Although separated by almost two centuries–including the sea-changes in artistic style from Baroque, through Neoclassical and Romantic, to early Modern–tonight’s two major works share a number of common elements, some of them surprising.
Perhaps the most obvious commonality is subject matter. Both Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria in D (RV 589) and Giacomo Puccini’s Messa di Gloria are masterful choral-orchestral treatments of the famous hymn of the Christian Church Gloria in excelsis deo, “Glory to God in the Highest.”
Another circumstantial similarity is that both Vivaldi and Puccini are Italian (though of the two, only Puccini knew Italy as a unified country).
Perhaps less obvious a similarity is that each work represents its composer’s less-common forms of musical expression. Although Vivaldi’s Gloria is now perhaps his best-known work, in his time, and to a certain extent even today, he was even better known for his instrumental works, especially his concerti for solo instruments, most famously his violin concerti known collectively as the Four Seasons. Puccini, of course, is associated almost entirely with his best-known operas such as La Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly.
Yet opera is another, perhaps more surprising connection. Vivaldi also wrote operas, contributing to the development of the art form in its earliest years, especially in his native Venice. Although neither masterwork on tonight’s concert is an opera, both clearly have dramatic, even theatrical, elements.
The most important similarity of all, however, is that each of these works bestows glory both on its creator and on us.
Gloria in D (RV 589) Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Antonio Vivaldi, whose lifespan paralleled that of the slightly younger J.S. Bach (whose music was influenced by Vivaldi’s) was born in Venice, the eldest of nine children. His father was a professional violinist and teacher, and took the young Antonio along with him on many of his professional engagements. The son eventually also became a violinist, by all accounts a virtuoso.
Sometimes known as the “Red Priest” both for his red hair and his ordination to the priesthood in 1703, in that same year he began his true vocation of professional musicianship, accepting an appointment as chief violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four Venetian state-supported orphanages for children either abandoned by their parents, or whose parents could no longer support them. Boys were required to leave the Ospedale at age fifteen to learn a trade, but girls stayed sometimes into their twenties, and many of them became singers and instrumentalists in the Pietà’s virtuosic musical ensembles, especially its choir. As dramatized in the 2007 historical novel by Barbara Quick, Vivaldi’s Virgins, in oppressively patriarchal times such cloistering was often the only guarantee that female musical talent could be recognized and nurtured.
This affiliation with the Ospedale della Pietà was highly important in Vivaldi’s life, for he did much of his major composing for the musical education of the girls there. Even later in life, after venturing out to Mantua and ultimately to Rome and Vienna, he returned at intervals to the Ospedale. At least two factors about the Ospedale are relevant to Vivaldi’s compositions there. First, the Ospedale was dedicated to education, including high-quality education in music. Indeed, the Gloria was written to be performed by the girls at the Ospedale, implying that both the singers and the instrumentalists among them were highly trained and–perhaps even more remarkably–that even the tenor and bass parts were sung by specially trained female singers, since males were not allowed within the girls’ quarters of the Ospedale. (Even more remarkably, musical pitches were lower in early music than today.) Another noteworthy factor concerning the Ospedale’s mission to serve orphans was that these orphans were not necessarily the poorest of the poor, but in at least some cases the illegitimate offspring of the wealthy and “jet-setting” nobility and rising merchant classes of Venice. Given its wealth and power as a major crossroads of Mediterranean commerce and political influence, Venice was not unlike (as modern conductor Ron Schulz put it) the “Hollywood” of Renaissance Europe (at least until about the time of Vivaldi’s death in 1741). Thus, Vivaldi’s work for an “orphanage” was not an impediment to his career but a fortunate connection into a prominent cultural network.
While little is known for certain about the composition of the famous Gloria in D, it seems to have been written between 1708 and 1715. In fact, Vivaldi wrote at least four Glorias (though only two survived), the catalogue listing number 589 being the most famous. (The abbreviation RV 589 indicates the item numbered 589 in the official Ryom-Verzeichnis, or scholarly catalog of Vivaldi’s works compiled by twentieth-century musicologist Peter Ryom.) Like other Baroque composers, Vivaldi recycled and borrowed liberally from his own works. His other surviving Gloria in D, RV 588, shows a number of similarities to–and influences upon–its later, more familiar counterpart, tonight’s RV 589.
