Vespers of 1610

(Vespro della Beata Vergine)
   A setting of a Roman Catholic vespers composed by Claudio Monteverdi and published in Venice in 1610. The scoring of the 13 movements (not including an alternate, simpler six-voiced Magnifi-cat and a six-voiced Missa In Illo Tempore printed with them) varies from a monody for solo tenor and continuo to a polychoral psalm for 10 voices in two choirs with accompaniment. A historical performance requires in addition eight vocal soloists and two violins, three violas, one bass violin, one double bass, three cornettos, one large cornetto, three trombones, one contrabass trombone, two tenor recorders, and two transverse flutes or shawms. However, a number of modern editions make possible performances with modern instruments. Jeffrey G. Kurtzman has published the most recent and authoritative critical performing edition (Oxford, 1999). Monteverdi’s 13 movements require about 90 minutes to perform in concert; a liturgical performance might require an amount of additional chant, depending upon how certain controversial matters were resolved. Monteverdi’s Vespers include settings of the response Domine ad {}adiuvandum, five psalms (109, 112, 121, 126, and 147), the hymn {}Ave Maris Stella, the Magnificat, and five sacred concertos setting Biblical texts (except Audi coelum, not Biblical). He included no antiphons to frame the psalms and Magnificat, presumably because they would be chosen according to the feast. But some scholars believe that sacred concertos should replace the antiphons; others believe they are independent compositions. Pitch is another controversy. Some movements are notated in chiavi alte ("high clefs"); evidence suggests that these should be transposed down a perfect fourth. Questions about when to use the instruments when they are not obbligato, and how many singers on a part in a given movement, as well as the best order of movements all remain unresolved. Published 13 years after the performance of Jacopo Peri’s Euridice and three years after Monteverdi’s own opera Orfeo, the Vespers is a unique synthesis of two styles concurrent in early 17th-century Italy: the stile antico, the high Renaissance polyphony promoted by the Council of Trent, and the stile moderno, emphasizing the expressivity of the solo voice against a framework of functional harmony. The psalms and Magnificat present this synthesis most clearly.
   The cantus firmus of the ancient psalm tones sounds slowly at times against virtuosic solo singing reminiscent of opera, at times against highly contrapuntal choral writing reminiscent of the glories of the Venetian school.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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