Lets set the scene. Its 1610. Claudio Monteverdi is 43 years old and in a bit of trouble. He has been roundly critisised for his "contrapuntal unorthodoxies"
by Artusi in his 1600 treatise "On The Imperfection of Modern Music"
. He is in financial strife, in danger of being a has-been, and to top it all off, he is having problems with his benefactors at the court of Gonzaga.
He needs a new job. A job like the maestro di cappella
at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice would be just fine. Being the master of music at a major cathedral would look very good on his CV.
And so the Vespers are born...
Vespers are normally pretty serious stuff. They include psalms (with antiphones), hymns and canticles, as well as chanted lessons. But Monteverdi's Vespers goes way beyond this. His is grand and operatic in style, almost blasphemous in its grandiosity. Dances and concerti vie with the more traditional sections. A large contingent of cornets and sackbuts burst through the more austere organs and strings. Choirs reverberate from galleries and soloist echo from all directions with daring stereophonic effects.
It is sacred music but also high theatre. It is the junction between Renaissance restraint and Baroque splendour. And it could well have been Monteverdi's audition piece for the job at St Marks.
Written while still at the Court of Gonzaga, the Vespers are suited to the vast acoustics, choir balconies and echoing nooks and crannies of St Marks Cathedral. Somebody there must have liked what they heard because Monteverdi was appointed maestro di cappella
just 2 years later.
The scene shifts to 1976. John Eliot Gardiner releases his first recording of the Vespers. Gardiner's philosophy is to bring ancient music into the 20th century. This recording uses orchestrations, tempo variations and choral effects that are familiar to todays audiences. It is a rich, exuberant work.
His main rival is Andrew Parrott's recording. Parrot's philosophy is completely different. His is a researched rendition that aims to recreate completely the liturgical mass of 1610. The vocal parts are solo, the orchestration is sparse, the instruments original. A landmark recording, but in completely different style. Praised for its clarity and authenticity, but critisized for its lack of life.
Finally, we come to rest in 1992 and the recording featured here, Gardiner's second recording of this work. While he has certainly matured, his philosophy stays the same. This is a gorgeous performance, still on the theatrical side, but controlled, balanced.
St Marks Cathedral
The orchestration is rich, the choir exquisite. The Nisi Dominus
especially, a test for any choir, is electric.
Interestingly, the recording was made in the same St Mark's Cathedral that Monteverdi intended it for. Gardiner's soloists are perched in the balconies, the orchestra and choir placed strategically around the main hall and galleries. The music comes from all directions, an experience, rather than just a recital.
While the purists may scoff, the rest of us can enjoy the this version of the Vespers as a magnificent piece of music, unrivalled until Bach's masses.
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Vespers of the Blessed Virgin
Vespro Della Beata Vergine
The Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner
Compact Disc 1
Compact Disc 2
Versiculus & Responsorium:
Deus in adiutorium - Domina ad adiuvandu
- Psalmus: Dixit Dominus 'Sex vocibus et sex instrumentis'
- Concerto: Nigra sum 'Motetto ad una voce'
- Psalmus: Laudate pueri 'a 8 voci sole nel organo'
- Concerto: Pulchra es 'a due voci'
- Psalmus: Laetatus sum 'a sei voci'
- Concerto: Duo Seraphim 'a due voci...a tre voci'
- Psalmus: Nisi Dominus 'a dieci voci'
- Concerto: Audi coelum 'Prima ad una voce sola'
- Osalkmes: Lauda Jerusalem - 'a sette voci'
- Sonata sopra Sancta Maria
- Hymnus: Ave maris stella
- Magnificat a 7 '...a sette voci & sei instrumenti'
- Magnificat a 6 Magnigicat - Anima mea - Et exultavit - Quia respexit - Quia fecit - Et miserico