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They spoke about it
Gloria (RV 589) for choir and orchestra
One of Antonio Vivaldi’s most well-known pieces, the Gloria (RV 589) for choir and orchestra reveals an unexpected sound concept when performed by a woman’s choir. At first, the idea appears bizarre because the notation of the choir’s parts purports to indicate a conventional choir of mixed gender with a bass line (with bass-clef) and a tenor line being included. However, this assumption becomes less likely when the historical circumstances are scrutinized.
During his almost forty years of service at the orphanage Ospedale della Pietà, to which boys were not admitted, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) taught numerous young female students both as a violin and a vocal teacher. Among the approximately one thousand orphans (figlie di commun) at the Ospedale, only fifty qualified as privileggiate di coro among the musically active figlie di coro. These exceptionally talented young women became a sensation in Italy. Even today, Vivaldi’s scores are a reflection of their amazing virtuosic playing and singing, which inspired his numerous musical flights of fancy.
Our Gloria! Vivaldi’s Angels recording has been created in posthumous homage to the incredible music that Vivaldi composed for the orphans of the Ospedale. One can picture the scene when concerts were presented at the Church of La Pietà. These performances attracted a large audience, whose attendance was for a number of reasons, the first being the wonderful effect that the playing and singing produced.
The female choir members must have sounded like angels in paradise while, at the same time, it seemed almost inconceivable that such young girls could master the excessively difficult concertos that their teacher Vivaldi had composed for them. It must have caused a sensation! Furthermore, the effect was intensified because the young women were hidden behind a barrier so that no one could see them. The most famous musicians of the orphanage were completely anonymous! An important social consequence of this phenomenon was that the Ospedale became somewhat of a wedding agency.
“Angels” were highly in demand, and so, while the Sunday concerts had a musically-knowledgable audience, there was also a certain percentage of men who were simply looking for an angelic future wife. Listening to the golden sound of the music without being able to see any of the musicians must have given the impression of being at the doors of paradise – or at least as close to paradise as one could be on earth! Occasionally, and as an exception, the strict rules of the Ospedale were relaxed and some of the young women were permitted to leave the walls of their “golden prison” (always chaperoned by a nun) if someone had requested a meeting.
Returning to the purely musical aspects of life at the Ospedale, the standard of the young musicians was so extraordinary that it was comparable only to the best orchestras at the most prestigious courts.Vivaldi clearly knew how to set the stage for these talented young women. On some scores, he indicated the name of the girl who was to sing a particular part and he knew how to flaunt the musical strengths of every singer and musician who interpreted his music.
As a result, it’s not difficult to appreciate the highly instrumental quality of his vocal music. Arias like Laudamus te (Gloria RV 589) and Esurientes (Magnificat RV 610) have vocal lines that resemble virtuosic violin music. And in the dramatic motet In furore, the solo soprano voice competes with the strings to depict both the boundless fury of the first air and the languishing sadness of the second. The same sparkling agility is required of the soprano voice in Ostro picta (RV 642) which, according to the indication in its title, served as an introduction to the Gloria.
However, the major surprises in the works on this recording are found in the choir music. The close harmony sound enhances the impact of dissonances considerably, because the intervals between the registers from soprano to bass are smaller than those of a choir of mixed gender. The effect is stunning, as can be heard in the movements Et in terra pax (Gloria RV 589) and Et misericordia eius (Magnificat RV 610). According to reports written at the time, sometimes members of the audience at La Pietà would cry and cheer enthusiastically during the performances of the most accomplished singers.
Concerto for two soprano recorders, RV 535
We took pleasure in adding another “soprano” piece to this recording, a concerto for two soprano recorders, strings and basso continuo (RV 535). While the two solo parts were originally conceived for two oboes, we have every confidence that Vivaldi, who composed so well for the young women at the orphanage who played the recorder, would not have objected to the reinstrumentation of this pearl among his concertos.
© Matthias Maute, 2008
Translation/Editing: Ragnar Müller-Wille, Amanda Pond