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Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (4 March 1678 – 28 July 1741) was an Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, impresario and Roman Catholic priest. Born in Venice, Vivaldi is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, renowned throughout Europe, and certainly a considerable influence on the musical development of Johann Sebastian Bach, seven years his junior.
Many of his compositions were written for the all-female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children. In two spells, Vivaldi worked at this orphanage for almost 30 years, initially as a priest, then as maestro di violini and ultimately as maestro de concerti (Master of Music). It was here where he acquired his nickname of il Prete Rosso (the 'Red Priest'), because of the vivid colour of his hair.
All three of tonight’s works were written for the Ospedale. The Magnificat is a relatively restrained setting of the canticle sung at every Vesper service. The choir will love singing Et misericordia, loaded with rich chromatic harmony, but listen out too for Esurientes, a lovely soprano duet, and the lively double-oboe accompaniment to Sicut locutus est.
Beatus Vir is on a larger scale and based on Psalm 111. After a majestic opening by the choir, an acrobatic contrapuntal dialogue for bass soloists is followed by a fiendishly tricky piece for sopranos where one voice echoes the other at breakneck speed. The most memorable movement may be the quietest, the restrained In memoria aeterna (“The just shall be remembered forever”) where the voices of the choir lap gently against each other like waves on an eternal shore. (26 minutes.)
Vivaldi’s Gloria is one of the most popular works in the entire choral repertoire, loved by choirs and audiences the world over. All of Vivaldi’s operatic and instrumental compositional skills are displayed, with joyful and exuberant choruses, sweet, lyrical solos, and concerto-like duets. This is Vivaldi at his best.