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“Gloria” by Vivaldi and “O Magnum Mysterium” by Tomas Luis De Victoria Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Aug 14th, 2022

Religion has played a significant role in art expression, and artists often rely on belief for inspiration. Whether painting art or musical art, religion has significantly contributed to their development. The relationship, therefore, between religion and art is correlational as the two complement each other. Music has had a great way of building religious imaginations, as evident from the early Judaism religion, Christianity, and Islam. Antonio Vivaldi and Tomas Luis de Victoria are perfect examples of composers who had inspired religion. Their inspiration can be ascertained through their masterpieces, “Gloria” and “O Magnum Mysterium.” These two pieces were written for the Christian faithful, specifically for Christmas celebrations during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. This paper analyzes these two masterpieces from a conductor rehearsal point of view. Understanding the complexities of the two compositions and all the information about them would help a conductor prepare effectively for their performance.

The two pieces are both Christian gospel songs that were written for the church. The inspiration behind both pieces is, however, different. Despite the pieces being of the same purpose, the environment or context in which the songs were performed is different. Victoria’s “Ó Magnum Mysterium” was composed for the Catholic Church’s mass to appreciate Jesus Christ’s birth. This piece is clearly about the ‘Nativity Story,’ which is the story about people’s lives that steered to the birth of Jesus Christ (May 2019). This song is a Church chant that could be sung in between mass and was a Matins. Being a Matins means that the song was a nighttime chant for the night masses. Though the music can be sung in a church environment, it can be performed at a given time and in a specific way.

During the Renaissance period, the motet was common in the performance of most of the composed pieces. Creating a composition for the motet was what Victoria had in mind when composing “O Magnum Mysterium” during this time. The vocal vibrancies of the piece is an accurate representation of the composers’ writing strategies during this period. Being a sacred piece, “O Magnum Mysterium” is benevolent as it carries the Nativity message of the birth of Jesus Christ (Bond, 2018). Therefore, the work was meant to be performed by an orchestral choir before a congregation in between mass.

On the other hand, during Vivaldi’s time, the Baroque era, harmonic singing groups were the main events. Orchestral choirs were the ultimate focus of composers, and they composed joyous and tonal pieces (Lee, 2020). “Gloria” is one of such pieces that contains a colorful and cheerful melody. Vivaldi’s “Gloria” is a piece to be performed by a huge choir, and it has all the characteristics of the Baroque period composition.

Vivaldi’s “Gloria” was composed for the young ladies in the orphanage where Vivaldi used to live. During the time of its composition, Vivaldi had not quit his gospel life as he was still inspired by faith to compose this piece. Gloria was composed by Vivaldi as a joyous piece to be performed during the Mass as he wanted the Christmas celebrations to have more life in them. Creating beautiful and happy music for the teenagers was also part of his goals during his stay at the orphanage. The girls were also born out of anonymous fathers, and thus the song was meant to lift their spirits and give them happiness. This piece can be performed at a Church during any mass or any Christian service. It is a joyous and melodic choir song that needs a bright and colorful audience. This, therefore, means that the two pieces can be performed in the same environment: the church. They, however, are to be completed in two different contexts due to their alteration in composition and style. Vivaldi’s “Gloria” is performed at any time of the day and between masses or services, while Victoria’s “O Magnum Mysterium” is performed at night. Being a chant, “O Magnum Mysterium” does not need a colorful and joyous audience.

“O Magnum Mysterium” was a Greek poem that was meant to tell of the story of the birth of Christ. Victoria worked on it and modified it into a small choir presentation that could be performed during Church mass. After Victoria changed the piece, a choir could perform it and presented it in between Mass. Earlier, the music was a Christmas time chant that spelled out the “Nativity Story” about the events before and after the life of Jesus Christ. The piece has remained a nighttime song even after the modification from a chant to a Christmas song by Victoria (Burkholder et al., 2019). Presently, the piece can be performed in an orchestra with various well-organized instruments and a choir. The musical composition has been improved over the years, and its performances are better and more articulate.

As stated earlier, Vivaldi had composed the piece “Gloria” during his time at the orphanage where he offered teaching of the piano. This orphanage had a history of performing magnificent music, and so Vivaldi wrote this exceptional masterpiece for them. At this time, Vivaldi had the idea of composing this piece for the girls’ choir at the orphanage. The song was meant to be performed by a large ensemble at the church. The work was joyous, and the melody was colorful, and the girls would enjoy performing it. Gloria as a composed piece was, however, hidden from the world and was later performed in 1939 (Pysh 2020). Vivaldi did not present this masterpiece as much, and it remained hidden from the world for a very long time. Vivaldi’s original composition was, however, published and played for the first time in 1957 (Pysh 2020). Today, massive orchestras and choirs have performed this piece, and it has become such a sort after piece.

Victoria’s “O Magnum Mysterium” is a responsorial chant and belongs to the genre of classical music. It was composed by Victoria during the Renaissance period and incorporated into the Catholic Church’s liturgical masses. The piece was a responsorial chant, and this meant that a motet or a small choir was to perform it. Due to the fact that the piece was a song or poem of the nativity story of Jesus Christ, it was performed in celebration of Christmas. Victoria’s “O Magnum Mysterium” was more sacred than the other versions by other composers. His version was described as being emotionally appealing and had greater mystical intensity. Victorian “Magnum Mysterium” was the same as that of Palestrina’s and was composed fundamentally in the Aeolian mode. The piece is written in a four-part SABT ensemble, and its beginning is graced with soft sopranos that are later joined by altos (Louderback, 2018). The wonders of the Virgin birth of Christ are captured through five bare octaves and five bare fifths. The occasional use of a dropping fifth is a usual nature of Victoria’s works, mainly at introducing his pieces.

Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria” is also a classical piece but a hymn of praise used in the second Ordinance of the Latin Mass. Vivaldi composed this piece during the Baroque period for an all-girl choir at the orphanage, where he taught music. It is one of the most significant sacred pieces that Vivaldi ever composed in his life. The piece “Gloria” was written in D major fashioned by the joyous leaping octaves and repetitions (Carey, 2021). The music is graced with bursting energy propels, and the whole theme of the song is colorful. Vivaldi separated the piece into twelve distinct portions, and each part had its unique style. However, the entire song has energy and is both composed of vocal and instrumentation performance. There is great harmony between the vocals and the instruments as they complement each other to give this masterpiece. These sections are separated by beautiful interludes that build on one another. The piece has a sunny nature with its distinctive joyous melody and rhythm.

As a conductor getting ready to perform these two pieces, one requires a significant level of preparation. These two pieces were perfectly composed and given a touch of maestro by the composers. It is, therefore, important that the style of these two compositions are studied and understood by the composer before their performance has gone underway. These two pieces’ techniques are entirely different from one another. Thus, understanding each song is essential to mastery of the style, and learning each step of the composition helps the conductor perform his work effectively (Owens, 2019). The score sheet should be a guide during the performance and not a reference. Therefore, the pieces’ stylistic attributes, “O Magnum Mysterium” and “Gloria,” should be studied and mastered.

The original “O Magnum Mysterium” motet was written in a flat and a transposed Dorian mode. On the contrary, the Victorian version was composed of four sections, the first two sections being duple meter, and the last sections have been termed as ‘Alleluia’ sections. The first portion of the previous section is in triple meter, and the final part is in duple meter. The first section of the piece begins with paired voices, with the second voice having a distinctive imitation of the first. The basses and the tenors imitate the cantus while the altos sing an octave lower after singing the first line by the other voices (Donaldson, 2017). The piece then moves into elastic and contrapuntal rhythmic combinations. The section is full of shifting imitations, and the section ends in full cadence. The second section of the piece is shorter than the first, and it follows a somewhat similar style to that of the first. The portion also consists of contrapuntal movement, as observed in the first section of the composition. The repeated notes in this piece create emphasis on the Blessed Virgin.

"Gloria" by Vivaldi and "O Magnum Mysterium" by Tomas Luis De Victoria

Vivaldi’s Gloria consists of twelve movements with an orchestration of various instruments such as the oboe, continuo, and strings. In this composition, the homophonic and polyphonic styles are prevalent. The presence of harmonic suspensions, Melismas, and chromatic melodic lines flow makes the piece a unique design. As one of the composers during the Baroque period, Vivaldi’s compositions were decorative and vibrant. Ornamental and passionate characteristics were significant features of the arrangements during the baroque period. Gloria as a composition has several contrasting musical elements, and each movement has its unique style (Pysh, 2020). The essential keys used in this piece are D major, B minor, G major, E minor, and C major. There are major shifts in the work’s tempo; it starts with Allegro, Andante, Largo, Adagio and ends in Allegro. The style used in this piece changes from homophonic to polyphonic according to the spirit of each movement (Pysh, 2020). The Allegro tempo is fast while Andante, Largo, and Adagio are slow tempos.

Gloria

A consideration of each movement shows some unique stylistic characteristics of the composition. The melodic progression of each movement is based on the mimicking of thematic provisions. Vivaldi included the instrumentation portion of this piece and the instruments double on the choral sections’ melodies. The chords that have harmonic and secondary dominance are used throughout the piece. Vivaldi, like Victoria, also employs repetition in his composition. Duplication is observed in the rhythm and the sequencing of the entire piece. Imitations in the music have also been repeated all through the composition creating an array of emphasis. The piece’s general style is explosive and colorful as it starts in a brilliant D major key.

As a conductor rehearsing to perform these two pieces, it would help get a deep analysis of the pieces. A deep analysis involves a study of the background of the artists and their works. The environment in which they performed could also be a great pointer into understanding the context into which the two pieces are to be performed. A conductor would also gain significantly by studying the stylistic devices of the two pieces. This will help the conductor know the musical elements incorporated in the two pieces. It is crucial to ensure a good rehearsal before the pieces’ performance improves the conductor’s mastery of the pieces (Owens, 2019). The conductor’s prowess and performance are vital for the ultimately successful execution of the songs. Therefore, the aspects covered in this paper are essential to a conductor rehearsing for these pieces’ performance.

References

Bond, J. (2018). The Horal Journal, 59(2), 8-21. Web.

Burkholder, J., Grout, D., & Palisca, C. (2019). Norton Anthology of Western Music (8th ed.). W. W. Norton and Company INC.

Carey, P. (2021). Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria in D. Providence singers. Web.

Donaldson, J. (2017). A graduate recital in conducting (master’s degree). Pittsburgh State University.

Lee, J. (2020). An understanding of Style of Baroque Ornamentation in Handel’s Operatic arias: A study of selected recordings (1950s – 2010s) (Doctoral). University of Kentucky.

Louderback, K. (2018). A pianist’s musings. Web.

May, T. (2019). Los Angeles chorale performances magazine. Web.

Owens, M. (2019). Morten Lauridsen’s choral cycle, nocturnes: A Conductor’s Analysis (doctoral). University of Kentucky.

Pysh, G. (2020). The choral journal, 61(1). Web.

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