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6.110064 - VIVALDI: Dixit Dominus, RV 595 / Gloria, RV 588
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Sacred Music: Dixit Dominus • Nulla in mundo pax sincera • Jubilate, o amoeni chori – Gloria

Known in his native Venice as the red priest, from the inherited colour of his hair, Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678, the son of a barber who later served as a violinist at the great Basilica of St Mark. Vivaldi studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time he won a reputation for himself as a violinist of phenomenal ability and was appointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Pietà. This last was one of four such charitable institutions, established for the education of orphan, indigent or illegitimate girls and boasting a particularly fine musical tradition. Here the girls were trained in music, some of the more talented continuing to serve there as assistant teachers, earning the dowry necessary for marriage. Vivaldi’s association with the Pietà continued intermittently throughout his life, from 1723 under a contract that provided for the composition of two new concertos every month. At the same time he enjoyed a connection with the theatre, as the composer of some fifty operas, director and manager. He finally left Venice in 1741, travelling to Vienna, where there seemed some possibility of furthering his career under imperial patronage, or perhaps with the idea of travelling on to the court at Dresden, where his pupil Pisendel was working. He died in Vienna a few weeks after his arrival in the city, in relative poverty. At one time he had been worth 50,000 ducats a year, it seemed, but now had little to show for it, as he arranged for the sale of some of the music he had brought with him.

Vivaldi had started his service at the Pietà in 1703. The following years brought brief gaps in his tenure, but the allegedly temporary departure in 1713 of Francesco Gasparini, maestro di coro at the Pietà since 1700, allowed Vivaldi to show his ability in sacred choral composition, for which the governors of the Pietà rewarded him in 1715. The following year he was appointed maestro de’ concerti, with a performance of his oratorio Juditha triumphans in November 1716. In 1717 he left the Pietà and the next year was in Mantua as maestro di cappella da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, Governor of Mantua from 1714 to 1735. He renewed his connection with the Pietà in 1723. Michael Talbot has suggested datings for Vivaldi’s sacred music. The works here included fall into the first of the three periods he identifies, the years immediately after the departure from Venice of Gasparini, when the Pietà needed to find a composer fully competent to take his place.

The second surviving setting by Vivaldi of the Vespers Psalm CIX, Dixit Dominus, RV 595, is scored for two oboes, trumpet, strings, continuo, five vocal soloists and five-part chorus. The opening makes celebratory use of the orchestra, accompanying and framing the choral proclamation of the first verse of the Psalm. The second movement, in B minor, is marked by the urgent dotted rhythms introduced by the accompanying strings, before the successive vocal entries, started by the bass and formed by the notes of the descending tonic chord. This is later inverted, with a similar ascending figure introduced by the tenor. There follows a lively G major soprano aria with strings and continuo. There is a miraculous change of mood and texture in the A minor duet for two sopranos, framed and accompanied by two solo cellos and continuo. The next section opens in E minor, introduced by the ascending figure of the contraltos and scored now for four-part chorus, with strings and continuo. The descending chromatic harmonies are suggested, not entirely appropriately, by the words ‘et non paenitebit’ (and will not repent). The mood changes with a final brief and bright G major Presto, with imitative vocal entries on the words ‘Tu es sacerdos in aeternum’ (thou art a priest for ever). An elaborate B minor soprano aria gives hostile kings their due, with the instrumental element entrusted to a single violin line, viola and continuo. The solo trumpet suggests the last trump in the dramatic D major contralto solo ‘Judicabit in nationibus’ (He shall judge nations), with the last judgement emphatically represented by the chorus. Violin and viola accompany the following E minor contralto solo. The final Gloria is set in three sections. The first of these, setting the opening words, is a D major trinitarian 3/8 trio for contralto, tenor and bass, with continuo. The first part of the work is recalled, with the same scoring, leading to a final contrapuntal section of mounting grandeur.

The motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630, is scored for solo soprano, strings and continuo. The text is anonymous. The first section is an E major siciliano, a conventionally pastoral evocation of the sacred peace that is its verbal theme, in the form of a da capo aria. The temptations of the world are alluded to in the following recitative, with figuration that reflects the text. The following A major da capo aria allows the usual embellishments and short cadenza in its repeated first section. The original key of E major returns in the elaborate closing Alleluia.

It has been pointed out that Vivaldi’s Gloria, RV 588, which has similarities with the same composer’s other D major setting, the well-known RV 589, owes something to a setting by Giovanni Maria Ruggieri, notably in the fugal Cum Sancto Spiritu, which is a reworking of the other composer’s more elaborate setting. The work survives linked to an Introduction, Jubilate, o amoeni chori, from which it can be detached. The Introduction sets words of general liturgical application and is scored for contralto (mezzo-soprano) solo, strings and continuo. The Gloria, linked to the Introduction in the third movement is scored for four soloists, four-part chorus, two oboes, trumpet, strings and continuo.

The Introduction starts with a D major virtuoso and lively da capo aria. This leads to a B minor recitative, before the return of the original key and the soloist’s link to the Gloria itself, now with oboes and trumpet and leading to the entry of the choir, but interspersed with further solo passages for the contralto, who is heard again in an elaborate passage, together with other solo voices. The introductory verse, in its listing of instruments, suggests a brief moment of glory for the organ at the word ‘organa’.

The B minor setting of ‘Et in terra pax’ brings descending figuration, as one voice imitates another, leading to passages of melancholy descending chromaticism. Any doubts about the possibilities of peace on earth are dispelled by the G major duet for soprano soloists, ‘Laudamus te. Benedicimus te’, whether antiphonal or joining together in a happy conjunction of thirds.

‘Gratias agimus tibi’ is an E minor Adagio for choir and strings, succeeded by a buoyant G major tenor setting of ‘Domine Deus, Rex coelestis’, in which dotted rhythms predominate. ‘Domine Fili unigenite’ is a C major fugal choral movement, after which an attractive and demanding oboe solo introduces the A minor Allegro soprano ‘Domine Deus, Agnus Dei’. Both oboes take part in the solemn choral ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’, followed by the gently lilting D major contralto ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram patris’, a movement of celestial tranquillity. Marked Allegro, ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ opens oboes and continuo, before the entry of the solo soprano in a cheerful G major. The original D major returns in the solid choral declaration of ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, before the grandiose fugal movement derived from Ruggieri, involving once more the trumpet, which adds its own brilliance to the conclusion.

Keith Anderson


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