“If music has the power to direct our entire existence towards nobleness, this music is great. Bach has achieved this.” Is there a piece in the entire Western musical canon that so fully embodies this sentiment? The B Minor Mass began its life as a job application, but was later assembled towards the end of Bach’s life as a statement of faith: in God, of course, but just as much in music: to offer healing, unity and promise. With its exhaustive compendium of musical styles (and his twin trademarks of mathematical genius and dancing feet) and complete mastery of composition, both musical and architectural, it speaks for the whole world. In directing us towards nobleness, Bach shows us – people of all faiths and of none – the oneness of humankind with the universe, and the responsibility of human life to do good and to seek beauty.
From his mid-twenties, Antonio Vivaldi was employed as a violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pietá in Venice. Although officially an orphanage, the Ospedale was in reality a home for illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen, and was a generously endowed school and residence with one of the finest orchestras in the city. The ‘Red Priest’ wrote several concertos for his preferred student there (La Favorita), and these display wonderfully florid invention and virtuosic pyrotechnics. This is a rare opportunity to experience first hand the music that emerged from one of the most productive – and intriguing – relationships in Venetian music.
Known even in Bach’s time as his ‘great’ Passion, the Matthew Passion lays out the narrative of Christ’s suffering and death in epic proportions: double chorus, double orchestra, and in music of staggering beauty and profundity. It unfolds with intractable dramatic momentum, as well as presenting a succession of tableaux that invite the listener to contemplate the many resonances of this journey. However, the work also suggests a more fundamental question: how, even in the depths of despair and subjected to grave injustice, humanity is able – through faith and through love – to find hope, consolation and joy.