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ClassicsOnline Home » VIVALDI, A.: Sacred Music, Vol. 3 (Aradia Ensemble)
Vivaldi’s sacred music occupies a place of honour in his vast output, dovetailing passages of great tenderness and sombre beauty, rich in cantabile expressiveness, with highly operatic movements of colourful and exciting virtuosity. Volume 3 of the complete sacred music features the final and expanded version of Vivaldi’s G minor setting of the Magnificat, his setting of the Vespers Psalm 126, Nisi Dominus, with its strongly characterized instrumental accompaniment, and the dramatic yet poignant Roman motet, In furore iustissimae irae (In the fury of most righteous anger Thou showest thy divine power).
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
By David Denton
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741): Sacred Music • 3
Magnificat, RV 610/611 • Salve Regina, RV 617 • Nisi Dominus, RV 608 • Kyrie, RV587
Motet, RV 626: In furore iustissimae irae • Concerto in D minor, ‘Madrigalesco’, RV 129
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. 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.
While a number of sacred works resulted from Vivaldi’s immediate employment, it is clear that some of these compositions were allowed a wider use, adapted for other circumstances and occasions. Vivaldi’s G minor setting of the Magnificat exists in four possible versions. The earliest of these, as the Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot points out in his definitive edition for the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, is represented by a copy preserved in the archive of the Cistercian monastery of Osek in Bohemia, an indication of the work’s wide circulation. In Peter Ryom’s index this is given the number RV 610b and was probably written for the Pietà about 1715. Talbot dates two further versions, listed as RV 610 and 610a, to the late 1720s. Adapted for some celebratory ecclesiastical occasion, RV 610a has performance indications for two choruses, suggesting a version devised for use when separate choruses were otherwise required. The final version, listed by Ryom as RV 611, was written for the Pietà in 1739 and includes five new settings for solo singers, whose names are given in the surviving manuscript. Five of the original choral movements are retained from RV 610. These form the substance of the present recording.
The Magnificat starts, as in the original version, with a G minor choral Adagio setting of the first line of the canticle, its shifts of harmony reflected in the Kyrie, RV 587, and in the Concerto Madrigalesco, RV 129. This is followed by the first of the new movements of 1739, the B flat major Et exsultavit spiritus meus, intended, as the Pietà autograph indicates, for the singer Apollonia, who had won some eminence among the figlie di coro and a certain less welcome attention in 1738, when she was suspended for attacking the porteress of the Pietà, to be reinstated the following year (qv.Michael Talbot, The Sacred Vocal Music of Antonio Vivaldi, Florence, 1995, pp.418-419). Quia respexit, with its triple metre accompaniment, again in G minor, was to be sung by Maria Bolognese, with Quia fecit, in E flat major, for Chiaretta. The C minor Et misericordia reverts to the earlier choral setting, to be followed by the dramatic G minor Fecit potentiam, linked to the vivid overthrow of the mighty in Deposuit potentes de sede. The 1739 D minor Esurientes implevit bonis was intended for Ambrosina, celebrated for the tenor quality of her voice, but descending here only to the A below middle C. The choral D minor Suscepit Israel brings variations in tempo, leading to the 1739 cheerfully operatic F major setting of Sicut locutus est, for Albetta. The work ends with the original Gloria, its chordal G minor opening leading to a contrapuntal Allegro, a double fugue that has its transposed counterpart in the last movement of the Concerto madrigalesco.
One of three surviving settings by Vivaldi of the Vespers or Compline antiphon, the Salve Regina, RV 617, a text to be sung between Trinity Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent, is presumably from the period from 1715 to 1717. It is in four movements. The first of these, in F major, uses a solo violin and continuo to accompany the soprano soloist. The D minor Ad te clamamus adds other violins and viola, the former doubling the solo soprano line. The following Eia ergo, Advocata nostra, in A minor, now uses a solo violin, with ripieno strings, and the antiphon ends in siciliano rhythm, with an F major setting of the final clause in which the solo violin largely doubles the first violin line. The work ends with the tranquillity of O clemens: O pia: O dulcis Virgo Maria.
The D minor Concerto madrigalesco, RV 129, belongs to Vivaldi’s concertos for string orchestra, without a solo instrument. It has been suggested that the work has a vocal origin (qv.Talbot, op.cit, pp. 349-350 and pp.482-483) and the Adagio opening is related to the beginning of the first Kyrie of RV 587, to the start of the Magnificat, RV 610 and of its Gloria Patri, and to the Et incarnatus est of the Credo, RV 591, as well as to the second movement of the Bassoon Concerto, RV 291. The following Allegro of the concerto provides the substance of the second Kyrie of the same work, both perhaps modelled on or borrowed from the work of another composer. A further brief Adagio provides a link to a final display of counterpoint, a double fugue which appears again, in transposition, as the last movement of the Magnificat, RV 610.
Vivaldi’s setting of the Vespers Psalm 126, Nisi Dominus, RV 608, belongs to the earlier period of his involvement with sacred music for the Pietà, although the work was probably later used elsewhere. It has a strongly characterized G minor instrumental opening, with the ritornello returning between sections of the demanding vocal part and a final telescoping of the words of the two verses set. This is followed by a short Largo, a setting of Vanum est vobis, with basso continuo and a bass line with dotted rhythms carried forward into the vocal line. The third movement presents a graphic setting of the words Surgite, surgite, marked Presto, followed immediately by an Adagio setting of the following words, with a poignant chromatically descending bass line. The G minor Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum, with its siciliana lilt and muted strings, reflects the text, to be aroused in Sicut sagittae, an E flat movement suggesting the speed of arrows in the hand of the powerful. Beatus vir, in B flat, is an Andante with basso continuo, followed by the fascinating D minor Gloria Patri, for viola d’amore and continuo, a reminder that the Pietà boasted a proficient performer on the instrument, Anna Maria, a player of increasing and attested distinction. Sicut erat in principio returns to the key and substance of the opening movement, capped by a final Amen
The setting of the Kyrie, RV 587, written in the 1720s, is scored for eight voices in two choruses, with a double string orchestra. The orchestral opening, using the shifting chords of the passage heard in the Magnificat and the Concerto madrigalesco, is followed by antiphonal use of the two string groups, before the voices return to the opening chords, then to divide antiphonally, patterns that continue throughout the movement. The D minor Christe eleison, after its instrumental opening, suggests the use of two pairs of soloists in alternation, one group largely echoing the others. The original key of G minor returns in the final Kyrie, with the two choirs united in a double fugue, for which another source has been suggested.
Of Vivaldi’s twelve surviving motets In furore iustissimae irae, RV 626, belongs to a small group associated with Vivaldi’s presence in Rome in 1724 for the staging of his opera Il Giustino at the Teatro Capranica, of which Cardinal Ottoboni was a patron, suggesting a further possible link with the present Roman motet, which may have been written for Ottoboni’s church of San Lorenzo in Damaso and intended for a castrato soloist (qv. Talbot, op.cit., passim). The work starts with a C minor da capo aria imbued with the fury indicated in the text, with the central Quando potes me reum punire providing the necessary contrast and respite. A short recitative leads to a G minor da capo aria, marked Largo, with a relatively sparing use of the basso continuo, its poignant mood broken by the final florid C minor Alleluia.
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