Alyssa Palombo’s stunning debut novel, The Violinist of Venice, is released today in book stores around Australia. I’m lucky enough to have read an advance copy and absolutely loved it – I highly recommend it if you love historical fiction and/or music in general. You can read my full review here.
The Violinist of Venice is based around the life of Antonio Vivaldi (composer of Four Seasons) in eighteenth century Venice, Italy. The storyline spans three decades from the stormy, doomed romance of Adriana and Antonio to the aftermath and the rise of Vivaldi’s musical career – and what happened to those he left behind.
I’m thrilled to have been able to interview Alyssa Palombo to answer a few burning questions about the writing of The Violinist of Venice. It was fascinating to learn more about the back story!
The Violinist of Venice – an interview with Alyssa Palombo
Bec: You made 18th century Venice come alive! Tell us about your research process.
Alyssa Palombo: My research process for this novel was a bit unconventional. I knew hardly anything about Venice or Vivaldi when I began, but I just had to start writing because the story would not leave me alone. So I did the research as I went (and, of necessity, some things that I had written originally had to change as a result of that research).
It was a lot of reading, as you might imagine: about Vivaldi himself, of course, but also about Venetian history in general – from the founding of the city to the 18th century – as well as about their government, laws, culture, religious customs, social hierarchy, fashion, artwork, etc.
Of course, Google is any author’s best friend – there are always those little facts you can find with a quick Google search.
I did go to Venice for a few days, so that I could see it for myself, as well as see some of the places that appeared in the novel. Venice is a place like no other in the world, so I got to a point where I knew I couldn’t write about it anymore without seeing it. And Venice is rather handy to write about as a historical fiction author, as it hasn’t changed all that much since Vivaldi’s time, really!
I took violin lessons for a few months as research for the novel. I had never so much as touched a violin when I started writing The Violinist of Venice, and I wanted to know at least a little something about the instrument. I am a pretty terrible violinist, truth be told, but I had a lot of fun taking the lessons, and it gave me some insight into the incredible skill that it takes to play it well. That was all very helpful while writing.
Bec: Capturing entire sonatas in a few paragraphs is an incredible skill. How did you perfect these passages?
Alyssa Palombo: I’m so glad these scenes resonated (pun intended!) as they’re some of my favorite bits of writing in the novel. Each of the scenes with one of Vivaldi’s actual compositions is about a specific piece that I chose especially for that scene.
To write about each one and really capture it, I would listen to the piece over and over again; I would sit and listen to it several times and try to put it into words just in my head, try to think of ways to describe it, before ever writing anything down. I would also play it while I wrote the corresponding scene. A lot of those passages did change and evolve in revision, as I would listen to the piece anew and perhaps hear it differently or think of it in a way I hadn’t before.
Some of the vocal pieces described in the novel – namely the Stabat Mater and the aria “Cosi potessi anch’io” from Orlando furioso – I have actually performed myself, so that gave me a more intimate insight into them and helped me write about them, I think – even though Adriana (the protagonist) is experiencing them only as a listener.
I am a very passionate music fan, both of classical music and my preferred genre of heavy metal. I write, drive, work out, clean, and do my work at my day job to music, so it’s constantly in my head; I am constantly interacting with it and thinking about it. So because it is something I love so much it felt natural to write about it, even as I really tinkered with those passages to make sure that they were just right and were doing justice to the music they described.
Bec: The all-consuming need to create music is a theme throughout the Violinist of Venice. Are you a composer, yourself, or did you draw from your experience in creating fiction?
Alyssa Palombo: I’m not a composer (I wish I could be!), save for occasionally playing around on the piano and coming up with silly little things that I never write down.
My experience in writing fiction was definitely the well from which I drew when talking about Adriana and Vivaldi’s need to create. Especially for the scenes in which Adriana is composing her own music, I really thought about my own creative process and how that might translate to the composition of music, and in my imagination anyway I felt as though the two might be quite similar. No matter the medium, it seems to me that creating any sort of art is a labor of love that comes with certain technical demands.
Adriana is a bit of a perfectionist, which is one way that she is like me. And though I’m not a composer, as a musician and music lover I certainly know what it feels like to just want to make and hear and perform music. Often I’ll sing in my car or in my house, just because I like to, and just because it feels good to sing. That love and that feeling is something my characters definitely share as well – and I think there are a lot of musicians who can relate!
Bec: I absolutely loved The Violinist of Venice. What can you tell us about your next project?
Thank you so much! I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed it.
Right now I’m working with my editor at St. Martin’s Press on my second book, which is also historical fiction. This one is set in Renaissance Florence, and is very much about the beautiful artwork of that period – Sandro Botticelli is one of the novel’s main characters.
It was a project that gave me a lot of difficulty in the beginning, but I am so, so pleased with how it’s turned out. Hopefully I will be able to share more details about it soon!
The Violinist of Venice is released in book stores around Australia on 15 December or you can order a copy from Booktopia online here.
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