Vespro della Beata Vergine
|Vespro della Beata Vergine|
|by Claudio Monteverdi|
Frontpage from the Bassus Generalis, Venice, 1610
|Catalogue||SV 206 and 206a|
Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin; SV 206 and 206a) — more properly in Latin Vesperis in Festis Beata Mariae Vergine, or casually Vespers of 1610 — is a musical composition by Claudio Monteverdi. The term "Vespers" (evening prayers) is taken from the Hours of the Divine Office, a set of daily prayers of the Catholic Church which have remained structurally unchanged for 1500 years. In scale, Monteverdi's Vespers was the most ambitious work of religious music before Bach. This 90-minute piece includes soloists, chorus, and orchestra and has both liturgical and extra-liturgical elements.
Vespers is composed around several Biblical texts that are traditionally used as part of the liturgy for several Marian feasts in the Roman Catholic church: the introductory Deus in adjutorium (Psalm 69), five Psalm settings, sacred motets (called “concerti”) between the Psalms, a traditional Hymn, a setting of the Magnificat text and the concluding Benedicamus Domino.
History and context
Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers of 1610 was his first sacred work after his first publication twenty-eight years prior, and stands out for its assimilation of both old and new styles, although it cannot be specifically classified as prima pratica or seconda pratica, per se. The Vespers were published in July 1610, in combination with a six-voice mass which parodied a motet of Nicolas Gombert; In illo tempore loquante Jesu. Today, over four hundred years later, the precise intentions of this large work are not clearly known or understood. This has been a great topic of debate among musicologists for decades, and it has even been suggested by Graham Dixon that Monteverdi’s setting of the Vespers is more suited towards use for the feast of Saint Barbara, claiming, for example, that the texts taken from Song of Songs are applicable to any female saint. He goes on to write that formatting the Vespers to fit a Marian feast made the work more "marketable". There are several facts that support this view: there are just two Marian songs in the whole work (Audi Coelum and Ave Maris Stella); the sonata could very easily be rearranged to any saint's name; and the text of the Duo Seraphim is connected with Saint Barbara (because she is generally connected with Trinity).
The Vespers was first printed in Venice in 1610 when the composer was working at the ducal court in Mantua. Historical record does not indicate whether Monteverdi actually performed the Vespers in either city; the work may have been written as an audition piece for posts at Venice (Monteverdi became maestro di cappella at St Mark's Basilica in Venice in 1613) and Rome (where the composer was not offered a post).
The Vespers is monumental in scale, and requires a choir large enough and skillful enough to cover up to 10 vocal parts in some movements and split into separate choirs in others while accompanying seven different soloists during the course of the piece. Interestingly, solo parts are included for violin and cornett, but the ripieno instrumentation is not specified by Monteverdi. Additionally, he did not specify a set of plainchant antiphons to insert before each psalm and the concluding Magnificat. This allows the performers to tailor the music according to the available instrumental forces and the occasion of the performance (the particular feast day's liturgy would have included suggested antiphons that could be chanted before Monteverdi's psalm settings). Another example of tailoring to the forces available is the fact that the collection includes two versions of the Magnificat, one of which is scored for a smaller group of musicians than the other. Some scholars have argued that this suggests that the Vespers was not intended as a single work, but it is generally performed as such.
Monteverdi's unique approach to each movement of the Vespers earned the work a place in history. The work not only presents intimate, prayerful moments within its monumental scale, but it also incorporates secular music in this decidedly religious performance and its individual movements present an array of musical forms - sonata, motet, hymn, and psalm - without losing focus. The Vespers achieves overall unity by building each movement on the traditional Gregorian plainchant for each text, which becomes a cantus firmus in Monteverdi's setting.
Order of Service (with texts)
- Versicle & Response (Psalm 69:1):
- Psalm: Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110): Six-voice choir and six instruments
- Motet: Nigra sum (from Song of Songs): Solo tenor
- Psalm: Laudate pueri Dominum (Psalm 113): Eight-voice choir and organ
- Motet: Pulchra es (from Song of Songs): Vocal duet
- Psalm: Laetatus sum (Psalm 122): Six-voice choir
- Motet: Duo Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-3; 1 John 5:7): Vocal duet leading into trio
- The text Duo Seraphim ("Two angels were calling one to the other...") begins as a duet. When the text (which melds lines from Isaiah and the First Letter of John) mentions the Trinity, a third tenor joins. All three sing in unison at the words, "these three are one."
- Psalm: Nisi Dominus (Psalm 127): Ten-voice choir
- Motet: Audi coelum (anonymous liturgical poem): Two tenor soloists singing call and response (prima ad una voce sola)
- Psalm: Lauda Jerusalem (Psalm 147): Two choirs of three voices plus tenor cantus firmus
- Sonata sopra Santa Maria Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis: Sopranos and instruments
- Hymn: Ave maris stella (8th-century plainsong hymn): Two choirs and soloists
- Magnificat I
- Magnificat II
Position of the motets
The position of the motets Nigra Sum, Pulchra es, Duo Seraphim and Audi Coelum is disputed. The title page of the first print of the score suggests that they are not part of the Vespers, but intended as separate Sacred Concertos. However, their place in between the psalms indicates that they were intended to be part of the Vespers, but could also be performed on other occasions, such as at the court of the Duke of Mantua, Monteverdi's employer. Furthermore, there arise problems as to whether the motets may be antiphon substitutes, or antiphon supplements.
