Vivaldi 'wrote mainly for women'

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The story of the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi's work with an all-female orchestra is about to be revealed to unsuspecting music lovers.

The man whose compositions are more likely to be heard these days via a customer service was a pioneer of women musicians. His work, it turns out, was written to be performed almost entirely by women.

For 37 years he worked as music master in a female orphanage. Here babies, often abandoned for their deformities, were posted through a hole in the wall and brought up by the nuns. Boys reached adolescence and were sent away, but talented girls were kept for musical training.

The full story will be unveiled in a BBC documentary, Vivaldi's Women, to be broadcast on BBC 4 on 25 March. Vivaldi was sensitive to the girls' sad start in lifeand had instruments specially adapted for some of the deformed musicians.

Dr John Kitchen, of Edinburgh University, says this was not so unusual. "Women were doing far more in the musical world at this time than the history books would have us believe," he says. There were other orphanage orchestras in the city with female choirs. Yet outside Venice the concept of a non-religious female choir was unknown.