August COMPOSER: antonio vivaldi
motet in e, 1735
Vivaldi was an incredibly prolific composer with over 500 concertos alone to his name let alone his operas and other work. I couldn’t really get away without talking about at least one of the hundreds of sacred works he composed. ‘Nulla in mundo pax sincera’, the opening section of Vivaldi’s Motet in E, translates roughly as ‘there is no peace left in the world’ or ‘in this world there is no honest people’. A title which feels as relevant today as ever.
Motet in E was written for very small orchestra (2 violins, viola and bass) and soprano, is about 13 minutes long, and is broken into 3 parts, Aria – Recitative —Aria. A motet is a varied term but at its most general means a secular composition for voice. The classic Baroque instrument of the harpsichord makes an appearance, (it appears in Four Seasons as well), and you can hear the beginnings of where Bach would later go. The text is Latin and anonymous but that matters little; it is an atmospheric, evocative piece with simple but ornate expressions and it fits a gold lined church altar perfectly. The introduction of the soprano seems to make the music bypass the ears and enter straight into the body through the skin. Goosebumps and all.
Watch the King’s Consort perform Motet in E (soprano unknown)
It’s cold where I live at the moment, and all this talk of peace in the world makes me think (possibly oddly) of one of my favourite most luxurious things to do. Sitting by an open fire, while winter rages outside, (something Vivaldi himself wrote of in Four Season: Winter). Maybe it’s the violin that takes me there. Maybe the reflective atmosphere. Who knows.
There is a high backed chair, the little wooden table next to it with a glass of red wine or single malt and a large ornate marble fireplace, and the flames of a well settled open fire. Staring into the orange and red and occasionally blue flames – finding peace in somewhere in those flames, a sense of calm that comes from just being for a while, being with yourself and what’s on the inside.
A gentle companionably crackle, a log slips, the air catches and the flames roar. The self reflection works its way up to a conclusion about something, the thoughts get more and more excited. But then the flames subside, peter down until the fire almost dies. But it continues, it endures that fire, warming your face until its as rosy as if you’ve been in the sunshine. The fire continues, a never-ending cleansing, calming, warming fire.
Vivaldi was ordained as a priest when he was barely an adult. An act that seems strange today but was not so unusual in those times. The Baroque period, which spans Vivaldi’s lifetime and that of Bach, who came after him, was a time under the heavy influence of religion. Many artists made their living from commissions from the church. Look at any art work from that period and you will see ornate, grand scenes, mostly religious in nature.
As creatures who will always look for patterns and meanings to life as much as we seek shelter, food and warmth, it’s not so surprising that our artists might focus their art on seeking the same things. Whatever answers Vivaldi found for himself as a priest I trust from his musical compositions that they were well contemplated and expertly conducted.
*images appear in order courtesy of Public Domain, Gerard Janot via CC, author’s own, Public Domain, Nativity by Josef de Obidos via Public Domain