March 2011

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In Paradisum

A concert in aid of the organ appeal at St Stephen’s Rochester Row

Vivaldi Gloria
Fauré Requiem

The Gloria of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is one of the most frequently performed pieces of Baroque sacred music.  Its enduring popularity is founded on a compelling artistic and spiritual merit, with a good number of choruses as well as opportunities for several solo voices from within the ensemble.  Its celebrated status is in part an accident of history, however, as being one of a handful of pieces selected during the early phase of the Vivaldi revival in the 1920s and 1930s, whereas the bulk of the composer’s sacred music remained virtually unknown outside academia until as recently as the 1980s.  The Gloria was probably intended for the Pietà, a musically-distinguished Venetian charitable institution where the composer was maestro di coro: the addition of single oboe and trumpet was a familiar one at the time, and there are a number of solos for girls’ voices.  The relatively high compass of the chorus bass suggests that it was unlikely that male singers were engaged – the parts were likely to have been taken by women of the institution and transposed up an octave as required.  It has been suggested that the composition of certain parts of the work was influenced by a concern to save music paper, perhaps evident in the brevity of the penultimate movement and also possible in the ‘Qui tollis’.  The final double fuge ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ is  borrowed from the Gloria per due chori by the Veronese composer Ruggieri; there is a suggestion that the fugato on ‘propter magnam gloriam’ in movement 4 might also be, although no model has been found.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was perhaps the epitome of fin de siècle French elegance.  The most advanced composer of his generation, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th century composers.  Fauré’s Requiem dates from 1888 and the intimacy of the scoring (four violas, four cellos, solo violin and organ) was a deliberate reaction against that of Berlioz, which he detested because of its use of massed forces to emphasize the horror of purgatorial suffering.  Fauré produces the opposite: serene, sensuous and melodic, in which ‘the human spirit, awed yet secure in its own innocence and capacity to overcome suffering, progresses calmly towards its inevitable, rapt entry into Paradise’.  The composition dates from 1887, although the ‘Libera me’ first appeared as an independent work ten years previously; it was not performed in England until 1936.  Other than the Kyrie, the text is in Latin.  The composer did not set the Gradual and Tract sections of the mass but went further, also omitting the Sequence (Dies irae, Rex tremendae, Lacrimosa) and substantially changing the text of the Offertory: instead of ‘libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum (deliver the souls of all the faithful departed), he wrote ‘libera animas defunctorum’ (deliver the souls of the departed), which can be interpreted as a major theological change.

“Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.”

Fauré – a life in letters (J Barrie Jones)