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Like an Angel in Ecstasy

David M. Greene

Someone should do a drama on Vivaldi!

The MHS Review 236 Vol. 3, No. 2 March 5, 1979

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ANTONIO VIVALDI
(1675-1741)
Sacred Music, Volume 2
Jennifer Smith, Wally Staempfli, Sopranos
Christiane Jacottet, Harpsichord
Philippe Corboz, Positive Organ
Philippe Huttenlocher, Bass
Chamber Orchestra and Vocal Ensemble of Lausanne
Michel Corboz, Director

Lots of Vivaldi history - always astonishing to read again that in the scheme o' things, Vivaldi's renaissance is less than 100 years old - a 20th century phenomenon.

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The odds are that we shall not get to know much more about the man who was Antonio Vivaldi.


Which is sad, for the scrappy facts that we possess do more to tantalize than to satisfy. To be sure, some misleading stuff has been cleared up. It is now almost one hundred percent certain, for example, that he was not called "the Red Priest" because (as someone once argued) he swished about in a cassock of scarlet moire (as if the Church would have tolerated such behavior!). The color-reference was to his carroty hair. His father Giovanni Battista, a barber turned violinist, appears on some of the records from St. Mark's, where he played, as "G.B. Rossi"


It's not the "red" element that should bother any of us, except maybe Governor Reagan; but the "priest" is another matter. Vivaldi seems to have gone through all the steps from tonsuring to ordination without demur, though there is no hint that he ever went to a university to get his D.D. (It is assumed that he had on-the-job training, which was okay back there.) He had just turned twenty-five when he entered the priesthood. Two years later he was excused from further celebrating Mass, on grounds of physical inability to do so. He had chest problems. Some writers call them asthma, others angina; Vivaldi himself termed then "heart seizure," whatever that may signify. Anyhow, he says, that was what thrice interrupted him in the course of his devotions and ever after (this is 1737) left him housebound, save when he was lugged to a gondola or carriage for dental checkups and other essential services. This from a pitiful invalid who turned out over 800 known compositions! who for much of his life spent his days at the Ospedale della Pieta banging music into the bastard and unwanted daughters of Venice, and gave lessons on the side to the likes of Pisendel and maybe Heinichen and Zelenka! who gallivanted all over Italy and Germany and the Netherlands and Austria, often accompanied by his young ''pupil'' Anne Giraud and her sister Pauline, his "nurse!" One wonders if the Church was on to something in 1737 when it rapped his knuckles for refusing to say Mass and for consorting with Anne in public. Yet the early musical dictionarist Ernst Ludwig Gerber says that his rosary was out of his hands only when he was composing (which must have been pretty often, however), and the great comic playwright Goldoni, who visited him on libretto-business in 1735, depicts him piously mumbling psalms in the interst­ices of their conversation. And there are the 60 pieces of religious music--some exten­sive--that have come down to us. Someone should do a drama on Vivaldi!




  • HOW TO HEAR: The recordings on the LP reviewed here are reissued in digital streaming and downloading form in an Erato set of Vivaldi's sacred music. Click on the cover below for links to stream, download or purchase on CD.



  • Vivaldi's Sacred Music - the point is well made in this essay. For the omnipresence of Vivaldi's instrumental music in the past 60 years, the acceptance of his sacred music has taken much longer. Doing the concierge duty, in looking for acceptable collections of Vivaldi's sacred music - the best available is, in fact, Michel Corboz' recordings for Erato, which David is reviewing right here.


  • Naive also has a fine digital collection - performed on original instruments - which you can peruse by clicking below. It doesn't compare precisely to Corboz's set as it includes some orchestral works written for sacred occasions, but that's not really a problem, including more beautiful music.



  • Where Do I Start Listening? - Try the uplifting works first. The gorgeous Gloria and Magnificat are immediately accessible. Scroll through either the Corboz or Naive digital set, or click below for a King's College Choir version of just these two works.




  • Keep Going - Helen Baker writes in "Worthy of Rescue" an essay available on this very website, "If in his instrumental music Vivaldi could at times be hasty and superficial, the level of his church music is consistently high." Helen's essay is quite easily readable and covers more than just sacred music, and she continues the theme that the discovery of Vivaldi's music is one of the great leaps in music made in the 20th century. Her central idea is yet to be completely examined - is Vivaldi's sacred music truly his finest music?



Vivaldi's sacred music, except for three pieces that drifted up to Dresden with Pisendel or someone, turned up in the great hoard of Vivaldi manuscripts discovered only fifty years ago in the Durazzo legacy and purchased for the Turin Library by the banker Roberto Foa and the manufacturer Filippo Giordano as a memorial to their infant sons. Such a hue and cry was made over the instrumental music in this collection that, in large part, the sacred music had to wait. Only now is it beginning to be recorded in any breadth.


And there's the rub! I find there's little information yet available. Walter Kolneder's Antonio Vivaldi (1965) for instance, goes into some detailed tabulations of the instrumental music and the operas; but his section on musica sacra is limited, apparently, only to the dozen or so works then obtainable on records, none of them included on this one. The brief Lauda Jerusalem for two sopranos and double chorus has since appeared, directed by Stephane Caillat, on MHS 1488. Lacking notes, I assumed that the setting of Psalm 112, Beatus vir, was identical with the work I already knew from RCA LSC2935 and Hungaroton SPLX 11695, though I was hard put to explain the presence of the baritone (Philippe Huttenlocher) among the soloists. Much to my surprise, I found that it was a different work from both--which were different from each other! This, like the RCA version, is a big, almost Handelian work, the verses alternately set for soloists and chorus. I was particularly taken with No. 5, an imaginative duet for one of the sopranos and the tootling of the little positive organ, and No. 8, in which Mr. Huttenlocher in his finest fettle depicts the wrath of the wicked as they observe how the God-fearing man is rewarded, much as Handel depicts wrath (human and divine) in the bass arias of Messiah. But for my money, the real goody is the solo motet, in which Jennifer Smith, undaunted by the Herculean vocal problems posed, sings like an angel in ecstasy.


 





ANTONIO VIVALDI

(1675-1741)

Sacred Music, Volume 2

Jennifer Smith, Wally Staempfli, Sopranos

Christiane Jacottet, Harpsichord

Philippe Corboz, Positive Organ

Philippe Huttenlocher, Bass

Chamber Orchestra and Vocal Ensemble of Lausanne

Michel Corboz, Director


When composing his sacred music, Vivaldi made use of the considerable experience he had acquired as a composer of instrumental and operatic music--to be found on MHS 3918/20 (Orlando Furioso). and MHS 1383/85 (L'Estro armonico--12 concerti), for example.


We herewith offer you Volume II of Vivaldi's sacred music, containing a motet for solo voice and orchestra, and two psalms for solo voices, two choruses and two orchestras. Beautiful music, beautifully performed.

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