Program notes by Michael Driscoll
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Born in Venice, Antonio Vivaldi was the eldest of nine children of Giovanni and Camilla Vivaldi. His father was a violinist at St. Mark’s Basilica and likely taught Antonio to play the violin. Antonio began studying for the priesthood at age fifteen and was ordained when he was twenty-five. Despite his 1703 ordination, by 1706 Vivaldi ceased celebrating Mass because of what he described as strettezza di petto (tightness of the chest), which likely was bronchial asthma.
Nicknamed il prete rosso (the red priest) because of his red hair, he was appointed maestro di violono (violin teacher) at the Ospedale della Pietà in September 1703. One of four Venetian orphanages for girls, the Pietà functioned as a music school, producing highly celebrated sacred service concerts for the public. Over the course of the next thirty-five years, Vivaldi worked on and off at the Pietà, eventually becoming maestro di cappella (master of the chapel). It was for the Pietà that Vivaldi wrote the majority of his sacred works. Although known today primarily for his instrumental works (he wrote more than five hundred sonatas and concertos), Vivaldi also composed forty operas, approximately forty cantatas and motets for solo voices, three oratorios, one complete mass, several mass movements, approximately thirty Psalm settings, and one Magnificat (RV 610).
Gloria, RV 589
The Gloria RV 589 is Vivaldi’s best-known choral work today. Although Vivaldi’s autograph score (the music he wrote by hand) is undated, scholars believe that it likely was around 1715-1718 for services at the Pietà. The text of Vivaldi’s Gloria comes from the ‘Gloria’ part of the Latin Roman Catholic Mass Ordinary, which consists of five parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Santus and Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. Typically, composers of the era would set all five parts of the Mass Ordinary in one unified setting with each section of the Ordinary set as a separate movement. In this case, however, Vivaldi set only the Gloria text, which he divided into twelve movements.
The work is scored for soprano and alto soloists, SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir, oboe, trumpet, strings, bassoon, and organ. Somewhat unusual is the lack of timpani for the more celebratory movements. Each of the twelve movements of the Gloria differ in instrumentation, meter, key, and affective character. The work opens with what is probably the most recognized movement of the work. The celebratory opening movement (“Gloria in excelsis Deo”) is scored for the full orchestra and chorus and features octave leaps in the orchestral writing. The minor mode of the second movement (“Et in terra pax”) features twisting harmonies over a pulsing instrumental bass. Vivaldi uses dissonant suspensions on the word “pax” (peace) to create tension and resolution throughout the movement, perhaps to represent humankind’s hope and longing for peace. The major mode third movement, “Laudamus te” is a delightful soprano duet accompanied by unison violins, violas, and continuo. The block chords of the “Gratias agimus tibi” sung by the choir give way to a florid imitative polyphonic texture.
Vivaldi begins the sixth movement with a pastoral setting of “Domine Deus” for soprano solo and oboe obbligato. The next movement, “Domine, Fili unigenite,” pairs the choral voices in various duet combinations in a jaunty triple meter. The “Domine Deus, Agnus Dei” is the only movement of the work in which Vivaldi combines a soloist with the chorus. The plaintive alto solo accompanied by cello solo is interrupted by short choral interjections, which lead to the block chords of “Qui tollis peccata mundi.” The allegro tempo of the final solo movement, “Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,” is characterized by rapid rhythmic figures in the strings.
The final section of the work brings back the full orchestra and chorus. The “Quoniam tu solus” is an abbreviated setting of the material from the first movement. This leads to final movement, the joyful “Cum Sancto Spiritu,” which Vivaldi composed as a “learned” style fugue.
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847)
Drawn together by their shared love of music and exceptional talents, Fanny Mendelssohn and her more famous composer brother Felix, who was four years her junior, developed a close relationship that was to endure throughout their lives. The two received similar musical training, including lessons with Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a student of Mozart. Like her brother, Fanny was something of a prodigy, playing all twenty-four preludes from J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier by memory by the time she was fourteen. From very early in their lives until Fanny’s death, Felix would regularly submit his compositions to Fanny’s discerning musical eye and ear, taking her critical advice to heart, and never hesitating to modify or excise entirely material that she found questionable.
But if Fanny might have had musical aspirations of her own, to pursue a life as a performer and composer as her brother did, such hopes were quickly dashed: Societal constraints at the time precluded women from pursuing musical professions. This harsh reality was made clear by Fanny’s father Abraham in an 1820 letter to her, in which he stated that while music would perhaps become Felix’s profession, “for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the basis of your being and doing.” The following year, Fanny met and fell in love with painter Wilhelm Hensel (1794-1861), whom she eventually married in 1829, and subsequently settled into the “acceptable” domestic roles prescribed by society of the time. Nevertheless, her musical creativity continued to manifest itself in the prolific creation of over five hundred musical works, consisting mostly of the more intimate, ostensibly “feminine,” smaller scale genres of keyboard pieces, songs (of which she wrote over two hundred fifty alone), chamber music, and choral works.
