About this Recording
8.573324 - VIVALDI, A.: Sacred Music, Vol. 4 (Sévigné, Soulis, Aradia Ensemble, Mallon)

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741): Sacred Music • 4
In turbato mare irato, RV 627 • In exitu Israel, RV 604 • Vestro Principi divino, RV 633 • Laudate Dominum, RV 606 • Invicti bellate, RV 628 • Laetatus sum, RV 607 • O qui coeli terraeque serenitas, RV 631


Antonio Vivaldi is one of an unfortunate, if select, group of composers whose fame rests almost exclusively on a single work. Unlike such other Baroque one-hit-wonders as Pachelbel and Albinoni (not that Albinoni actually wrote “his” famous Adagio), however, Vivaldi—hugely popular and influential during his lifetime—is slowly but steadily achieving greater, and richly deserved, recognition today. His oeuvre is in fact broad and wide-ranging, including several hundred sonatas, sinfonias and concertos, of which The Four Seasons is but one, as well as more than forty operas, numerous sacred choral works and around forty cantatas.

Born in Venice in 1678, Vivaldi was one of six children. His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was a professional violinist, and taught his son to play the instrument. Evidently a gifted student, Antonio would eventually become known as one of the most brilliant violinists in Europe, touring across the continent. His fiery personality and inspired playing was legendary, to the extent that one contemporary, evidently of a somewhat nervous disposition, wrote that his performance ‘really frightened me’, and another diagnosed him with ‘having too much mercury in his constitution’, leading to a ‘volatile’ character. From the age of fifteen, however, Vivaldi also trained to become a priest and in 1703 he was ordained, a fact that, in conjunction with his red hair, led to the nickname il Prete Rosso (“The Red Priest”). The same year saw his appointment as a violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a girls’ orphanage where, despite several spats with the administration (Vivaldi was notoriously proud and sensitive, as well as being occasionally prone to boasting), he would work for the majority of his career, eventually becoming the music director. The Ospedale was famed for its choir and orchestra, and much of Vivaldi’s work was intended for performance by them. Nonetheless he continued to travel abroad during this period, being invited to Mantua, Milan and Rome, where he met some important patrons, even playing before the pope.

Despite his international renown, Vivaldi’s star gradually began to fade, and by the late 1730s he was in financial difficulties. He left his native city for Vienna, and it was there that he died in July of 1741. Despite this rather quiet end to an illustrious career, Vivaldi left behind him an extraordinary legacy. His music—wonderful on its own merits—broke new ground, inspiring a generation of younger composers, including J. S. Bach.

Much of Vivaldi’s vocal music was written for the soloists and choir at the Pieta. The choir was all-female, and for this reason various scholars have suggested that the bass parts were sung an octave higher. The works on this disc are all sacred, and they fall into one of two categories: motets and psalm settings. The motets, much like his secular cantatas, consist of alternating arias and recitatives, though unlike the cantatas they finish with an Alleluia. Despite being religious works—they were intended for performance during Mass—they are often strikingly operatic in character, both musically and textually. The ‘angry’, ‘devouring’ sea and imperilled ship in In turbato mare irato, RV627, for instance, are a stock operatic trope, but Vivaldi has entwined this with a religious metaphor: the ‘divine star’, presumably representing the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted in Christian imagery in the guise of the Star of the Sea, providing protection and guidance. Musically, too, the piece recalls the stage, from the virtuosic use of melismas in the turbulent first aria to the strings’ mournful ‘sighing’ motifs in the second, and in the wide vocal range demanded of the soprano.

Similarly, Invicti bellate, RV628, whose text describes a soldier battling a ‘tyrant’, is another bravura piece that blends operatic and religious imagery. The valiant warrior is called to arms not by a mortal king, but by ‘a heavenly trumpet’. The first aria, with its defiant, vigorous rhythms, is especially operatic in character. After a more reflective second aria, the Alleluia returns to the resolute mood of the opening.

It has been suggested that the motet O qui coeli terraeque serenitas, RV 631, for soprano soloist, was written in Rome between 1723 and 1724, during Carnival. Its serene first aria praises the ‘calm of heaven and earth’, and is a plea for consideration. The slow second aria, Rosa quae moritur, mourning the ephemerality of the world, employs a chromatically descending bass line, another familiar operatic trope expressing sorrow or lament.

Vestro Principi divino, RV 633, written for solo contralto, is also a motet, and its text incorporates several different liturgical sources. It has been suggested that it was written about 1715. Unlike In turbato mare irato, it has a rather narrow vocal range. The elegant, almost dance-like second aria Quid loqueris ad cor is especially lovely.

All three of the psalm settings on this disc consist of a single movement, and are written for four-part choir, strings and continuo. The first is In exitu Israel, RV604, which draws its text from Psalm 113. It is one of a group of psalms dating from around 1739, and was probably written for Easter Sunday. Vivaldi introduces some variety into the repetition of the verses by including an element of call and response between the sopranos and the rest of the choir.

Laudate Dominum, RV606, sets Psalm 116, and was composed sometime between 1713 and 1717. The text is a straightforward glorification of the Lord, and the spirited musical setting reflects this simplicity and focus, with the violins repeating slight variations on a single motif in almost every bar. The final psalm setting on the disc, Laetatus sum, RV607, a setting of Psalm 121, was most likely intended as a companion piece to Laudate Dominum, and therefore dates from around the same time. It is a short but joyful paean to the Lord.

The works on this recording range from the virtuosic to the simple, but Vivaldi’s vivid musical imagination is in full force throughout. The motets, in particular, are characterised by sensitive text-setting and the incorporation of operatic elements that lend them a touch of drama. Though they have traditionally received less attention than his instrumental works, they are no less original, inventive and powerful.

Caroline Waight

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