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The Great Venetian Mass


The Great Venetian Mass


Choir and Orchestra of Les Arts Florissants

Musical direction



Sophie KARTHÄUSER, soprano
Renata POKUPIC, mezzo-soprano


Antonio VIVALDI - Grande messe vénitienne

Vivaldi did not write his famous Gloria (RV 589) as a concert work, despite the impression that may have been given by various travelling diarists whose attendance at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice might not have been exclusively inspired by the love of God. His Gloria, now so celebrated, found its original context within the celebration of the mass presumably performed by the orphans and abandoned children living in the Ospedale Della Pieta whose musical exploits became one of the dominant attractions of 18th century Venice. The full understanding of any historic work depends on the appropriate re-imagining of its original context. That context, whether associated with a particular event or a specific commission is the reason why the composer puts his pen to paper, and inspires and defines the ambitions of the work. This reimagining however is not a simple affair. Relatively few mass movements that have come down to us, in comparison to the number of Vesper psalms seething, suggesting that a fully sung mass may have been a relatively rare occasion for Vivaldi and his musical orphans.

The few settings of the movements of the ordinary of the mass by Vivaldi include a single Kyrie(RV 586) two Gloria settings (RV 588/9) and a Credo setting (RV 591). No Sanctus or Agnus Dei setting has survived the ravages of time. Even the works that survive show signs of important external influences. In both Glorias can be seen a strong influence in form and and musical content of a setting by another composer writing in Venice at the time, Giovanni Maria Ruggieri. The Kyrie is modelled on Vivaldi’s own setting of the Magnificat; the opening introduction for strings is a direct quotation of the opening choral movement and the final movement is related to the fugue to be found in the composer’s Concerto Madrigalesco (RV 129) for strings. The Credo (RV 591) is related to Vivaldi’s own setting of In exitu Israel (RV 604) and borrows thematic material from the same Magnificat used for the Kyrie.

We use these borrowings as inspiration for the reconstruction of the essential mass movements missing from Vivaldi’s Mass Ordinary, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. These have been reimagined using Vivaldi’s own sacred music as model (as he himself has done), allowing us to reconstruct an entire mass and for the first time, giving us the opportunity to hear Vivaldi’s music (and in particular the celebrated Gloria) in the context of the office for which it was composed and by which it was inspired. By studying the liturgical practises of Venice at the time we have been able to reconstitute a full mass allowing us some insight into the full impact of Vivaldi’s glorious music in its context. It is perhaps important to remember that despite Vivaldi’s reputation for his concertos and operas, Vivaldi was also a Catholic priest for whom, one must presume, the mass was an essential and constant part of his daily ritual.

Paul Agnew

Upcoming concerts

Paris / France
Philharmonie de Paris / Cité de la Musique, Concert hall

  • Wednesday, March 4 2020, 8.30pm
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