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8.557852 - VIVALDI, A.: Sacred Music, Vol. 2 (Aradia Ensemble)
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Sacred Music • 2
Laudate pueri Dominum • Stabat Mater • Canta in prato • Clarae stellae


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 50 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. Various datings have been suggested for Vivaldi's sacred music. Those for the Pietà fall generally into the period after Gasparini's departure, from 1715 to 1717, and to a later period, from 1737 to 1739, when the position of maestro di coro was again vacant.

Three settings by Vivaldi of the second Vespers Psalm CXII, Laudate pueri Dominum survive. These may be presumed to have formed part of settings of Vespers intended for major events in the Church calendar, although this psalm is included in the office of Vespers on a number of occasions in the year, forming part of the group of psalms sung at Sunday Vespers. Laudate pueri Dominum, RV 600, for soprano, strings and continuo, in C minor, follows its energetic opening Allegro with a Largo E flat major setting of Sit nomen Domini benedictum, accompanied by violins and violas. For A solis ortu, in G minor, the basso continuo returns in a movement that calls for some vocal agility. The moving D minor Excelsus super omnes gentes, an Andante, includes a solo cello obbligato, while violins and violas remain silent. The key changes to A minor for Quis sicut Dominus, with its wide violin leaps, leading to the agitated opening of Suscitans a terra, with its contrasts of pace and feeling, as the word suscitans suggests a mood of urgency. Ut collocet eum, an Allegro in B flat major, is united by its repeated thematic material. The doxology starts with a G minor Largo, the original key of C minor resumed for its continuation, intercalated with the earlier text and music of the psalm. The setting ends with a fugal Amen.

Michael Talbot has suggested that Vivaldi's setting of the Stabat Mater was the result of a visit to Brescia by the composer and his father, Giovanni Battista, a native of that city, to take part in performances at the Oratorian church of Santa Maria della Pace for the Feast of the Purification on 2 February and for further ceremonies on Sexagesima Sunday in 1711 (Michael Talbot: The Sacred Vocal Music of Antonio Vivaldi, Florence, 1995). Vivaldi provided the Chiesa della Pace with a commissioned setting of the Stabat Mater the following year, presumably to be identified with the surviving RV 621, for contralto, strings and continuo. Consisting of twenty verses, the whole poem, which had been eliminated from the liturgy by the reforming Council of Trent, was restored for use in full as a Sequence in 1727. Parts of the original medieval poem, however, remained in use, including the first ten verses, as set by Vivaldi, which were used as a hymn for Vespers on the Feast of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin on the Friday after Passion Sunday. Vivaldi's Stabat Mater repeats the music of the first three movements, which set the first four verses of the hymn, for the following four verses. Since the three-line verses may be paired into six-line stanzas with the third and sixth lines rhyming, this arrangement makes prosodic sense. The first section of the work, in F minor, is imbued with the feeling of grief, with a chromatically descending bass-line lament. Cuius animam, in C minor, is a recitative that becomes an arioso, with a return to F minor for O quam tristis, a moving aria. The pattern is repeated in the following three sections of the work. Eia Mater is set in C minor without the basso continuo in a characteristically Vivaldian texture, with dotted violin figuration for the united first and second violins, accompanied only by the violas. The original key is restored for Fac, ut ardeat, with its gently lilting 12/8 metre. The setting ends with a fugal Amen.

The motet in early 18th-century Venice served its purpose in the liturgy as an additional piece to be sung at Mass after the Credo or at another point in the service, or as an insertion into Vespers. Vivaldi, who wrote a quantity of such compositions, followed a simple formula of two arias, framing a recitative, with a final Alleluia, scored generally for a solo voice, strings and continuo. The non-liturgical Latin texts set often lacked distinction. Twelve of Vivaldi's motets survive, with eight examples of Introduzioni, compositions in similar form but lacking an Alleluia, and related to another liturgical text.

Canta in prato, RV 623, Michael Talbot has suggested, was probably written by Vivaldi for Rome during his period there in 1723-24, perhaps for Cardinal Ottoboni's church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, for which a different setting of the same text was used as an Introduzione. Perhaps intended for a castrato soloist, the work opens with a virtuoso da capo aria, setting a text filled with conventional pastoral allusions. The following recitative provides a link with the second da capo aria, with further pastoral references in the text, if not in the music. The motet ends with an Alleluia.

Clarae stellae, scintillate, RV 625, for contralto, strings and basso continuo, seems to have been written about 1715 for the Pietà singer Geltruda, who enjoyed a career in Venice over some years. It is probably tailored to her voice, offering a chaster lyricism than Canta in prato, and was presumably performed on the Feast of the Visitation, 2 July, in the same year, a festival mentioned in the anonymous text. The first da capo aria is joined by a linking recitative to a second aria, without da capo but consisting of a continuing series of sections, with the vocal line accompanied an octave higher by the violins, while the viola, in a register that often overlaps with the voice, provides the equivalent of a bass line. The final Alleluia makes fuller use of the basso continuo, although the violins still shadow the vocal line an octave higher.

Keith Anderson

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