Vespro della Beata Vergine

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Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 (SV 206 and 206a, Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, 1610), or simply the Vespers of 1610, as it is commonly called, is a musical composition by Claudio Monteverdi. Vespers is a term taken from the Hours of the Divine Office and has remained structurally unchanged for the past 1500 years. The Vespers are built 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 psalms taken from Psalms 109-147, sacred concertos between the psalms, a hymn, a setting of the Magnificat text, and the concluding Benedicamus Domino.

History and context

Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers of 1610, his first sacred work since his very first publication twenty-eight years prior, stands out for its assimilation of both old and new styles, although these contrasting styles cannot be exactly classified as prima pratica and seconda pratica, per se. The Vespers were published in July of 1610, in combination with a six-voice mass that parodies a motet of Nicolas Gombert, In illo tempore loquante Jesu. Nearly four hundred years after its completion, 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 makes the work more "marketable". There are several facts that support this view: There are just two Marian songs in the whole Vespers; 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, Italy, in 1610 when the composer was working at the ducal court in Mantua, Italy. The historical record does not indicate whether Monteverdi actually performed the Vespers either in Mantua or Venice; 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 a monumental work of music, calling for a choir large enough and skilful 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 cornetto, but the ripieno instrumentation is not specified by Monterverdi. Additionally, Monteverdi did not specify a specific 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 Monterverdi's psalm settings).

Monterverdi'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.

Structure of the Work

  • Versicle & Response: Deus in adjutorium meum intende- Domine ad adjuvandum me festina
    • This opening movement makes use of musical elements from the introduction to Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607)
  • Psalm: Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109): six voice choir and six instruments
  • Motet: Nigra sum (from Song of Solomon): solo tenor with choir
  • Psalm: Laudate pueri (Psalm 112): eight voice choir and organ
  • Motet: Pulchra es (from Song of Solomon): vocal duet
  • Psalm: Laetatus sum (Psalm 121): five voice choir
  • Motet: Duo Seraphim: vocal duet leading into trio
    • The text Duo Seraphim ("Two angels were calling one to the other...") begins as a duet. When the text mentions the Trinity, a third tenor joins. All three sing in unison at the words, "these three are one."
  • Psalm: Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126): ten voice choir
  • Motet: Audi coelum: 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 "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis": sopranos and instruments
  • Hymn: Ave maris stella: two choirs and soloists
  • Magnificat

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.



  • Andrew Parrott conducting, Taverner Consort, Choir & Players. Virgin Classics - 5616622 (1984)
  • Philippe Herreweghe conducting La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale and Les Saqueboutiers de Toulouse, HMC 901247.48 (1987)
  • Jordi Savall conducting, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Coro del Centro di Musica Antica Padova. Astree E 8719 (1989)
  • John Eliot Gardiner conducting, English Baroque Soloists, His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts, Monteverdi Choir, London Oratory Junior Choir, Ann Monoyios, Marinella Pennicchi, Michael Chance, Nigel Robson, Mark Tucker, Sandro Naglia, Bryn Terfel, Alastair Miles. Polygram Records - #429565 (1990)
  • René Jacobs conducting, Concerto Vocale, Nederlands Kamerkoor, María Cristina Kiehr, Barbara Borden, Andreas Scholl, John Bowen, Andrew Murgatroyd, Víctor Torres, Antonio Abete, Jelle Draijer. Harmonia mundi France - 901566.67 (1996).
  • Gabriel Garrido conducting, Ensemble Elyma, Coro Madrigalia, Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse. K617 (1999)
  • Konrad Junghänel conducting, Cantus Cölln. Harmonia mundi France HMC 801813.14
  • Philip Ledger conducting, King's College Choir, Early Music Consort of London. ANGEL SB-3837
  • Hans-Christoph Rademann conducting, Ensemble "Alte Musik Dresden", Bläser Collegium Leipzig, Dresdner Kammerchor, Nele Gramß, Johanna Koslowski, Markus Brutscher, Wilfried Jochens, Martin Krumbiegel, Egbert Junghanns, Stephan Schreckenberger. RAUMKLANG RK 9605 (live recording).
  • Paul McCreesh conducting Gabrieli Consort and Players, Charles Daniels, Joseph Cornwell, Peter Harvey, Susan Hemington Jones CD 477 6147
  • Robert King conducting; The King's Consort, The Choir of the King's Consort; Carolyn Sampson, Rebecca Outram (Soprano); Daniel Auchincloss, Nicholas Mulroy (Countertenor); Charles Daniels, James Gilchrist (Tenor); Peter Harvey, Robert Evans, Robert MacDonald (Bass); Hyperion CDA67531/2
  • Choeur des XVI, Direction André Ducret, Sonatori della Gioisa Marca (Treviso) Theatrum instrumentorum (Milano) Magali Dami, soprano Natacha Ducret, soprano Rufus Müller, ténor Paolo Vignoli, ténor Jean-Baptiste Dumora, baryton Daniele Carnovich, basse (

External links