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Musicians’ Networks in Early Modern Venice

Approaches to Creating Network Graphs Through Documents

Article by Mollie Ables
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Following a series of cultural and economic shifts in the late seventeenth century, the average career path for a Venetian musician was dramatically different than in previous decades. Musicians were less likely to hold a single salaried post and most held multiple posts during their career. This altered the existing musical networks among musicians and the different institutions that employed them. These changes are represented in the career of Venetian musician and composer Giovanni Legrenzi. Using data collected from payment records for four sacred Venetian institutions where Legrenzi worked from 1670-1690, I created a bimodal network graph linking musicians to institutions through the documents that indicate their relationship. The graph demonstrates shared institutions and implied communities, and also serves as a repository for transcriptions of archival texts. In this article, I will be focusing primarily on this graph, which I created for my 2016 dissertation and as a proof-of-concept for a larger project documenting musicians’ activity in Baroque Venice. Since creating the original graph, I have expanded the number and kinds of documents included in the data set and have experimented with node entities that allow me to examine relationships from different angles. More information on the larger project is available at
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I. Introduction

The musical institutions in Venice are a useful entry point into understanding Venetian culture in general. The basilica of Saint Mark’s had become a major musical center in Europe by the sixteenth century, and music composed for ensembles at Saint Mark’s helped to perpetuate official Venetian culture. Outside of the basilica, ensembles employed by minor churches and religious organizations contributed to the city’s political and religious self-styling as well as a robust network of musicians.

In Baroque Venice, shifting cultural dynamics among different musical institutions affected their hiring practices. Through the seventeenth century, the institutional dynamic in Venice was, functionally, the basilica of Saint Mark’s, and then everything else. This all starts to change after about 1650 due to various cultural, political, and economic factors, and Saint Mark’s becomes less culturally visible while other institutions become more so. As a result, Venice fostered more of a gigging culture, as musicians were more likely to hold multiple posts over the course of their career. This changed the city's musician networks surrounding different institutions.

Networking was an important skill for most members of Venetian society in general, not just musicians. The city’s unique political and cultural systems allowed for upward mobility in a way that other major European centers could not. In a city that was public in almost every way - its entertainment, its political proceedings, its acts of devotion - with whom one associated was extremely important. This is especially true in a gig economy.

Venice Map 1
Musical Institutions in Venice: Saint Mark's Basilica (Lodovico Ughi, Iconografica Rappresentatione della Inclita Città di Venezia Consacrata al Reggio Serenissimo Dominio Veneto [1729] Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Venice Map 2
Musical Institutions in Venice: Ospedale Grandi (Lodovico Ughi, Iconografica Rappresentatione della Inclita Città di Venezia Consacrata al Reggio Serenissimo Dominio Veneto [1729] Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Venice Map 3
Musical Institutions in Venice: Opera Houses (Lodovico Ughi, Iconografica Rappresentatione della Inclita Città di Venezia Consacrata al Reggio Serenissimo Dominio Veneto [1729] Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As a case study, I focused on the career of the composer Giovanni Legrenzi. Legrenzi worked for several Venetian musical institutions from the early 1670s to his death in 1690. This included minor churches, opera houses, and two of the city's ospedali, charitable institutions that functioned as music conservatories for young girls. 1, 2

Legrenzi was ultimately elected maestro di cappella at Saint Mark’s basilica, still the most visible and prestigious position in Venice. In this twenty-year period he worked with musicians who also served multiple institutions in the city – either simultaneously or in succession – which created a series of networks that shifted as people moved around in their careers.

Legrenzi presents an ideal case study in navigating musicians’ networks because he was successful, but not the exalted "Great Man type" of composer. Unlike Claudio Monteverdi or Adriano Willaert, he was not recruited to come to Saint Mark’s to be the maestro and create or restore prestige for the cappella. In fact, he auditioned to be the maestro in 1676 but the hiring committee narrowly went with the known entity instead. At this point the maestri at Saint Mark’s had either worked there their entire lives or they were specifically recruited for the job. 3 Legrenzi was neither of these things: He was an outsider, so he didn’t have the advantage of being in the Saint Mark’s pipeline from the beginning of his career and, though he had held other posts in other cities, he was not an internationally renowned composer specifically recruited for the job. His career suggests that he spent the 1670s working at different places in Venice, earning some cache in Venetian musical society, until 1681 when he auditioned to be the vice maestro.

