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Missa In illo tempore
1610 collection dedicated to Pope Paul V

'Monteverdi: Masses' (CDH55145)
Monteverdi: Masses
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'Monteverdi: Vespers' (CDA67531/2)
Monteverdi: Vespers
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'Monteverdi: Vespers' (SACDA67531/2)
Monteverdi: Vespers
SACDA67531/2  2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted  
Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus
Movement 5: Benedictus
Movement 6: Agnus Dei I
Movement 7: Agnus Dei II

Missa In illo tempore
On 16 July 1610 Bassano Casola, a Mantuan singer, wrote to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga (younger son of Duke Vincenzo):

Monteverdi is having printed an a capella Mass for six voices written with much study and toil, since he had to continually manipulate every note through all the parts, always further strengthening the 8 themes from Gombert’s motet In illo tempore. And he is also having printed with it some psalms for the Vespers of the Virgin, with various and diverse manners of invention and harmony, all on a cantus firmus. He intends to come to Rome this autumn to dedicate them to His Holiness.

This is a not-too-inaccurate description of the publication which appeared later that year in Venice, dedicated to Pope Paul V. This begins with a ‘Missa da capella a sei voci fatta sopra il motetto In illo tempore del Gomberti’, to quote the fullest version of the title, which heads the organ part. There is no contradiction in having an organ part to a Missa da capella: the term lacked the implications that a capella was later to acquire. There was, however, one place where church music always was sung unaccompanied, the Sistine Chapel in Rome; so it is not surprising that the copy of the Mass surviving there omits the organ part. Monteverdi visited Rome in the autumn of 1610 to present a copy in person, hoping to receive in return a scholarship for his son Francesco (and perhaps some advantage for himself as well). Although the entire publication of Mass and Vespers was dedicated to the Pope, it is likely that only the Mass was in fact presented, since the Vesper music was hardly in accordance with Papal taste: the Vespers were far more suited to Venice, where the edition was published and where the composer soon secured one of the most highly prized positions available, taking charge of the musical forces of the basilica of St Mark.

Nicolas Gombert was born in Flanders around 1495, studied with Josquin and spent most of his life as a member of the chapel of the Emperor Charles V. He was sacked for pederasty in 1540 and sentenced to the galleys: he was soon pardoned, but little is known of his subsequent career. He died between 1556 and 1561. There were connections between Gombert and one member of the Gonzaga family, Ferrante, to whom Gombert sent a motet in 1547; the library of the Gonzaga chapel, Santa Barbara, included at least one of Gombert’s published sets of motets. There is no obvious reason why Monteverdi should choose a work by him on which to model his Mass; but he was clearly intent in going back beyond the preceding generation of Italian composers to the Flemish sources of the polyphonic style.

Monteverdi self-consciously heads the work with a list of the themes he has extracted from Gombert’s motet (ten of them, in fact), perhaps because he realized that it would be unknown, perhaps to show that he was interested in the abstract treatment of the conventional thematic tags rather than in parodying it as a whole. Six-voice writing was becoming unusual for polyphonic writing: it is symptomatic that Palestrina’s most famous six-voice Mass, the Papae Marcelli, was rewritten after his death for the more fashionable four voices. In the Vesper psalms which completed the 1610 publication, Monteverdi shows impressive skill in writing idiomatically for many voices within the clearer harmonic patterns of the new style. In the Mass, the harmony is still generated from a bass line which is part of the contrapuntal network, though there is a clear sense of tonality. The texture is dense, with few rests for individual parts, and only one section of chordal writing, ‘Et incarnatus est’, which draws attention to the change to E major from the prevailing C major. The following ‘Crucifixus’ restores C major, but uses the highest four voices only. E major is again used for tonal contrast in the ‘Benedictus’. The final ‘Agnus Dei’ is for seven voices, following the tradition of adding an extra voice for the last section of the Mass.

from notes by Clifford Bartlett © 1985

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