Vivaldi's lost masterpiece enthralls after 250 years

Vivaldi's 11-movement Dixit Dominus, mistakenly attributed since the 18th century to one of his compatriots, was heard yesterday for the first time in two and a half centuries in a packed Melbourne University concert hall.

In the enthralled audience was the Australian musicologist-turned-detective who stumbled upon the score this year and set about proving that the man who had penned The Four Seasons was also behind the elegant rhythms and harmonies of the little-known manuscript she found in the Saxon state library in Dresden.

"It's just wonderful music," Janice Stockigt said. There's not a weak moment from the beginning to the end. It's the sort of thing that any researcher dreams about and that this has happened to me at this stage of my life is magic. There's no other word for it."

Ms Stockigt discovered the aria, performed yesterday by counter-tenor Christopher Field and the university's Baroque ensemble, while working on a research project in Germany months ago.

When she saw the forgotten score, attributed since the 1750s to fellow Venetian composer Baldassare Galuppi, the Melbourne expert noted that its bass, rhythmic and harmonic patterns were similar to those used by Vivaldi. "Something struck me about the music," she said. "It seemed awfully familiar to me."

After referring her theory to Professor Michael Talbot, a Vivaldi specialist at the University of Liverpool, Ms Stockigt was told her suspicions had been well-founded: the manuscript was, in fact, the work of Vivaldi, and was the most important musical discovery for more than 75 years.

"I think the music was probably performed during Vivaldi's lifetime and then went to ground under another composer's name," Ms Stockigt said. "I don't think it would have been played at all since then. Dresden was besieged at this time and so, by the time things got back to normal, Mozart and a whole new style had come in."

Yesterday's brief concert, a fraction of the full 35-minute movement, replayed repeatedly for television cameras, was a magical preview of delights to come for music lovers, Ms Stockigt said. Next year, if all goes according to plan, Dixit Dominus will return to Europe. A "premiere" is to be performed at the same court in Dresden where the manuscript lay.

Vivaldi, the son of a Venetian baker, wrote more than 500 concertos. He is best known for Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), four concertos from his Opus 8, one of the world's most recognisable and popular pieces of music.