Legrenzi was eventually elected to Saint Mark’s, arguably because of his connections at other institutions. By the end of his tenure, the Saint Mark’s musicians also had more connections to institutions outside of the basilica. This might be partly attributed to Legrenzi’s administrative decisions but, in general, Venice was becoming a more networked place. Saint Mark’s struggled to provide competitive salaries, and it increasingly had competition from the ospedali and the opera industry for its best musicians. In the late seventeenth century, more and more musicians maintained a living by working at multiple institutions simultaneously. This created complicated networks with more opportunities for advancement in Venetian musical society.

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II. Bimodal Network Description

To visualize these networks, I created a network graph using Gephi, and made it available online using the Sigma.js plugin []

The graph for this project is a bimodal network, demonstrating connections between musician-nodes and place-nodes. This graph connects the four sacred institutions where Legrenzi worked between 1670 and 1690 with the musicians mentioned in those institutions’ documents. It also includes the members of the Sovvegno di Santa Cecilia, a musicians’ confraternity that Legrenzi helped form in the 1680s.

Image 7

When you click on a place-node, for instance, Saint Mark’s, the information pane will display every person node linked to that place in the time period.

Image 8

When you click on a musician-node, the graph displays the institutions connected with that musician. The Information Panel also displays transcription of the documents linking that musician with that institution.

To make the graph I transcribed documents that recorded musicians’ activities at the four sacred institutions where Legrenzi worked during his Venetian career. These documents were mainly payment, hiring, and termination records, mostly held in the State Archives of Venice.

The nodes in this network graph are arranged according to degree of centrality. Since the place-nodes inherently have more edges than any of the musician-nodes, they become the centers of gravity for the people connected to them. As might be expected, the nodes representing institutions are central to the network, but this centrality allows us to see node activity surrounding institutions.

Grouping the nodes by centrality results in multiple sub-groups, and proximity among musician-nodes demonstrates shared institutions and implied communities.

Image 9

For instance, there is a tight cluster of musician- nodes around the place -node for Saint Mark’s. These clusters represent modules of nodes with strong connections within their group, but sparse connections to nodes in similar groups. The module surrounding Saint Mark’s represents the musicians who share a connection to the basilica and only the basilica.

Saint Mark’s is the most connected institution in the graph, which comes as no surprise, though musicians definitely varied in their relationships with the basilica. This is represented by the color-coded edges in the graph, which indicate their initial relationship with the institution. Most of the edges surrounding Saint Mark’s are a light purple, indicating that they were hired for a salaried position. Beginning in the 1680s, however, church administrators increasingly hired musicians for one-time performances, so here you see varying shades of red and pink.

Image 10

There are two main modules of nodes surrounding the Sovvegno di Santa Cecilia: the musicians with only a connection to the sovvegno, and the musicians that had connections with the sovvegno and Saint Mark’s. This implies, first of all, that most of the musicians hired at Saint Mark’s after 1687 were part of the sovvegno, which is demonstrated by the group on the left. Second, that Saint Mark’s no longer held the monopoly on the city’s best musicians. In a group that ostensibly comprised the most prestigious musicians in Venice, approximately half of them had no associations with the cappella.

Image 11

There is hardly any clustering or modularity surrounding the two ospedale where Legrenzi worked, the Ospedale dei Derelitti and the Ospedale dei Mendicanti. This is because all of the maestri these ospedali employed were also employed by other institutions. As ospedali became more culturally relevant and economically viable in the late seventeenth century, this allowed them to bring in more musicians from Saint Mark’s and other institutions. As a result, none of the ospedali maestri in this study fall into a cluster or module in the network graph.

Image 12

As opposed to other institutions, the ospedali mainly employed salaried maestri, as indicated by the light purple edges designating a permanent hire. Hiring a musician on a salary, first of all, implies a regular and anticipated interaction between the musician and the institution. It also indicates that the hiring institution has a large enough program to warrant salaried musicians, as well as the financial means to pay them.

Image 13

There are two different groups of nodes surrounding the minor church that also employed Legrenzi, known as the Fava church: Those in a module that represents church administrators or other members of the order, who filled musical roles at the church but were not necessarily musicians by trade, and the group of musicians from outside the church hired to be dedicated maestri di cappella and organists. These musicians have multiple connections and do not form a module. This reinforces that the Fava church hired musicians that were (or would be) well-connected to other institutions, making it an important musical point of contact in the late seventeenth century.

The edges colors surrounding each institution imply trends in hiring practices. The edges connecting musicians to the Fava church are mostly green for “payment,” as the documents largely indicate that individuals were compensated for one-time services.

