Selva Morale e Spirituale (1640/41)
Vespro della Beata Vergine, (1610)
Myers Park Presbyterian Church, Charlotte
Bach Akademie Charlotte
Scott Allen Jarrett conducting
Claudio Monteverdi’s vocal works evoke all the mystery and magic of Venice—labyrinthian canals, splendid gold mosaics, ageless bridges, and the light on the piazza at Vesper’s chime. Centuries-old Latin religious texts take on all the thrill and opulence of Monteverdi's Venice—bold, bravura music to inspire, dazzle, and enthrall.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, secondo
Gloria in excelsis Deo
*Pulchra es - Song of Solomon 6: 4–5
Laudate pueri, primo - Psalm 113
*Duo Seraphim clamabant
Dixit Dominus - Psalm 110
Two ‘spiritual’ madrigals from Selva morale e spirituale
O ciechi il tanto affaticar (Petrarch)
E questa vita un lampo (Grillo)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750))
Sanctus in D, BWV 238
* from Vespro della Beata Vergine, SV 206
Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) has always been regarded, like Beethoven two hundred years later, as a transitional figure, whose life and music are marked by bold innovation advancing a new expressiveness in music. In the way that Beethoven’s late works herald a new Romantic age, Monteverdi’s operas—L’Orfeo (1607) and L’incoronazio di Poppea (1642) most especially—have come to symbolize music’s shift from the Renaissance toward the new Baroque aesthetic. One can best follow Monteverdi’s developing compositional style with his madrigals, published in nine volumes from 1587 to 1651, the ninth and final volume published posthumously.
In 1601, Monteverdi assumed musical leadership of the Ducal Chapel in Mantua, having been employed by the Gonzaga family as a court musician for many years. His first opera, L’Orfeo, was composed in 1607 while in Mantua, as were the fourth and fifth books of madrigals, in which Monteverdi announces formal departure from prima prattica, the older style of composition. From this point, the music must serve the text wholly. The ducal chapel in Mantua dedicated to Saint Barbara became the workshop for a liturgical splendor designed to distinguish the power and wealth of the Gonzaga, as well as their talented music director. In 1610, Monteverdi traveled to Rome to gain permission to dedicate a new volume of Marian Vespers music to the pope. With an impressive and robust portfolio of compositions and accomplishments, the hard work of a white hot decade professionally paid off.
Based in part on the submission of the 1610 Vespers, Monteverdi succeeded Giovanni Gabrielli as maestro di cappella at Venice’s Basilica of San Marco in 1613, and remained in that post for the rest of his life. One of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan centers of the 16th and 17th centuries, Venice flourished in liminal spaces—comfortable with east or west, land or sea, Rome or Byzantium. An independent republic, La ‘Serenissima’, the most serene Republic of Venice, was the place where worlds met, linking Hadrian’s Wall to China’s Silk Road. Expertise, monopolies, and the vast concentration of wealth also made Venice the world’s leader in technological innovation, specifically publishing. The list of San Marco’s musicians reveals a veritable Who’s-Who of Renaissance and Baroque composers: Willaert, Cipriano da Rore, Zarlino, Gioavanni Croce, Francesco Cavalli, Antonio Lotti, both Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, to name but a few. Bustling trade routes and the ever growing business of music publishing ensured an unprecedented influence of Venetian composers on music’s development above and below the Alps.
Monteverdi’s thirty year tenure at San Marco is bookended by the publishing of two major collections of sacred music: Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610) and Selva morale e spirituale (1640/1). Tonight’s concert features a cross section of works from these extraordinary collections.
– Scott Allen Jarrett
Vespro della Beata Vergine, SV 206 (1610) — a collection of psalms, motets, hymns, and canticles, in a variety of voicings, and instrumental doublings, with or without instruments, suitable for general use at Vespers. Dedicated to Pope Paul V and published in Venice in 1610, Monteverdi composed these works while serving at the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua. Though much of the collection seems uniquely suited, even designed specifically, for the Byzantine, multi-domed interior and acoustics of Venice’s San Marco, Monteverdi would not begin his tenure there until 1614. With a papal dedication and Venetian publisher, the breadth of style and versatility might better indicate a precocious young composer’s broader professional ambition.
Selva morale e spirituale, SV 252–288 (1640/1) — Compiled at age 74, Monteverdi’s Moral and Spiritual Forest is the most significant anthology of sacred and liturgical works since the 1610 Vespers. Dedicated to Eleonora Gonzago, it is likely the composer considered the Selva morale e spirituale a testament or compendium of his life’s work at the vanguard of church music in the Venetian style. In addition to a complete Mass setting in the old polyphonic style, many texts are set in multiple versions, calling for a variety of voices and instrumentations. The collection comprises the expected Marian hymns, liturgical music, Psalm settings, and several ‘moral madrigals’ in Italian with texts by Francesco Petrarca and Angelo Grillo. The title page bears the date 1640, but the completion of the publishing lasted until 1641.