a “tour” two weeks ago by Candace Magner, a musician and researcher who keeps the Strozzi website. On one of our rainy days, Candace showed me five locations related to Strozzi’s life, and we even got to go into one house that was being renovated. (The workmen were kind enough to let us in.)

Candace and I on our walk a couple weeks ago.


The Stozzi house where we were able to see the interior:


So hearing Barbara Strozzi’s music was a great treat. She wrote music for a voice like hers, described as a “light soprano,” so I closed my eyes and as Malina sang, I imagined I was in Barbara’s salotto, listening to her sing. Very exciting as I’m surrounded by my research come to life.

But about those disembodied hands, each one larger than a person. The organist sat up in the loft where we couldn’t see him, so it was wonderful to see the real-time video of his hands across the brown keys (that looked like George Washington’s dentures). I have to admit here, that as I listen to organ music, there’s a tiny infantile piece of me that thinks of the Phantom of the Opera. That image taints my ability to listen to it. I’m not trying to excuse my immaturity, just admit to it, especially when the organist presses on the top row of keys and the bottom row moves simultaneously. (Then my infantile mind went to the Haunted House at Disneyland.)

But these small obstacles won’t stop me. I plan to be at next week’s concert, too.

The organ: (Sorry for the poor photo quality. It just didn’t seem proper to take photos during the show, so I only snapped a quick one afterwards, in the dim lighting.)


And here’s the screen, though it’s after the show, so you don’t get to see the disembodied hands:


Candace is organizing a concert of Barbara Strozzi’s music on August 13 at St. George’s Anglican Church in Venice, for those of you lucky enough to be in town. I leave Aug. 12!

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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4 Responses to Disembodied Hands

  1. Nancy Schwalen says:

    I like the idea of the disembodied hands. Last summer Steve and I went to a concert in the Stanford Chapel (if chapel is the right word for that magnificent space). We went primarily for a choral group I like but, at the beginning of the second half, we were treated to some music played on the wonderful organ there. What was frustrating was sitting in pews that forced us to face forward while the organist was behind us and up – no way we could actually watch him play.
    (And who doesn’t think of “Phantom . . .” when they hear a pipe organ?)

  2. Yes, seeing his hands was a definite plus, but when I detached my mind for a moment and just “saw” these disembodied hands floating there, it was a weird image!

  3. lizbert1 says:

    Having Googled Barbara Strozzi I am a little hooked! What a lady to have written such masterpieces!! Have a safe trip home! :o)

  4. Yes! And I actually feel this way about every woman I’ve been studying. What amazing women used to populate Venice.

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