In May 1847, a few hours after rehearsing for a performance of Felix’s cantata Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Fanny collapsed and died at the age of forty-one, the victim of a stroke. Her brother Felix died of the same affliction just six months later. Fanny did, however, live to witness changing attitudes towards women in musical professions, which resulted in a handful of her works having appeared in print, thereby fulfilling her lifelong dream of being considered a serious composer.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when archives in the former East Germany became available to researchers, the full scope of her accomplishments has emerged. At last, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel is being seen in an entirely new light. That reconsideration has accelerated in recent years with heightened attention on gender disparities in the classical-music world. “She is now recognized as a really important composer of the 19th century, which is as it should be,” said R. Larry Todd, author of Fanny Hensel: The Other Mendelssohn, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2010.
Demetrius Spaneas (b. 1969)
Award-winning composer and performer Demetrius Spaneas has traveled the world as a musical ambassador, connecting classical, jazz, and traditional music throughout the U.S., Eastern Europe, and Asia to create international dialogue through artistic collaboration. He has been featured soloist and composer at major concert venues and international festivals in the three continents.
As a composer, his music has been performed to critical acclaim throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia. His work ranges from two operas, to symphonic and chamber works, to choral and vocal music, to film and television, and for clients such as HBO, the NFL, and the MLB Fan Cave in NYC. He has received numerous awards and grants from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, The American Music Center, and many other institutions.
A dynamic and sought-after speaker, Mr. Spaneas has given talks on topics ranging from music composition, to American history and culture, to business and marketing, to the creative process for artists and non-artists alike. He has spoken throughout the U.S., Europe, the former U.S.S.R., and China. He is a Fulbright Scholar Specialist in American Studies.
As a “cultural diplomat,” he has partnered with organizations such as the U.S. Embassy system, UNESCO, the Fulbright Commission, and various international academic and cultural institutions to promote American culture abroad and to connect artists from varied cultures and countries. Through this work, he has received many accolades, including a special certificate from the Russian Duma (Senate) for “enriching the cultural life of St. Petersburg.”
Currently a resident of Andover, Demetrius was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and holds both bachelor and master of music degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied classical and jazz performance, composition, and world music. In addition to his musical activities, Spaneas is President of Land and Sea Real Estate, a commercial real estate company based in Andover.
Andover Choral Society commissioned Demetrius Spaneas to compose becoming to conclude the celebration of Andover Choral Society’s 90th anniversary season. This is the first work commissioned by Andover Choral Society.
becoming explores the Creation story and some of mankind’s oldest questions: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Drawing on texts from ancient Indian Hinduism, Greek and Roman mythology, Sufi mysticism, and the Book of Genesis, becoming explores the idea of creation as a spiritual evolution of humankind as well as our relationship with our world and all of creation. Spaneas writes:
I wanted to portray the idea of creation, but also of evolution – psychological, spiritual evolution, not Darwinian, per se. I do believe that humans are evolving constantly into a greater relationship with not only the world, but with all of creation. We are always in a state of “becoming.”
The piece starts with an existential question and ends with a transcendental statement. The oldest source (and the first section, “Who?”) from the Rig Veda, an ancient Indian collection of hymns, proposes a powerful existential question: What existed before Creation? Even more so, although it acknowledges a Creator, it brings doubt to whether or not the Creator even knew existence before Creation. A powerful statement 4,000 years ago!
In answer to that, we next move to “Him,” which is taken from Genesis. I use only God’s words, not the narrative, as is most common in ‘creation pieces’ because I want to have God answering the existential question by the bold statement, “I did this.” So in a way you go from an existential question to an answer in the Descartes vein of “I did, so I am.”
The third section, “Her,” brings the counterbalance to the male “warrior” God of Genesis by portraying the Mother Goddess of Greco-Roman mythology, here in the form of Diana the Goddess of the Moon. Not only is Diana female, but also the moon is always associated with women and mystery, as opposed to the male sun gods of mythology. The importance here is that we see the balance of male and female, yin and yang.
This is most evident in the fourth section, “Us,” which shows through the mystical Sufi poetry of Rumi that true union and transcendence are only attainable through the balance of divine energies. The lover is spurned on the first attempt due to his determination and sense of self. Once he releases ego and identifies with the beloved can they meld and be One. Thusly, Creation “becomes” Realization.
becoming is written for mixed-voice chorus, narrator, mezzo-soprano soloist, and an instrumental ensemble consisting of piano, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and percussion.