Famous in his time, Vivaldi earned sufficient wealth to make his squandering that income and dying poor in Vienna noteworthy. His famous Gloria in D–like the rest of his works–suffered a long period of neglect from the later eighteenth century until the late 1920’s, when the Gloria was rediscovered among the collected Vivaldi manuscripts. It was not performed, however, until 1939 in Siena in an edition by composer Alfredo Casella. The performing version used tonight did not emerge until 1957, when premiered at the First Festival of Baroque Choral Music at Brooklyn College in New York.
The text of the Gloria in D is the Great Doxology in the Mass, the hymn of praise in succession to the three Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The opening line is from the Gospel of Luke (2:14), in which the angels announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. The full hymn (originally in Greek) dates to the second century, and was introduced during the fourth century into the Western Church by St. Hilary. It has been a foundational part of the Mass since the fifth century. The Gloria remains a somewhat unusual prayer of the Church in that it includes text from extra-Scriptural sources.
[Note: because they are identical, the Latin texts and English translations for the twelve movements
of the Vivaldi Gloria below will not later be reprinted for the Gloria movement of the Puccini Messa.]
1. Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest) (Chorus)
Another important factor of the setting for which Vivaldi composed much of his work is that the chapel at the Ospedale della Pietà featured choir galleries on either side, thus encouraging the fondness for divided choir antiphonal writing in much of Venetian music, as best exemplified by Monteverdi and the Gabrielis (though they composed for the much larger Venetian space at the Basilica of St. Mark). While the chorus in the Vivaldi Gloria is not indicated as being divided, the antiphonal effect is still strong; the softer “echo” sections might indeed be assigned to a smaller sub-choir, if a conductor so desired.
2. Et in terra pax (Chorus)
Baroque music emphasized strong contrasts, in this case multiple shifts: to the key of B minor; to triple meter, rather than the almost quick-march-like duple meter of the opening Gloria; to a slower tempo; and to a quieter reflectiveness after the exuberance of the opening movement. Vivaldi’s inventiveness also employs differing musical styles, in this case recalling the older style of Renaissance motets.
Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
And on earth, peace, good will to all mankind.
3. Laudamus te (Duet)
Further contrast restores cheerfulness in the forms of G major, duple meter, and quick tempo (allegro). The two soprano soloists almost dance in their canonic call-and-answer dialogues, alternating with their closely embracing melodic harmonies dominated by parallel thirds. Energies quicken further in progressively shorter canonic entrances (stretto) as the duet approaches its conclusion.
Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.
(Lord) we praise you. We bless you. We adore you. We glorify you.
4. Gratias agimus tibi (We Give You Thanks . . .) (Chorus)
New contrasts bring brevity (only a six-measure movement) and very slow tempo (adagio). The E minor opening moves through a dramatic harmonic transition toward B major, in preparation for the bright G major of the next movement to follow. The music reflects the mortal human act of giving thanks, a kind of prelude to the completion of the grammatical sentence in the energetic next movement, focusing on the greatness of the glory of God.
5. Propter magnam gloriam (. . . for your great glory) (Chorus)
For the first time, contrast combines a minor key tonality (E minor) with almost ferocious energy in fast tempo and fugal part entrances again compressing into stretto approaching the E major-chord ending.
6. Domine Deus (Soprano Aria)
As in the soprano duet in the Laudamus te, this almost operatic air for solo soprano illustrates how truly capable must have been the young singers of the Ospedale, for which Vivaldi wrote the Gloria. The vocal line is joined in its lilting “dance” by a solo oboe (or sometimes a violin).
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.
Lord God, King of the heavens. God, Father almighty.
7. Domine Fili Unigenite (Chorus)
The sampling of a variety of musical styles noted in the Renaissance motet-style of the Et in terra pax finds a more modern counterpart in the “French style” of the saccade, a kind of courtly dance dominated by a somewhat jerky dotted-eighth-followed-by-sixteenth rhythmic figure. Yet the dance is so powerful that it could almost (were it not in triple-time) be a march, appropriate to the dignity of the Only-begotten Son of God, who is also God in the Trinity.