It was important for me to be able to include the documents in their entirety in the network graph, as each institution varied in how they hired musicians and in the specific language they used to describe their services. I consulted very specific kinds of sources in this study and in creating the network graph. The archival administrative records I transcribed were transactional and suggested very clear binary relationships of institution/employee or society/member. The nature of the relationship could vary - for example, salaried versus contract employee - but the power dynamic is the same between all place nodes and person nodes. For this reason, a bimodal network works particularly well in demonstrating trends, as the focus is on the activity and movement of nodes surrounding the institutions.

III. Expanding the Documents in the Dataset

I created the original bimodal network graph to accompany my 2016 dissertation in musicology. Since then, I have experimented with incorporating greater variety of documents and examining relationships from different perspectives. Relationships between musicians are implied by these documents as hiring records reveal overlaps between musicians’ careers, but these are very specific kinds of documents with significant limitations. The next step was to expand the kind of documents included in the graph to include different kinds of relationships. These include notarial records, periodicals, and tourist guides. Sources like these require more critical interpretation, but they can be used to contextualize different types of relationships. For instance, a musician's activity could be documented in an internal administrative document, such as a church's payroll records, but also in a public-facing document, such as a tourist guide describing the music at that church.


This image is of another bimodal network graph linking the musicians named in four different tourist guides published between 1663 and 1700, linking them with the institutions the associated with them in the guides.


In this graph I’ve added the data from my other research that links musicians to additional institutions. For example, the 1700 guide mentions Giacomo Spada in association with Ospedale della Pietà, but it doesn’t mention that he was contracted by the Fava Church, and was an organist at St. Mark’s. Layering information from these two kinds of sources contextualizes the more public-facing marketing materials within the larger scope of a musician’s career.

This is obviously a very small sample, but it demonstrates how layers of documents can link nodes that would otherwise seem insular.

Relationships among musicians mentioned in tourist guides can also vary; at times these musicians may have no documented relationship but appear in the same lists as prominent musicians in the city. In cases like these, the document does not imply a relationship, the document is the relationship.

Image 14

IV. A Unimodal Graph

The purpose of the bimodal graph was to demonstrate relationships between musicians and institutions. Another and far more complicated problem is demonstrating the relationships between people at those institutions.

In this mockup I have included Legrenzi and two other musicians with documented relationships with him. Giovanni Francesco Pattavino is mentioned in Legrenzi’s will, excerpted here as an edge attribute. In this document Legrenzi bequeaths his reliquary to Pattavino, indicating some kind of personal relationship. The will describes Pattavino as a musician at Saint Mark’s but, as I didn’t find him in the hiring records between 1670 and 1690, he is not listed in the current graph.

This mockup also includes Carlo Pallavicino, another musician not in the original bimodal graph. Pallavicino was another prominent Venetian musician and composer that worked for similar institutions as Legrenzi. It is unlikely that these two men did not have some kind of relationship, especially since a Venetian newssheet from 1688 describes Legrenzi conducting the choir for Pallavicino’s funeral.

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I experimented with unimodal networks using my existing dataset, in which all musicians that are mentioned in the same document are connected to one another. These are musicians that are connected to one another not necessarily by institution, but by shared document. The edges are color-coded by the type of record the musician-nodes share. [Available at]

There are some practical challenges in creating the unimodal graph. First of all, the sheer volume of data is unwieldy. To create a network graph an entity needs to be designated the “source” and another the “target.” In the bimodal graph the institution is the “target” but in the unimodal a musician must be both a source and target for all the other musicians. This graph only examines a sampling of documents from a twenty-year period and has just under 20,000 edges.

Then there is the issue of formatting the metadata. In my original graph the archival text appears in the graph as a node attribute. This worked well for the bimodal network since the documents indicated relationships between institutions and the individuals they employed. In demonstrating relationships between people, the original source text is instead an edge attribute, which presents its own set of practical challenges in the Gephi interface.

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V. Current Bimodal Graph

My working solution to these challenges is to create another bimodal graph, this time making the document itself an entity rather than the institution associated with that document. [Available at]

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The blue nodes represent musicians, and they are connected to the documents that name them and their activity at a specific institution or event. The user can click on a document node to see a transcription of the text since it is a node attribute.

As with the original graph, the nodes are arranged according to degree of centrality, so while there are no connections between the musician-nodes, relationships among people are implied by the layout.

The digital platform allows me to not only to investigate relationships among musicians within and between institutions, but also to see how networks align between different kinds of documents. I have found that focusing on just the documents that I can be more upfront about the caveats in this information. This is not “what happened,” this is a visual representation of information that is available in a limited number of sources. I will expand the number and type of sources as a continue in my research, resulting in a richer, more complicated graph that continues to serve as a text repository.

