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13th November 2005
Vivaldi - Gloria
Bach - Magnificat
 
Elizabeth de Lacey - Conductor
 
Katherine Manley - Soprano
Anna Kirby - Soprano
Christopher Ainslie - Countertenor
Nathan Vale - Tenor
Håkan Ekenäs - Bass
 
 
Magnificat - J.S. Bach 1685 - 1750
Gloria - Antonio Vivaldi 1678 - 1741
"The aim and final reason of all music ...should be none else but for the glory of God and recreation of the mind...Where this is not observed, there will be no real music but only a devilish hubbub." JS. Bach
Both Bach and Vivaldi were devoutly religious men, but their settings of religious texts are anything but pious. Contemporary belief was that music should stir the listener, and the use of particular devices to effect specific emotions or ’affects’ was conscious and deliberate.
The Magnificat text comes from the Canticle of Mary - My soul hath magnified the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour- for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, and I will be called ’blessed’ by all generations.
In Bach’s Magnificat, composed in 1723, the big choral movements are scored for trumpets, oboes, flutes and drums as well as strings Ð the largest orchestra Bach would have been able to muster and the kind of instrumentation traditionally used for music to accompany outdoor festivities. The solo movements are much more lightly scored, for example in the bass solo, Quia fecit mihi magna, the voice is accompanied by a single repeated phrase played in unison by the low strings and bassoon. Throughout the work, Bach vividly brings the text to life: the upward-leaping appeggios in ’et exultavit’ contrasting with the gently falling minor scales expressing Mary’s humility in ’quia respexit’; the unfinished ending of ’esurientes’ as God sends the rich away empty; the tenor’s rapid scales crashing downwards as God ’puts down the mighty’ in ’deposuit’. The work ultimately builds to a huge climax in the Gloria, where the voices interweave and cascade, conjuring up an image of God the ’Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ as the fountain from which all life springs.
Surprisingly, Vivaldi’s music, though popular in his own day, fell into obscurity after his death and was only rediscovered around the 1960’s. This setting of the ’Gloria’ (RV 589) was composed for Vivaldi’s all-female pupils at the Pieta Orphanage in Venice where he taught from 1703. The girls of the Pieta were famous throughout Europe for the quality of their music-making and Vivaldi was in charge of composing mainly orchestral music for them to perform. The Gloria is a justly popular work.. It reads almost as a compendium of Vivaldi’s compositional techniques, using simple harmonic progressions, but, for Vivaldi’s time, adventurous key-structures. The setting of the text is sometimes surprising, for example the soprano solo, ’Domine Deus’ - Lord God, heavenly King, God the almighty Father - is a gentle pastorale with a solo oboe, a reassurance, perhaps, that God will listen even to the lowly.
The Gloria is often performed alongside Bach’s Magnificat, perhaps because it points up just how much Bach took from Vivaldi. Bach knew Vivaldi’s music well, transcribing for organ or hapsichord many of Vivaldi’s 500 concertos as a way of studying the Italian style.Tonight’s two works follow a very similar pattern: both have twelve short movements, each movement having its own mood or ’affect’, which takes the listener through a whole gamut of emotions: joy, anger, dejection, conviction, even sheer merriment. Both works make extensive use of ’ritornello’ form - an invention of Vivaldi’s - where the orchestra returns with the same music punctuating each passage sung by the soloist.
Despite its religious context, what strikes us is the strong element of dance running right through the music. This fact is wonderfully explored by the author Wilfred Mellors in his book ’ Bach and the Dance of God.’ ....it is an apotheosis of the dance if ever there was one, and this despite the fact that Protestantism, far more oppressively than Catholicism, had banished dance from worship in accord with its denial of the flesh....For those who have ears to hear and limbs to cavort, Bach’s music is a present excitation far more powerful than any our jaded world can offer.’
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