Gloria, RV 589, I: Gloria in excelsis Deo

Welcome to my first Classical Sunday post since resuming this blog after my summer break.

Recently, my sweety and I discovered the TV mockumentary sitcom Modern Family on Netflix. The American series originally ran from 2009 to 2020, but somehow we managed to completely miss it until this summer when a friend recommended the show. Soon we were hooked and have blasted through almost five seasons already. For me, the best part of the program is listening to my dear couch-mate’s laughter throughout the episodes. I also love the interview segments; they add so much to the flow, style and charm of the series.

One evening as I opened Netflix eager to see more antics of the Pritchett/Dunphy/Tucker-Pritchett families, I scrolled through recommendations, including The Chair, a drama series about the first woman of colour to chair the English department of a major university. Canadian-American actor Sandra Oh is the lead actor in the series created by American actor, writer and producer Amanda Peet. We’ve heard a lot of good things about the show and will no doubt watch it. Have you seen it? Did you like it?

When stopping briefly on the icon for the program, its preview activated with a lively piece of classical music that I recalled as a longtime favourite among popular classical pieces, though it took me a while to identify it (and Shazam couldn’t help). At first I thought it might be from the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) or perhaps something by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), then finally found it: “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” the first of 12 movements in the Gloria, RV 589 by Italian Baroque violinist, composer, teacher and Roman Catholic priest, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).

It’s believed that Vivaldi wrote three settings of the hymn “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” catalogued as RV 588, 589 and 590, though the last one is presumed to be lost. He wrote RV 589 sometime around 1715, and it is very well-known among his sacred works.

The Netflix preview version is considerably slower than the version I found on YouTube, sung by Les Muses Chorale, a women’s choral ensemble from McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The video performance, directed by Gohar Manvelyan, was captured in 2019 at Christ Church Cathedral in Montréal. (Unfortunately, the chamber orchestra is not credited in the video.) When accompanying me in Montréal for a conference in 2015, Sweety and I toured this church in the heart of downtown, not far from the hotel where the gathering was held. We stayed on a few days after the conference, touring many sights, including the visually stunning Parc Olympique de Montréal, the site of the 1976 Olympics.

The opening movement of the Gloria, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” is a vibrant and jubilant piece. To me, it is a joyous celebration of the living universe and all beings in it.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here is the video of the 2019 performance by Les Muses Chorale, from their official YouTube channel: 

And, here’s the audio for a slightly slower version, comparable in tempo to the Netflix preview. It’s by the Choir of St. John’s College Cambridge and the Wren Orchestra under the direction of Welsh organist and conductor George Guest (1924-2002), with soloists Lynda Russell (soprano I), Patrizia Kwella (soprano II), Anne Wilkens (mezzo-soprano) and Kenneth Bowen (1932-2018, tenor):

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