Gloria, Vivaldi (1678—1741)
It seems curious to us now, given its justified popularity, that the Gloria, written in 1715, was hardly known and rarely performed until the 1950s. But its music was lost for 200 years until it was found by chance in a pile of forgotten manuscripts in the 1920s. How fortunate for us all that it was brought back to life. Although technically the Gloria is not a Christmas piece, it is often treated as such, probably because the opening lines — Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax — are also the words of the Angels announcing the birth of Christ.
Like much of Vivaldi’s work, the Gloria was composed for an orchestra and choir of girls from the orphanage for the illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen. Its very varied sections cover a range of styles, with unexpected seriousness following closely on joyous celebration. The Gloria, although by far Vivaldi’s most popular choral piece today, is just one among many sacred works he composed. He enjoyed massive success during his career, but was careless with his money, and when he died in Vienna, he was buried in a pauper’s grave.
Incidentally, it was not only Handel who borrowed from others: in the final Cum Sancto Spiritu that ends the Gloria, Vivaldi uses a double fugue composed by a contemporary composer from Verona, Ruggieri, who Vivaldi much admired. Once again, remember Stravinsky’s dictum: Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.
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