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Honorable Ministers and Authorities,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and Presbyterate,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!
A heartfelt and deferent greeting to the President of the Italian Republic, Honorable Giorgio Napolitano and to his kind wife, to which I unite my sincere gratitude for the cordial words, for the gifts of a violin and of a valuable score, and for this concert of sacred music by two great Italian authors. They are signs that manifest once again the bond between the Successor of Peter and this dear nation. A greeting to the President of the Council, Senator Mario Monti, and to all the Authorities. A sincere thank you to the Orchestra and Choir of the Teatro dell’Opera of Rome, to the two sopranos, and especially to Maestro Riccardo Muti for the intense interpretation and performance. Maestro Muti’s sensibility for sacred music is well known, as is his commitment to have this rich repertoire, which expressed in music the faith of the Church, better known. Because of this, I am also happy to confer on him a papal decoration. I express my gratitude to the municipality of Cremona, to the Walter Stauffer Musicology Center and to the Antonio Stradivari-La Triennale Foundation for having placed at the disposal of the first parts of the Orchestra some antique and precious instruments of their collections.
Antonio Vivaldi is a great exponent of Venetian musical tradition. Who does not know at least his Four Seasons! However, still not well known is his sacred production, which occupies a significant place in his work and is of great value, especially because it expresses his faith. The Magnificat, which we heard, is Mary’s song of praise and that of all the humble of heart, who recognize and acknowledge with joy and gratitude the action of God in their own life and in history; of God whose “style” is different from man’s, because he sides with the least to give hope. And Vivaldi’s music expresses praise, exultance, and also wonder in face of God’s work, with an extraordinary richness of sentiments: from the solemn chorale at the beginning, in which the whole Church magnifies the Lord, to the vivacious “Et exultavit,” to the most beautiful choral moment of the “Et misericordia” on which he pauses with bold harmonies, rich with improvised modulations, to invite us to meditate on the mercy of God who is faithful and extends himself to all generations.
With the two sacred pieces of Giuseppe Verdi that we heard, the register changes: we find ourselves before Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross: Stabat Mater dolorosa. The great Italian opera composer, who looked into and expressed the drama of so many personages in his works, here sketches that of the Virgin who looks at her Son on the Cross. The music becomes essential, it almost “grips” the words to express the content in the most intense way possible, a great gamut of sentiments. Suffice it to think of the aching sense of “mercy” with which the Sequence begins, to the dramatic “Pro peccatis suae gentes,” to the whispered “dum emisit spiritum,” to the choral invocations charged with emotion, but also of serenity, addressed to Mary “fons amoris,” so that we can participate in her maternal grief and make our hearts burn with love for Christ, up to the last stanza, intense and potent prayer to God that the glory of Paradise may be given to the soul, ultimate aspiration of humanity.
The Te Deum is also a succession of contrasts, but Verdi’s attention to the sacred text is painstaking, in order to give a different reading from tradition. He does not see so much the song of the victories or crownings but, as he writes, the succession of situations: the initial exultance – “Te Deum,” “Sanctus” - the contemplation of the incarnate Christ, who liberates and opens the Kingdom of Heaven, the invocation to the “Judex venturus,” to have mercy, and finally the repeated cry of the soprano and the chorus “In te, Domine speravi” with which the passage closes, almost a request of Verdi himself to have hope and light in the last part of life. Those we heard this evening are the last two pieces written by the composer, not destined for publication, but written only for himself; in fact, he would have liked to have been buried with the score of the Te Deum.
Dear friends, I hope that this evening we can repeat to God with faith: In you, Lord, I joyfully place my hope, make me love you as your Holy Mother, so that at the end of the journey my soul may be given the glory of Paradise. Again thank you to Mr. President of the Republic, to the soloists, to the whole of the Teatro dell’Opera of Rome, to Maestro Muti, to the organizers and to all here present. May the Lord bless you and your loved ones. My heartfelt thanks!