Domine Fili Unigenite Jesu Christe
Son of the Lord (God), Only-begotten, Jesus Christ.
8. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei (Alto Aria and Chorus)
Similar to the Domine Deus aria for soprano, this prayer for alto soloist (whose plaintive cries are “seconded” by the chorus at key points) also employs solo obbligato instrument (oboe or violin) with continuo accompaniment (tonight by portable positif organ).
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris. Qui tollis peccata mundi. Miserere nobis.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
9. Qui tollis (Chorus)
Marked by bold changes in chord harmonies and meter, this chorus emphasizes the prayer to the sacrificial Lamb of God begun in the preceding movement.
Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Who takes away the sins of the world, hear our prayer.
10. Qui sedes ad dexteram (Alto Aria)
Even as the Alto soloist continues her penitential prayer for mercy the music seems, perhaps paradoxically, energetically dance-like, although in the relative minor key (B minor)–perhaps Vivaldi’s suggestion that even if the powers of music can’t forgive sins, they may be able to help assuage the guilt.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.
(You) who are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
11. Quoniam tu solus sanctus (Chorus)
The penultimate movement reprises the opening D major movement with its octave leaps in the accompaniment and its echoing repetitions of the chordal chorus phrases.
Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Tu solus Dominus. Tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe.
For You only are holy. You only are the Lord. You only are the Most High, Jesus Christ.
12. Cum Sancto Spiritu (Chorus)
With this grand double fugue, Vivaldi saves his best for the last. Even here, however, the Baroque penchant for homage-through-borrowing is evident, as Vivaldi borrows both from his own earlier Gloria (RV588) and from a 1708 Gloria by fellow composer G. M. Ruggieri.
Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.
With the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Messa a quattro voci (“Messa di Gloria”) Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Of all the wonders of this masterwork, perhaps the most wondrous of all is that Puccini had first composed it when he was only eighteen years old. Although relatively unknown among Puccini’s works–especially compared with the operatic masterpieces by which his name is universally known–the work that has come to be known as the Messa di Gloria (Gloria Mass) is a mature masterpiece comparable to any other great Puccini work, and all the more so for its youthful precocity.
Originally titled simply Mass for Four Voices (meaning for the four chorus voice parts soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, along with tenor, baritone, and bass soloists, with orchestra), the work served as the young composer’s graduation thesis from the Instituto Musicale of Lucca, Italy, the Tuscan town of his birth. Further, it had served to honor his family tradition of four generations of church musicians, each of whom had been regarded as the “official musician” of the city of Lucca. The Mass had its first performance in 1880 in Lucca, although Puccini had performed the Credo section in 1878, having intended it as a self-contained work. While this Mass is the best of Puccini’s religious compositions, he wrote a number of works for the Church. Still, however, the debut of the Messa in 1880 marked the turning point in Puccini’s career toward his highest love–the opera, a love which shines through clearly even in his Mass. Somewhat ironically, a significant factor in this transition was the influence of the previous musical generation’s giant, Giuseppe Verdi. At age seventeen, Puccini had walked twenty miles to Pisa to see a performance of Verdi’s Aida, which reportedly convinced him to turn his own career toward the opera. Yet just one year earlier (1874) Verdi’s sacred masterpiece, the Messa di Requiem, had premiered. Puccini may well have heard the Verdi Requiem, since a number of moments in the Puccini Messe sound Verdi-like (especially in the chorus sections). Even Puccini’s original title, Messa a quattro voci, bore what may have been more than a coincidental resemblance to the title and subtitle of Verdi’s masterwork, Messa de Requiem: Quattro parti principale. Thus, perhaps while honoring his idol Verdi’s masterful sacred music in his own Mass, Puccini also realized his own potential to follow in Verdi’s footsteps to the opera.
