Caldara - Christmas Cantata (Vaticini di Pace)
Sinfonias Nos. 5 & 6
From as early as 1676 until 1740, one of the features ofChristmas celebrations in baroque Rome was the performance of a cantata onChristmas eve in the Palazzo Apostolico. Each year a composer, usually onebased in Rome, was selected to provide the music and after the Christmas EveVesper service the Pope and his invited guests would retire to supper and tohear the new cantata performed by the best singers in the papal choir.
In 1713 the Venetian-born Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) wasto provide the
Cantata da recitarsi la Notte del SSmo Natalenel Palazzo Apostolico. He had been in Rome since 1709 as maestro diCappella to Francesco Maria Ruspoli, Prince of Cerveteri, and very likely the Christmascantata written for his patron in 1712 secured him the 1713 commission. It isthe earlier work that we have here, and the "per il SSmo Natale"inscribed on the surviving manuscript of the Vaticini di Pace suggeststhat Ruspoli, perhaps Rome's most lavish patron of the arts, was imitating papaltradition. In one respect, however, Caldara's Christmas cantata performed in Ruspoli'sPalazzo Bonelli in 1712 did have a direct connection with the Vatican. Thelibretto of Vaticini di Pace was not new. In 1703 Paolo Gini's text,rich in allusions to the contemporary political scene, had been performed (in DomenicoBottari's setting) at the Palazzo Apostolico. Nearly a decade later, in themidst of efforts to heal the longstanding rift between the Pope (Clement XI)and the Holy Roman Emperor (Charles VI), Ruspoli's re-use of this particularlibretto seems quite deliberate.
The estrangement was a legacy of the war of the Spanishsuccession. From its beginnings in 1701 Italy had been embroiled in thisconflict between Bourbon and Habsburg for the Spanish throne. Even the Pope wasnot immune. At first carefully neutral, he eventually sided with the Bourboncause. In May, 1708,
Habsburg armies, triumphant across northern Italy,threatened the eternal city.
Ruspoli raised militia in its defence. Forced soignominiously to acknowledge
Charles III, the Austrian contender for the Spanishkingdom, it is no surprise that the Pope exacted revenge three years later whenthat same claimant, as Charles VI, suddenly succeeded to the imperial throne inVienna and to the title of Defender of the Faith. Clement withheld papalrecognition.
On the eve of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), the finale ofthe Spanish saga, Ruspoli found himself in a unique position. This loyalsupporter of the Pope now was also the patron of a composer who, after a visitto Vienna between 1711 and 1712, was highly regarded by the Emperor himself.
Through a prominent performance of his maestro's newsetting of Gini's libretto
Ruspoli ensured that Clement XI's early concerns forpeace and Italy's troubled state (barely disguised in Core umano's plaintive:"Bella pace; ove sei? Care
spiaggie latine ...prive ancor voi del mio tesoro amato?")were well remembered just prior to the diplomatic negotiations from which thechurch was to be excluded. He saw too that Gini's flattering allusions toClement XI ("un sol Clemente la Clemenza Regnante La Clemente amica stella"),propagandist patriotism in 1703, now would help restore an image tarnished bymilitary miscalculation, for the Pope was about to lose territory under the Utrechtsettlement. But perhaps above all, Ruspoli hoped a lesson in reconciliationmight be learned from the change of heart displayed by Gini's seeminglyimplacable Giustitia. Indeed, Clement XI did relent - eventually. His confirmatioelectionis is of February, 1714, finally acknowledged Charles VI as HolyRoman Emperor. The prophecy of peace had come about.
Today, these considerations of politics and prestige bearlittle on our appreciation of Caldara's music. The composer himself seems tohave paid them scant attention, content to focus on what Gini offered by way ofcharacter differentiation, varying emotional states and opportunity for musicalsymbolism.
Core umano, an allegorical Everyman, desires peace("Pace bella ridi a noi") - a peace which, conceived in human terms,means a cessation of martial activities.
That peace, says Pace ("Vuoi pace al core"),can only come from an inner spiritual peace and, to achieve this, truerepentance is necessary. The absence of an outward peace reflects the disarrayof humanity's soul. Amor Divino, a universal intermediary and the protector ofCore umano, offers hope: although war is the reward for mankind's turning fromthe true path, God will forgive the guilty. In "Quel bianco latte" -alullaby inspired by a vision of the Virgin and Child - Amor Divino pleads formercy, not retribution on those who offend the Almighty.
Ciustitia, who represents the avenging righteousness ofthe Old Testament, remains unmoved ("Che dici, che pretendi"); errorsmust be punished, despite pleas for forgiveness. In "Da nemica ultrice spada"and again in "Si, si, perira" angular vocal phrases and powerfulfigurations for unison violins conjure up terrifying retribution. In " Amortrionfera" Amor Divino comforts an anguished Core umano faced withbewildering options ("Ciustitia vuol ch'io pera").
If Ciustitia will not listen to entreaty, perhaps thecrying of the innocent Holy-infant will bring about a change of heart. In"Qual pargoletto infante" Pace confronts Ciustitia with the mercifuljustice of the New Testament, personified in the Christ-child. For this lyricalmoment Caldara invokes some of the traditional imagery of the Nativity. Thegentle siciliano rhythm of the aria captures the pastoral setting of the holybirth; delicate intertwinings of voice and violins in senza basso
scoring enhance the serenity of contemplative devotion. Ciustitia is persuaded.
From henceforth justice will be tempered with mercy ("Cia vi sento intenerir"),and the reconciliation of Pace with Ciustitia is complete in "1 tuoi bacci",the only concerted vocal movement in the cantata.
The contrite Core umano, now assured of forgiveness, notretribution, extols
Christ's nativity in "Bella notte" beforereturning to the initial request, the plea for universal peace. Both Amor Divino("No, no non piu crudel") and Pace ("La clemente amica stella")prophesy that this will quickly follow, and Amor Divino concludes the cantatawith a eulogy of peace ("Quanto dolce"). Its benefits to mankind arerecounted, mirrored in the broad sweep of the ornate violin accompaniment.
In the summer of 1716 Caldara left Ruspoli and Italy totake up the position of Vizekapellmeister to the Imperial court in Vienna.
There, one of his many tasks was to contribute to the sequence of oratoriosperformed each year in the Hofkapelle during the weeks immediately precedin