Dixit Dominus

Though I felt less than heavenly upon awakening this morning (following a night of irksome recollections, ineffable dreams and fitful neuropathy) it wasn’t long before I regained my spiritual wonder. It is quite impossible not to react favourably to the day, almost any day, on Key Largo. Everything about our presence here is manifestly agreeable; viz., the weather, the temperature, the turquoise sea, the azure sky and the aimless ambition. Effulgent balminess. It all bears repeating only because it is by nature so superbly topical and immediate, so incomparably transcendental. And memorable. I am determined to jot a note of these daily inspirations. For the time may yet come when I am no longer capable to relish them in the identical context; though I may at least preserve a colourful souvenir of the day.

Music helps capture the vanishing moments of the days on Key Largo.  With the inexpressible assistance of Apple Music I am able to introduce myself to endless variety.  Today’s version of enlightenment was Händel’s Caldara: Carmelita Vesper 1709. It instantly stirred me. The trifling habits and preoccupations of one’s existence are quickly moved aside to make way for more ethereal contemplation. It is no doubt the answer of art to the condition humaIne, that lowly visceral world grasping at the upper reaches of being wherein we posit and deposit our most elevated thoughts and aspirations.

This heady atmosphere legitimately corrupts my daily texture, exhilarating me beyond the mundane exemplification of my normal  passage. It is after all these radiant flickers which make the universe sparkle and gleam. I cannot deny the brilliance moves me to a heightened level of absorption in the ether. Even in the base environment of lounging by the pool – like the Romans in a public spa – the frequency of art is undiminished.

I flatter myself to include with this creation of Mrs. C (above) my own daily “blurb” as one is now wont to describe it. Underlying the petty preoccupations of wintering in the south by those from northern climes is a theme of silent and unassuming creation. None of us, I am quite certain, presumes to compete on the level of Monet, Karsh, Handel or Dostoevsky. Yet we seemingly are compelled to express ourselves in whatever faint manner possible.  Coincidentally when I was articling at Macdonald, Affleck on Sparks Street in Ottawa, I often amused myself during the lunch hour by frequenting the ballroom of the Château Laurier Hotel where I played the grand piano. One afternoon while playing the piano I noticed an elegant woman sitting at the back of the room, wearing a large brimmed hat and a long dark dress.  She sat alone. When I completed my so-called performance and prepared to return to work, I asked the woman if she were visiting Ottawa.  She replied, “No, I live here.”  I pursued my enquiry by asking where in Ottawa she lived.  She replied, “Here, in the hotel.”  I subsequently learned that the woman was the wife of Yousuf Karsh, the noted Canadian photographer.

Dixit Dominus is a psalm setting by George Frideric Handel (catalogued as HWV 232). It uses the Latin text of Psalm 110 (Vulgate 109), which begins with the words Dixit Dominus (“The Lord Said”).

The work was completed in April 1707 while Handel was living in Italy. It is Handel’s earliest surviving autograph. The work was written in the baroque style of the period and is scored for five vocal soloists (SSATB), five-part chorus, strings and continuo. It is thought that the work was first performed on 16 July 1707 in the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto, under the patronage of the Colonna family.

In 1709, Antonio Caldara succeeded Handel as maestro di cappella to Cardinal Ruspoli in Rome. The two composers had probably met the previous year, at the premiere of Handel’s La Resurrezione, but they never worked together or collaborated, as the title of these discs might imply. The Carmelite Vespers recorded here is, in fact, a modern reconstruction of what might have been performed at the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria di Montesanto on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1709. The Carmelite liturgy made a point of including specially commissioned antiphons, hymns and psalms. While neither Handel nor Caldara ever composed a full Vespers service, both did produce settings intended for such large-scale celebrations, so that it is just possible that their contributions might have been brought together in the way suggested here, perhaps under Caldara’s direction.