Work: Gloria in D major, RV 589
About This Work
During the year 1713 there was a shift in Antonio Vivaldi's responsibilities as maestro di violino of Venice's Pio Ospedale della Pietà. Up until that point secular music had been his bread and butter, but he then turned his attention to the
composition of sacred choral works, some of which became the finest treasures of his vast musical output. It was sometime during the next few years that Vivaldi put to paper the now-famous Gloria in D major for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra (RV 589). It is remarkable to think that for two centuries after Vivaldi's death the very existence of this beloved work was unknown even to Baroque scholars, and that it was only rediscovered in the late 1920s. Having been long buried -- with a host of other unknown pieces in a pile of forgotten Vivaldi manuscripts -- the Gloria had its first modern performance in the fall of 1939. The rest, as they say, is history.
In composing, Vivaldi broke the standard Gloria text into 11 sections, each of which is given a discrete musical setting. All the vocal parts, from the two soprano and alto soloists right down to the tenor and bass, were originally written for women's voices, as no men were allowed at the all-female Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Vivaldi and the few other male staff were, of course, members of the priesthood); occasionally the bass part moves so low that even the remarkable female basses of the Pietà must have had to transpose up an octave. Just two wind instruments -- an oboe and a trumpet -- are added to the usual Baroque contingent of strings, and the basso continuo would probably have been played by organ.
A joyous tone is set at the very start of the Gloria, with jubilant shouts of "Gloria in excelsis Deo" from the chorus. "Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" (section two) is sung in imitation to a less exuberant B minor backdrop; the violins add some pointed rapid-note gestures, quite similar in kind to those found in Vivaldi's many string concertos.
Vivaldi moves back to a rambunctious allegro, this time in G major, for the solo soprano duet of section three ("Laudamus te"); the start of section four ("Gratias agimus te") is slow, dignified, and entirely homophonic, but as the chorus moves on to sing "propter magnam gloriam" it becomes a fugal Allegro.
A wonderful Largo duet between the solo soprano and the solo violin follows ("Domine Deus, Rex coelestis"); the chorus joins again for the very joyful F major section six ("Domine Fili unigente").
The spacious Adagio of section seven ("Domine Deus, Agnus Dei") features both chorus and the alto soloist, who takes the spotlight once again, this time more gregariously, in section nine ("Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris"). Between these sections is the interlude "Qui tollis peccata mundi". The penultimate portion of the Gloria (section ten, "Quoniam tu solus sanctus") takes the shape of a brief reprise of the broken-octave music from section one, while the stunning double fugue that ends the Gloria (section eleven, "Cum Sancto Spiritu") is in fact an arrangement by Vivaldi of a piece composed in 1708 by Giovanni Maria Ruggieri -- a piece also adapted by Vivaldi for use in his other, lesser-known Gloria RV 588. collapse
-- Blair Johnston
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