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The text of the Creed is exceptionally long. Hence composers have always sought ways of compressing the delivery of the text so as not to allow this section of the Mass to overbalance the others. Vivaldi’s method, in the first movement, is to make the choir sing block chords against a background of repeated figurations on the violins. The choir and the strings thus inhabit two completely different ‘planes’, each sufficient in itself, which become superimposed on each other. The short ‘Et incarnatus est’ section expresses the mystery of the incarnation in a traditional manner, with slowly moving chords, often unexpected in their harmonic progressions. The central portion of the movement is based on one of Vivaldi’s favourite chord sequences (heard also at the start of the Kyrie and near the beginning of the Magnificat). Since the passage in question is in the remote key of G minor, Vivaldi has to exercise some ingenuity in fitting it inside a movement which begins in A minor and ends in D minor.
The jewel of the work is its ‘Crucifixus’. Traditionally such movements express grief and pain through chromaticism. In fact, the sharps which are written into the score for chromatically altered notes have the shape of crosses (in German they are actually called Kreuze) and therefore are able to express the meaning of the text through ‘eye music’. With great originality, Vivaldi adds another, less familiar, image: that of the slow walk to Calvary. This he does with even, detached notes in the bass. The sparseness of the vocal writing allows him to characterize each vocal part individually, almost as if four bystanders were commenting on the scene before them. The work ends with a movement structured similarly to the opening ‘Credo in unum Deum’, except that it concludes with a stirring fugato (‘Et vitam venturi … Amen’), one of whose subjects has a decidedly plainsong-like character.
from notes by Michael Talbot © 1994
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