Six-fingered orphan’s forgotten masterpiece

Six-fingered orphan’s forgotten masterpiece

The Australian Chamber Choir is making history by performing music by a disabled orphan girl after 300 years of silence.

Music lovers all over the world are familiar with Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Much less known is the fact that Vivaldi wrote this work, and many others like it, for a Venetian orchestra of orphaned girls.

At the orphanage known as the Ospedale della Pietà, Vivaldi directed one of the finest orchestras in Europe. While other orchestras excluded female players, Vivaldi’s choir and orchestra consisted entirely of women, educated in one of the world’s first conservatoriums.

Agatha, born without fingers on her left hand, was given up to the orphanage in 1712, shortly after her birth. 

She grew up to become a fine soprano soloist and a respected teacher, but her compositions were left, forgotten in a Venetian library for nearly three centuries.

Australian Chamber Choir (ACC) manager Elizabeth Anderson told CBD News how Agatha’s manuscripts were discovered.

“At high school, our music teacher explained how Vivaldi taught music at a girls’ orphanage. I was captivated by the idea that music composed by those orphans might have survived,” Ms Anderson said.

Fast forward 40 years, and Elizabeth was discussing with her husband, Douglas Lawrence (the ACC’s director) what music the choir should sing alongside Vivaldi’s Gloria.

“After a brief online search, I found the names of three orphan composers and a Venetian library with some of their music,” he said.


I wrote to the librarian, and, to my surprise, within a week, copies of the yellowed manuscript parts for Agatha’s Cantata arrived in my inbox.


Since then, the ACC has made history by giving the first performances of Agatha’s music (other than those presented by Vivaldi’s famous all-girl band).

In July, Lawrence and his singers are invited to present the Cantata in Venice’s Pisani Palace. During the concert, they will gift Anderson’s edition of Agatha’s Cantata to the citizens of Venice and to the Benedetto Marcello Library, where the manuscripts reside.

A small group of Friends from Australia will accompany them on their 11-stop concert tour and celebrate with them after this special concert.

A CD of Agatha’s Cantata, entitled Keys to Heaven, is available at, and before they depart for Europe, the ACC will give four concerts (including two in Melbourne).

An on-demand video of Vivaldi’s Gloria, Agatha’s Cantata is available on ACCess (the Australian Chamber Choir’s Excellent Streaming Service).
Performances will be held at 3pm, Sunday, May 5 at Scots’ Church (corner of Russell and Collins streets) and 3pm Saturday, May 25 at Church of the Resurrection in Macedon.

Information on the ACC’s concert tour of Europe, concert tickets, CDs and on-demand videos can be found at or call 0452 531 750. •

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