In furore iustissimae irae RV626

by Antonio Vivaldi

     In furore iustissimae irae RV626
     by Antonio Vivaldi
     Born March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy
     Died July 28, 1741 in Vienna, Austria

For about 35 years, Antonio Vivaldi was largely at the service of the Osepedal della Pieta (Home of Mercy), a convent and an orphanage for girls  in Venice. As many of the “orphans” were actually the daughters of living noblemen, in Vivaldi’s day the institution was well endowed and had in fact become one of Europe’s most prestigious music conservatories.

Vivaldi’s required duties were widely varied, including teaching violin and regularly composing sacred music to be played for Masses, high holy days and significant feasts. Many of his compositions were in the form of motets.

The term “motet” is a curious one, thought to be derived from both Latin (“to move”) and French (“little word”). It originally referred to unaccompanied choral compositions from the 13th century, set to sacred texts. By the Renaissance, motets - with light instrumental accompaniment, such as lute or recorder, could include secular texts and were essentially polyphonic madrigals. The motets of Vivaldi’s time (Baroque) had evolved to include accompaniment by either a basso continuo (a steady bass line provided by keyboard and cello), or several instruments, up to a full orchestra. Many of Vivaldi’s Osepedal motets were left unpublished, or have been lost altogether.   

Fortunately, In furore iustissimae irae (In the Fury of the Most Just Wrath), RV626, is from a group of three extant solo motets for soprano, strings and basso continuo that Vivaldi wrote in Rome during one of his seasonal festival visits in the early 1720s. It is a work that fit a category of motets which were called ‘per ogni tempo,’ i.e., appropriate for all seasons. Some sacred texts were of a general enough nature that they could be sung on any occasion, including all the church “holy days of obligation.” This would have been advantageous for composer and singer alike, as the motet could become a repertory work and played frequently.

In furore…, sung in Latin, is a quintessentially Vivaldian tone painting of a sinner’s supplication before a righteously wrathful God, comprised of two arias framing a recitative, ending with an Alleluia. The opening aria (and for that matter the entire piece) is a stunning platform for coloratura virtuosity. This aria is a propulsive expression – through astonishing melodic leaps, turbulent unisons and churning chromatic descents - of God’s anger at human malfeasance. The very short recitative is a plea for mercy. An exquisitely plaintive, haunting lyricism characterizes the slower second aria, wherein the singer begs the Saviour to make her repentant. The tempo quickens again in the ornate, dazzling Alleluia.

Aria da capo - Allegro 
In wrath and most just anger
You divinely exercise power.
When you punish my guilt
The crime itself bears your mercy.

Most loyal Father of mercies
spare me, a sorrowful
weak sinner,
Most sweet Jesus.

Aria da capo - Largo
Then shall my weeping
turn to joy
as toward you
my heart is softened.
Make me cry,
my dear Jesus,
and joyful weeping
Will warm my heart.

Alleluia -- Allegro

     -Tom Wachunas