Dixit Dominus, RV594 - Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
1. Dixit Dominus domino meo ... (Double choir)
2. Donec ponam inimicos tuos ... (Double choir)
3. Virgam virtutis tuae ... (Soprano and alto soloists)
4. Tecum principium ... (Alto soloist)
5. Juravit dominus ... (Full choir)
6. Dominus a dextris tuis ... (Tenor and bass soloists)
7. Judicabit in nationibus ... (Double choir)
8. De torrente in via bibet ... (Soprano soloist)
9. Gloria Patri ... (Double choir)
10. Sicut erat in principio ... (Double choir)
English 1. The Lord has said to my lord: Sit you at my right hand
2. Until I make your enemies a footstool.
3. The Lord will send the sceptre of your power out of Zion:
rule in the midst of your enemies.
4. Sovereignty will be your’s in the day of your strength:
in the splendour of the saints I have given you birth
before the morning.
5. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent: you are a priest
for ever after the order of Melchizedech.
6. The Lord will be at your right hand:
He will break kings in the day of his wrath.
7. He will judge among the nations, he will fill with ruins:
He will crush the heads of many in the land.
8. He will drink of the torrent in the way:
Thus will He lift up his head.
9. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
10. As it was in the beginning, is now
And ever will be, Amen.
This psalm (numbered 109 in the Catholic Bible) celebrates God’s promise to ‘my lord’ of victory over his enemies. ‘My lord’, in the Christian interpretation, is a reference to the Messiah, and so the psalm can be understood as in effect a celebration of the promised triumph of good over evil. In Vivaldi’s day it was prescribed as the first of the psalms to be said or sung in the evening service known as ‘Vespers’, the most common service after the Mass.
Dixit Dominus has been set to music by many composers, sometimes (famously by Monteverdi and Mozart) as part of a complete setting of Vespers and sometimes as a separate work. Vivaldi wrote at least one complete setting of Vespers which has not survived and four separate settings of the Dixit Dominus which have. The manuscripts for two of them were discovered and authenticated as recently as 2005!
In 1717 Vivaldi was invited by the famous music school Accademia Filharmonica di Bologna to write either a Dixit Dominus or a Magnificat for the celebration of their patron saint’s day. He did not carry out this commission. But it gives an idea of the likely circumstance in which he produced this magnificent setting of the Dixit Dominus.Though no one knows exactly when it was written or for what occasion, scholars identify this setting as one of a number of works for double choir written after 1720 in response to commissions from a large church in Rome or elsewhere. In its grandeur, it rivals any of his other extant religious works, even his well-known and much-loved Gloria (in excelsis). Like the Gloria, this Dixit Dominus is written in the bright key of D major to suit both the celebratory mood of the piece and the prominence given to the trumpets. Its splendour is enhanced by being set for a double choir
Vivaldi is celebrated for his instrumental writing and his Four Seasons has long been a favourite of the classical repertoire. That work famously depicts the sounds of the various seasons in music. And some of the same ambition is reflected in this Dixit Dominus. Thus when God says ‘Sit at my right hand’ the second note of the setting of the two-syllable word ‘Sede’ drops, sometimes by a large interval, so that the audience will get the message. (For modern audiences, perhaps, the interval is sometimes comically large, as if, when the person sits, he will find the expected seat has been taken away.) More obviously, Section 5 is taken on the Christian interpretation to be about the Last Judgement and so ‘the last trump’ is duly sounded on the trumpets.
Vivaldi knew that variety was the spice of music, if not of life. His Dixit Dominus would not have been nearly as effective if it had consisted entirely of solemn declamations from the two choirs. There are also individual arias and duets of great delicacy for the alto and soprano soloists and a suitably vigorous duet for the tenor and bass where the words are particularly militant.
After a psalm had been sung it was common practice to sing what is known as the ‘Doxology’ (9-10). But, though the words (‘Gloria Patri ...’ etc.) are not part of the psalm, no composer worth his salt would set the Doxology as a separate piece of music. On the contrary it is an opportunity to return at the end to some of the main musical themes of the work and thus to confirm its unity. Thus Vivaldi, in tonight’s setting, returns in the Gloria Patri to the music of the Dixit Dominus heard at the beginning and in the Secut erat to the music of Donec ponam heard next, thus bringing the work to a musically satisfactory conclusion.