- 1967 - Michel Corboz conducting Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental de Lausanne, & Les Saqueboutiers De Toulouse; Ensemble d'Instruments Anciens, Erato STU 70325/27. Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros.
- 1975 - John Eliot Gardiner conducting Monteverdi Orchestra, Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, David Munrow Recorder Consort, Monteverdi Choir, Salisbury Cathedral Boys' Choir, Jill Gomez, Felicity Palmer, James Bowman, Robert Tear, Philip Langridge, John Shirley-Quirk, Michael Rippon. Decca SET 593-4
- 1975 - Jürgen Jürgens conducting Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Monteverdi-Chor Hamburg. Telefunken 6.35045 FA, Telefunken SAWT 9501/02-A (1975) See  or 
- 1984 - Andrew Parrott conducting Taverner Consort, Choir & Players. Virgin Classics — 5616622 (1984) Gramophone Magazine Award 'Best Kept Secret' See  and 
- 1987 - Philippe Herreweghe conducting La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale and Les Saqueboutiers de Toulouse, HMC 901247.48 (1987) See 
- 1989 - Jordi Savall conducting La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Coro del Centro di Musica Antica Padova. Alia Vox AVSA9855 (1989) See 
- 1990 - John Eliot Gardiner conducting English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, London Oratory Junior Choir, Ann Monoyios, Marinella Pennicchi, Michael Chance, Nigel Robson, Mark Tucker, Sandro Naglia, Bryn Terfel, Alastair Miles. DG Archiv #429565 (1990) See 
- 1996 - René Jacobs conducting Concerto Vocale, Nederlands Kamerkoor, María Cristina Kiehr, Barbara Borden, Andreas Scholl, John Bowen (tenor), Andrew Murgatroyd, Víctor Torres, Antonio Abete, Jelle Draijer. Harmonia Mundi France 901566.67 (1996). Reissued in 2015 as HM Gold 501566.67 See 
- 1998 - William Christie conducting Les Arts Florissants. Erato 3984-23139-2 (1998). See 
- 2004 - Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting Concerto Italiano, Roberta Invernizzi, Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli, Sara Mingardo, Francesco Ghelardini, Vincenzo di Donato, Luca Dordolo, Gianluca Ferrarini, Pietro Spagnoli, Furio Zanasi, Antonio Abete, Daniele Carnovich. Naive OP30403 (2004). See , and review by Tom Moon (1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die) 
- 2006 - Robert King conducting The King's Consort, The Choir of the King's Consort, Carolyn Sampson, Rebecca Outram (Soprano); Daniel Auchincloss, Nicholas Mulroy (High Tenor), Charles Daniels, James Gilchrist; Peter Harvey, Robert Evans, Robert MacDonald (Bass); Hyperion CDA67531/2 (2006). This recording recommended as Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice - June 2006, as well as BBC3 'Building A Library ' First Choice Apr 2007 and Dec 2010). See 
- 2006 - Paul McCreesh conducting Gabrieli Consort and Players, Charles Daniels, Joseph Cornwell, Peter Harvey, Susan Hemington Jones. DG Archiv CD DDD 0289 477 6147 1 AH 2 (2006). See 
- 2010 - Patrick Dupré Quigley conducting Seraphic Fire (Seraphic Fire Media, 2010). Recording was reported as being listed in iTunes Top 10 classical recordings, Aug 23, 2010 . See also stories on NPR  and at Classical Net 
- 2011 - Christina Pluhar leading L'Arpeggiata (Virgin Classics, 2011). One-on-a-part ensemble performance. Featuring Nuria Rial, Raquel Andueza, Luciana Mancini, Markus Brutscher, and Fernando Guimarães.
- 2014 - Harry Christophers leading The Sixteen (Coro: COR16126). Featuring Grace Davidson, Charlotte Mobbs (sopranos), Simon Berridge, Jeremy Budd, Mark Dobell (tenor) & Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan (bass).
- Selva morale e spirituale, also known as the Vespers of 1640.
- Whenham, John (1997). Monteverdi, Vespers (1610). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 45377 1.
- Kurtzman, Jeffrey (2000). The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 - Music, Context, Performance. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-816409-8.
- Facsimiles of the original print of Missa in illo tempore and Vespro della Beata Virgine (Venice: Ricciardo Amadino, 1610)
- Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free scores of Vespro della Beata Vergine in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Video of a performance of the "Nigra Sum" from the Vespers on original instruments in meantone tuning by the ensemble Voices of Music using baroque vocal ornamentation, instruments and playing techniques.
- Interactive map of live performances of the Monteverdi Vespers in 2010