Saturday, July 31, 2021

Baroque Vespers of St Ignatius of Loyola

For the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, here is a very Baroque musical setting of the psalms and hymn of his Second Vespers, composed by Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), an Italian Jesuit missionary in South America. The Magnificat is done here in Gregorian chant, followed by an instrumental sonata and an orchestral Te Deum.

A few interesting things to note here. Unlike basically all other religious orders, the Jesuits did not have a proper Office for their founder; these texts are all taken from the Common Office of a Simple Confessor, which can be found in any edition of the Roman Breviary. The first psalm is done in Gregorian chant, the others in polyphony with orchestral accompaniment, a deliberate gesture of respect, I imagine, to the older musical traditional. I don’t know why Zipoli did not include the Magnificat in his setting; perhaps the church for which he wrote this already had a setting which they did not wish to change.

St Ignatius and the Jesuits have taken a lot of criticism, much of it fair, and much of it unfair, for their approach to the liturgy, and especially the Divine Office, which they have never done in choir as an order. It should always been be borne in mind that the liturgical situation of the Society and the whole Catholic Church was very different before the Age of Revolutions began in the later 18th century. (I outlined this in my series on the reforms of the Breviary several years ago, specifically in reference to the Jesuits: see parts 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3.) And yet, here we have a very elaborate setting (which I admit is not entirely to my own personal tastes), not of a Mass, but of Vespers, written by a Jesuit, in an era when the solemn celebration of Vespers was still regarded as a very important part of any major feast. I have also read more than once that particularly in South America, the Jesuit missionaries quickly discovered that many of the native populations were incredibly talented at music, and put those talents to good use in the reducciones.

Domenico Zipoli was born in Prato in Tuscany, and after his early training, which included a brief stint with Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples, he became the organist of the main Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesù, at the age of only 23. A year later, he went to Seville in Spain to join the Society; as a novice, he was sent to Buenos Aires, and from there to Córdoba in what is now Argentina, where he completed his studies, but was never ordained, since there was no bishop available at the time to ordain him. He died of tuberculosis in 1726, at the age of only 38, but his fame as a composer had spread thoughout South America; the Spanish Viceroy in Lima wrote to Córdoba, which is over 2,000 miles away, to request copies of his works, which are also found in the musical archives of many of the reducciones. (For a sense of perspective, Zipoli himself had less distance to travel to get from Rome to Seville.)

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