While a highly regarded work and immediate success, as with the case of Vivaldi’s Gloria, Puccini’s Messa was essentially forgotten until nearly a century later, when it was “rediscovered” in 1951 by an American priest, Dante del Fiorentino, who in writing a biography of Puccini had travelled to Italy to gather material. In meeting with the family of Puccini’s musical secretary, Fr. Dante obtained the Messa manuscript and brought it back to the United States. The next performance of the masterwork following its 1880 premiere did not occur until 1952 in Chicago. At about that same time the name Messa di Gloria became associated with the work. But there can be little doubt why the title Messa di Gloria stuck. You will be humming, whistling, or singing the theme of the first “Gloria in excelsis” chorus for days to come.
Although sharing (at least by association) the title name Gloria, a significant difference between the Vivaldi Gloria and the Puccini Messa is that the latter is actually a full Mass, containing not only a Gloria (the second movement) but also a Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
One of Puccini’s most-admired qualities is the artistic singularity of his works. Whereas the works of Puccini’s great inspiration Verdi bear strong similarities one to another, Puccini manages to create at least the illusion that each work is an independent creation, significantly different from any previous compositions. This is perhaps the strongest quality that links the Messa with his better-known operatic works. Listeners to the Messa will indeed hear unmistakably “operatic” effects in the work, not surprising when we know that even when he was composing the Messa Puccini yearned for the theatrical expression of his music. Still, however, there is nothing like this great Mass, either anywhere else among Puccini’s collected works, or elsewhere at all.
All the more remarkable, then, that the work is so infrequently performed. Indeed, tonight’s performance may be the first in north Georgia since 2008, and even the Atlanta Symphony and its majestic Chorus have never performed it. Thus, hearing this Masterwork tonight is a rare privilege.
[Commentaries on each movement below are quoted from highly regarded program annotator Paul Filmer of the North London Chorus (UK).]
1. Kyrie (Chorus)
If Puccini’s contemporaries harbored any doubts that his musical future was to be in the theatre, hearing his mass would surely have dispelled [those doubts]. From the outset, with the soaringly sweet, fugal elaboration of “eleison” in the opening lines of the Kyrie, the chorus begins [a] . . . dramatic celebration of the ritual accompanying the sacrament, which is sustained [throughout the entire mass setting]. . . . Relatively short though it is (just 67 bars), the Kyrie nevertheless contains two distinct themes, structured in three parts: the first and last is stated in an orchestral introduction and brief conclusion, dominated by strings and developed. . . in the phrase “Kyrie eleison” itself in A-flat major, which opens and closes the choral passages of the movement. Between these, the “Christe eleison,” in F major, offers a brief . . . fugal endorsement of the plea for mercy, led forte and rapidly by the basses.
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
2. Gloria (Chorus, Tenor solo)
The Gloria makes clear how the mass came to acquire its apocryphal title. A breathtaking tour de force of compelling excitement . . ., it takes up almost half the entire work–indeed, divided into nine separable parts, it constitutes almost a work in its own right. . . . It opens with “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” . . . . set as a light and joyously happy choral fugue, allegro in C major, begun piano, by sopranos and altos, repeated mf by tenors and basses, then ff by the full choir, punctuated briskly with staccato brass. With a sudden change to andante and piano, the sopranos develop the fugue solemnly into “Et in terra pax.” In the background, occasional, distant echoes from the horns anticipate the explosive brass fanfare that precedes a “Laudamus te” reminiscent of Verdi in its majesty, which moves through a climax to modulate, with a mellifluous “adoramus te,” into a soft closing orchestral interlude. This introduces . . . a dramatic and distinctly operatic tenor solo on “Gratias agimus,” though most of which the orchestra seems to pursue its own narrative path, until the choral reprise of “Gloria in excelsis,” this time as a prelude to the brief “Domino, deus.” The mood changes again to one of initial solemnity, [again punctuated] from the orchestral brass, as the basses introduce the “Qui tollis,” andante mosso. Fittingly, this develops into a slow, sprightly march, involving some flashy, irregular changes of step, as if for a marching band, on “deprecationem nostram, suscipe.” Majesty returns . . . in the “Quoniam,” . . . and concluding with four huge chords, again from the brass. Basses then commence, at a brisk allegro, the fugue “Cum sancto spiritus,” which develops, with increasing speed and polyphonic complexity, to incorporate an anticipation of the concluding “Amen” as well as a final reprise of the “Gloria in excelsis” . . . before a rousing final elaboration of Amen.
