‘Laudate Dominum’ is the shortest of all Vespers psalms (only two verses plus the Gloria Patri), and it requires some ingenuity on the part of the composer to produce a setting that does not seem perfunctory. Monteverdi rises to the challenge by using contrasts of texture, by repeating lines of the text in different permutations of voices to build larger structures, and by using the two violins to extend and repeat the vocal phrases. His setting of the first half of verse 2 is particularly striking. Here he contrasts a lively setting over a walking bass for ‘Quoniam confirmata est super nos’ with a strikingly harmonised descending chromatic line for ‘misericordia eius’. The contrasting blocks of material are presented three times, reaching a climax as all eight voices and instruments join for a final statement of the chromatic line. The full ensemble is used in two other places: at the end of verse 1, where they represent ‘all nations’ / ‘all people’ (omnes gentes / omnes populi) and at the end of the Gloria Patri, where the same music is used for the words ‘As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be’ (Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper). The reference back to music heard at, or near, the beginning of the psalm for ‘As it was in the beginning’ is a device that Monteverdi used in several of his psalm settings.
from notes by John Whenham © 2003
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