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Handel & Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus

In the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church Psalm 109 Dixit Dominus–“The Lord said unto my Lord” has actually been set to music more times than any other Psalm. The motive is simply this: within the cycle of five psalms sung each day at Vespers, the Dixit Dominus…



Handel: Dixit Dominus (HWY 232) – Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus (RV 807); In furore iustissimae irae (RV 626) – La Nuova Musica: David Bates: Director; Lucy Crowe: soprano

Handel VivaldiIn the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church Psalm 109 Dixit Dominus–“The Lord said unto my Lord” has actually been set to music more times than any other Psalm. The motive is simply this: within the cycle of five psalms sung each day at Vespers, the Dixit Dominus is always the opening psalm; the choice of the other four psalms varies according to the day. Eighteenth century musical setting of this psalm has been rather stately; almost grandiose; its tone celebrated by the brazen colours of a trumpet or trumpets and a general celebratory mood. There are several conventional reasons for this: First Dixit Dominus is the first hymn of the day and must of necessity be informed by the brightest musical resources and serve as the fanfare for what is to follow. Then there is the fact that the seven verses of the text to which the two of the Lesser Doxology, starting with “Sicut erat in principio” are always added—have a regal, imperious content. Finally the sixth verse: “Judicivit in nationibus” refers to Judgement Day, a context where the temptation to use an actual trumpet to represent the “Last Trump” proves almost irresistible.

The Venetian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi produced three surviving settings for Dixit Dominus. The first was for a foundling home where he taught the violin. When Vivaldi took over the vocal group between 1713 and 1717; this was followed by two others—one, RV 594, dating anytime from the late 1720s to the early 1730s and one more after that, which was set into his Pietà. At any rate the exquisite musical qualities of Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus swiftly brought this hymn into the Baroque musical repertoire. The eighth movement, “Do Torrente in via bibet” is one where Vivaldi suggests the gently lapping waters of a brook through an astounding string arrangement; the other is the final fugue on the words of the Doxology; perhaps one of the finest examples of Vivaldi’s contrapuntal abilities in this oeuvre. Vivaldi composed In furore iustissimae between 1722 and 1724, in Rome. This is a motet with a poetic content considered appropriate for all seasons.

But it is the gentle and sweet beauty of Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus that is in contrast to Handel’s grandiose version or 1707 which is on record of being one of the most ambitious and impressive of the works for the Catholic rite. Handel composed this in Italy and it exemplifies his independence of mind and his willingness to overcome convention. Handel’s setting for the Psalm is far more dramatic than Vivaldi’s and full of fierce energy. His deity is majestic to the extent of being somewhat vengeful—a God of the Old Testament. His first movement is smart and inventive and makes reference to the emerging style of the instrumental concerto. But it also pays homage to the tradition of plainsong melody of the Fourth Psalm Tone as a cantus firmus, just as Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610-11 and so archaic and emerging elements unite in a wonderful original synthesis.

None of this would sound as good were it not for the magnificently rehearsed La Nuova Musica, a vocal and instrumental group dedicated to the preservation of music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The director of the ensemble, David Bates has captured period elegance in a glorious and invigorating manner. His ensemble is also blessed with such unbridled talent as the soprano Lucy Crowe. Ms. Crowe has that pristine voice which she uses with exquisite expression and sincerity and brings to the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque eras something of genteelness rarely heard today. Her tone is worshipful and in its bell-like radiance that serves both Vivaldi’s vivid, almost painterly Dixit Dominus as well as the dramaturgy of Handel’s Dixit Dominus bringing to the fore the spectacular differences between the two.

Label: Harmonia Mundi | Release date: November 2013

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About La Nuova Musica and David Bates

La Nuova Musica is a vocal and instrumental ensemble dedicated to reinvigorating the music of the European Renaissance and Baroque. In less than seven years since its foundation by director David Bates, it has shot to prominence in the UK and abroad, described by BBC Radio 3 as “one of the most exciting consorts in the Early Music field” and receiving the classical category nomination at the 2012 South Bank Sky Arts/The Times Breakthrough Awards. La Nuova Musica has appeared at venues including Kings Place, Wigmore Hall, St John’s, Smith Square, and at the Aldeburgh, Spitalfields and London Handel festivals, where it enjoys strong creative relationships and fast-developing audiences. In 2011, La Nuova Musica signed a five-record deal with harmonia mundi USA. The first recording, of Handel’s Il Pastor Fido, was released in March 2012 and instantly applauded by The Times for its “untrammelled gusto”. The second, of settings of Dixit Dominus by Handel and Vivaldi, was released in April 2013. Forthcoming releases include music by Charpentier and Carissimi, and a collaboration with the countertenor Lawrence Zazzo. Read more at:

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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