Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 5: Agnus Dei
We do not know for sure when the Messa Concertata was written, but one possibility is that it was composed for the Solemn Mass that was sung in St Mark’s on 1 May 1644 to celebrate the reconciliation between the Vatican and the Duchy of Parma, who had been in dispute for the previous four years; Venice had supported Parma. Such a date certainly makes sense, for the work takes its starting point from Monteverdi’s late church music. The scoring, using two four-part vocal choirs accompanied by two violins and three trombones with continuo, is virtually the same as that of Monteverdi’s great setting of the Magnificat printed in his Selva morale of 1641. The colourful polychoral ensembles of Giovanni Gabrieli and his contemporaries, with a majority of wind instruments, have given way to more modest groups of solo voices and violins; there are no cornetts, and the trombones simply double the lower parts of the second choir. On the other hand, although most of the solos come from the first choir, there is still eight-part vocal writing with antiphonal exchanges. In the second half of the seventeenth century antiphonal writing tended to be replaced by contrasts between a solo group and a chorus.
The musical language of the Messa Concertata is also characteristic of the 1640s. Cavalli still uses Monteverdi’s methods of organizing large-scale structures, using short, contrasted sections linked like a patchwork quilt, with instrumental ritornelli punctuating the major vocal sections and articulating the structure. Cavalli, like Monteverdi, frequently uses the graceful triple-time rhythm associated with Venetian opera arias. But he does not use the aria as a structural model, as the next generation did, concerned as they were with replacing patchwork structures with fewer, larger sections organized by purely musical means. Nevertheless, Cavalli is not just a talented follower of Monteverdi. His individual voice is heard most clearly in the more reflective moments such as the striking ‘et in terra pax’ section of the Gloria, with its falling figure illustrating the word ‘terra’ (‘earth’), or the beautiful ‘Crucifixus’ section of the Credo, with its chains of gently descending dissonances. In the Agnus Dei Cavalli shows that he can write as rapt and concentrated polyphony as sixteenth-century composers such as Lassus or Palestrina.
from notes by Peter Holman © 1997