IV. Transcribed Sources

Archival Sources

Archivio di Stato di Venezia, I-Vas

Procuratoria di supra di San Marco, Cariche ed impiegati di chiesa, buste 89-91.

Procuratoria di supra di San Marco, Chiesa actorum, registri 146-148.

Procuratoria di supra di San Marco, Rubricari delle terminazioni della procuratia, busta 4, processo 49.

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, I-Vnm

Cf. Cod. It. VII, 2447.

S Maria della Consolazione detta Della Fava, I-Vsmc

Busta dei Bilanci

Libro de Decreti

Print Sources

Coronelli, Vincenzo, Guida de' forestieri sacro-profana...Venice, 1700.

Doglioni, Nicolò, Le cose notabili, et maravigliose della città di Venetia, Venice, 1671.

Fedeli, Ruggiero. Santa Catterina d’Alessandria, Rappresentatione Sacra Per Musica. Venice, 1675. (Libretto Dedication)

Pacifico, Pietro Antonio. Cronica veneta, overo succinto racconto di tutte le cose più cospicue et antiche della città di Venetia. Venice, 1697

Sansovino, Francesco, and Giustinian Martinioni. Venetia città nobilissima. Venice, 1663.

Secondary Sources

Alm, Irene. Catalog of Venetian Librettos at the University of California, Los Angeles. Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1993

Istituzioni di ricovero e di educazione. Arte e musica all'Ospedaletto: schede d'archivio sull'attività musicale degli ospedali dei derelitti e dei mendicanti di Venezia (sec. XVI-XVIII). (Venice): Stamperia di Venezia, 1978.

Selfridge-Field, Eleanor. Pallade Veneta: Writings on Music in Venetian society, 1650-1750. Venezia: Edizioni Fondazione Levi, 1985.


09 July 2021
Review status
Double-blind peer review


  • 1 For the history of Venetian opera houses, see E. Rosand, Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: the Creation of a Genre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Beth Lise, Glixon and Jonathan Emmanuel Glixon, Inventing the Business of Opera: The Impresario and His World in Seventeenth-Century Venice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Simon Towneley Worsthorne, Venetian Opera in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954); Maria Teresa Muraro, Venezia e il melodramma nel Seicento (Firenze: L.S. Olschki, 1976); Mary Sue Macklemore, Reforming Opera and Its Public in Early Modern Venice (Ph.D. Thesis: University of Pennsylvania, 2003). 
  • 2 For the history of Venetian ospedali, see Jane Louise Baldauf-Berdes, “Musical Life at the Four Ospedali Grandi of Venice, 1525-1855.” (Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 1989); Berdes, Women Musicians of Venice: Musical Foundations, 1525-1855 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); Brian S. Pullan, Rich and Poor In Renaissance Venice: The Social Institutions of a Catholic State, to 1620 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971); M. Constable, “The Venetian figlie del coro: Their environment and achievement,” Music & Letters 63, no. 3-4 (July-October 1982); Laura Moretti, Fondazione “Giorgio Cini,” and Istituto italiano Antonio Vivaldi, Dagli Incurabili Alla Pieta: Le Chiese Degli Ospedali Grandi Di Venezia Tra Architettura E Musica (1522-1790). Studi Di Musica Veneta. Quaderni Vivaldiani (Firenze: Olschki, 2008); Denis Arnold, “Orphans and Ladies: The Venetian Conservatoires (1680-1790)” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 89 (1962 - 1963); Bernard Aikema and Dulcia Meijers, Nel Regno Dei Poveri : Arte E Storia Dei Grandi Ospedali Veneziani in Età Moderna, 1474-1797 (Venezia: Arle, 1989); Jolando Scarpa and Antonio Sacchini, I Maestri Di Musica All'Ospedaletto : 1o Ciclo Biennale 1995-1996 (Venezia: IRE, Istituzione di ricovero e di educazione, 1995; Eleanor Selfridge-Field, “Music at the Pietà before Vivaldi." Early Music 14, no. 3 (1986); Jane L. Berdes and Joan Whittemore. A Guide to Ospedali Research, Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2012).
  • 3 Of the 14 maestri and vice maestri di cappella elected at San Marco between 1676 and the end of the republic, seven were also associated with the Mendicanti. This includes Monferrato and Legrenzi, but also Partenio, Biffi, Saratelli, Galuppi, and Bertoni. Two maestri - Pollarolo and Lotti - had previous associations with the Incurabili, Latilla worked to the Pietà, and Pollarolo and Legrenzi also worked for the Derelitti. Volpe, Sartorio, and Bergamo had no known affiliations with ospedali (Bonta, “The Church Sonatas of Giovanni Legrenzi” [Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1964], 79-82).

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