[The texts of the Gloria are identical to those printed in the Vivaldi section at the beginning
of these program notes. To save space they are not repeated here.]
3. Credo (Chorus, Tenor solo, Bass solo)
Conceived initially as a self-contained work of eight parts in C minor, the Credo has a similarly architectonic structure to the Gloria. It opens with a forceful statement of the “Credo in unum Deo” linked to the following “Patrem omnipotenem” and “Qui propter” by a chromatic orchestral accompaniment in which woodwinds play as important a part as did the brass in the Gloria. “Et incarnatus” is scored operatically, in G major for tenor and chorus, effectively dramatizing the narrative of the incarnation with a ringing, concluding endorsement: “et homo factus est.” The . . . tragic narrative of the crucifixion is comparably dramatized as a bass solo in G minor, before the basses move up to the major key to begin a brisk, allegro fugue in celebration of the resurrection and ascension. The opening orchestral chromatics of the Credo are reprised to accompany “Et in spiritum sanctum” as the basses hold the tune until the sopranos lead into the quiet conclusion: “con glorificatur.” A quiet, confident calm, swelling to occasional crescendi, permeates a return to C major for the graceful, pastoral melody of “Et unum sanctam.” Trumpets precede the statement of “Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum” before an orchestral passage builds to the emphatic concluding fugue on “Et vitam venturi saeculi.”
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, Factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
I believe in one God, Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
Deum et Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri,
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines. et propter nostram salutem, descendit de coelis, et incarnatus est de Spiritu
Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, sub Pontio Pilato. Passus et supultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die secundum scripturas, et ascendit in coelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris:
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, judicare vivos et mortuos, cujus regni non erit finis.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all worlds.
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made.
Who for us, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the
Virgin Mary, and was made man.
(And was) crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose again according to the scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the
right hand of the Father:
And He shall come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, (and) whose reign shall have no end.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivicantem, qui ex Patri Filioque procedit,
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur, qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Et unam sanctam Catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and apostolic church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
4. Sanctus (Chorus, Baritone solo)
The Sanctus is . . a simple liturgical statement. Opened by the chorus in a dignified andante, before breaking briefly into a brisker pace for the “Pleni sunt coeli,” which is concluded by a rather clamorous initial hosanna, it moves to a smooth, confident baritone solo for the Benedictus before a final choral hosanna. The baritone solo, nevertheless, provides a phrase which Puccini uses later for the minuet in Act II of [his opera] Manon Lescaut. For the same opera he used the entire, closing Agnus Dei.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
5. Agnus Dei (Chorus, Tenor solo, Baritone solo)
[The] gentle pastoral character [of this movement] is sustained by a lilting tenor solo, whose melody is elaborated at recurrent intervals by the chorus on “miserere nobis” until joined by solo baritone in a duet for “Agnus Dei qui tollis.”
The final entry of the chorus comes with the triplets of the final plea of “dona pacem,” echoed by the orchestra in the [quiet] closing bars of the work.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
Program notes and translations by Bill Pasch, copyright 2012 (except for other copyrights acknowledged below).
Main Vivaldi References
Peter Carey (Royal Free Singers, UK). http://www.choirs.org.uk/prognotes/Vivaldi%20Gloria%20(Royal%20Free).htm
Eric Cross. http://musicologicus.blogspot.com/2008/09/vivaldi-magnificat-rv-611-gloria-rv-589.html
Ron Schulz. “A Conductor’s Study of Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589.” http://homepage.mac.com/ressimusic/ronweb/vivaldi.html
Main Puccini References
Program notes in the performing edition of the vocal score, Alfred Publishing Company
Paul Filmer (North London Chorus, UK), http://northlondonchorus.org.uk/index.php?n=Main.PastConcerts
(quotation permission given with copyright acknowledgment here).
Special thanks also to Steve Mulder and Alan Benson of GCA, as well as to Ken Meltzer and Rebecca Beavers of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and to members of the Atlanta chapter of the American Guild of Organists for their assistance in researching the performance history of the Puccini Mass.
Both works on tonight’s program are performed under ASCAP license.