Hyperion Records

author of text
various Psalms and other liturgical texts

'Monteverdi: Vespers' (CDA67531/2)
Monteverdi: Vespers
'Monteverdi: Vespers' (SACDA67531/2)
Monteverdi: Vespers
This album is not yet available for download SACDA67531/2  2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted  
Movement 01: Deus in adiutorium meum intende
Movement 02. Psalm: Dixit Dominus
Movement 03. Concerto: Nigra sum
Movement 04. Psalm: Laudate pueri
Movement 05. Concerto: Pulchra es
Movement 06. Psalm: Laetatus sum
Movement 07. Concerto: Duo Seraphim
Movement 08. Psalm: Nisi Dominus
Movement 09. Concerto: Audi caelum
Movement 10. Psalm: Lauda Jerusalem
Movement 11: Sonata sopra Sancta Maria
Movement 12. Hymn: Ave maris stella
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 01: Magnificat
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 02: Anima mea Dominum
Track 2 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [0'17] 2CDs
Track 2 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [0'17] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 03: Et exultavit spiritus meus
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 04: Quia respexit humilitatem
Track 4 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [1'46] 2CDs
Track 4 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [1'46] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 05: Quia fecit mihi magna
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 06: Et misericordia eius
Track 6 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [2'17] 2CDs
Track 6 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [2'17] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 07: Fecit potentiam in brachio suo
Track 7 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [0'59] 2CDs
Track 7 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [0'59] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 08: Deposuit potentes de sede
Track 8 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [2'21] 2CDs
Track 8 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [2'21] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 09: Esurientes implevit bonis
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 10: Suscepit Israel puerum suum
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 11: Sicut locutus est
Track 11 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [0'55] 2CDs
Track 11 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [0'55] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 12: Gloria Patri
Movement 13. Magnificat Part 13: Sicut erat in principio
Track 13 on CDA67531/2 CD2 [1'43] 2CDs
Track 13 on SACDA67531/2 CD2 [1'43] 2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted

Over the past seventy years, since its first performance in modern times, Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers of the Blessed Virgin’, first published in 1610, has become one of the cornerstones of the classical repertoire. Its music, magnificent and sonorous, sensuous and rhythmically thrilling, holds an immediate appeal, and Monteverdi’s use of plainsong as the basis for all the Psalm settings, the exquisite Hymn Ave maris stella and the grand Magnificat lend the Vespers a compelling sense of consistency and purpose. However, Monteverdi himself may not have expected to hear the Vespers sung as a complete ‘work’; indeed, there is little evidence that any of its music was actually performed during his lifetime.

Monteverdi’s 1610 publication, produced while he was choirmaster to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua in northern Italy, was intended as a compendium for use by the choirmasters of court chapels and those great churches like St Mark’s, Venice, or St Peter’s, Rome, which had a permanent staff of expert singers and could call upon the necessary instrumental forces. Choirmasters would have chosen as many or as few of the settings as they needed, or the forces at their disposal could manage, and Monteverdi provided in his publication not only Vesper Psalms, motets and Magnificat settings, but also a Mass for six voices—all the music, in fact, needed for the services of a feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To make the book more saleable, Monteverdi also made provision for the Vespers music to be performed with organ alone on those occasions when other instruments were not available. So, for example, the opening response ‘Domine, ad adiuvandum’, which we are used to hearing with the brilliant instrumental accompaniment developed from the Toccata which opened Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo (1607), also appears in the 1610 book in a simple version where the singers chant the text to organ accompaniment. Similarly, Monteverdi provided two settings of the Magnificat—one for seven voices with strings, wind and brass instruments as well as organ, the other for six voices and organ alone. It is fascinating to compare the two: although we cannot be certain in which order they were written, it is likely that the seven-voice version is a reworking of the material of the six-voice version, rather than the other way round.

The evening service of Vespers was celebrated twice on each feast day: once on the eve of the feast—the more important celebration, for which elaborate settings like Monteverdi’s would have been most appropriate—and once on the day itself. The service began with a versicle and response, followed by five Psalms, each prefaced and followed by an antiphon appropriate to the feast day, the texts of which provided a specifically Christian frame for the Old Testament Psalm. The Psalms were followed by a short Bible reading, a Hymn, a further versicle and response, the Magnificat (the canticle of the Virgin Mary, which was sung at all celebrations of Vespers), and concluding prayers. Monteverdi provides settings of all the major items; the remainder of the service would have been sung to plainsong.

Monteverdi’s Psalm settings take as their basis a simple technique: each verse of the Psalm is sung to the same plainsong phrase—the Psalm tone—and round it the composer wraps a web of polyphony. What is extraordinary, however, is the sheer range of invention that Monteverdi brings to this technique, from the alternation of two basic textures in Dixit Dominus, through settings like Laudate pueri in which he draws on his experience as a madrigalist to provide images that match the meaning of the text, to Laetatus sum, a set of variations on three different bass lines, and the Magnificat, in which each verse is treated at length in textures ranging from a simple opening to a verse like ‘Deposuit potentes’ with echo duets for instruments. The elaborate treatment of the Magnificat reflects its place as the climax (though not the end) of Vespers, during which the altar would have been censed.

By Monteverdi’s day the custom had grown up of singing motets or playing instrumental pieces between the Psalms (not, as was once thought, in place of the repeated antiphon). In his 1610 publication Monteverdi provided four motets, three of which have clear Marian associations, and one which is of a more general devotional nature. This is the unforgettable Duo Seraphim, which paints a picture of seraphs singing across the vastness of heaven in a manner which, appropriately for angels, represents the most elaborate singing style of the early seventeenth century. In addition to the motets, Monteverdi also included the glorious Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, a large-scale instrumental work with a superimposed vocal petition ‘Holy Mary, pray for us’.

We do not know to what extent Monteverdi was involved in producing church music for Mantua before 1610, though as early as 1595 he had acted as choirmaster to Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga during a military expedition against the Turks, providing both secular and sacred music for the duke and his followers. He probably continued to produce church music thereafter for use in the smaller chapels of the palace at Mantua, or for occasions when the court worshipped elsewhere; he was, however, never in charge of the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara, which had its own musical establishment. All his publications before 1610 were of secular music—madrigals and the opera Orfeo—and he had built a formidable reputation as a member of the musical avant-garde. By about 1608, however, we know that he was growing dissatisfied with his employment at Mantua, in particular with the relentless demands placed upon him to produce entertainment music, and that he was looking round for a new post. It is possible, therefore, that he prepared the 1610 publication specifically to demonstrate that he was worthy of employment in a major church, rather than as a court musician. In this respect it is significant that he dedicated the volume to the pope and went to Rome in person to present a copy, taking the opportunity while there to mix in the company of well-placed music-loving cardinals.

The idea of the 1610 volume as a musical ‘calling card’ goes some way to explaining the nature of its contents. We first hear of Monteverdi’s work on the book in a letter of 16 July 1610 written to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga by Monteverdi’s assistant at Mantua, Don Bassano Cassola:

Monteverdi is having printed an a cappella Mass for six voices [the product] of great study and effort, he being obliged to handle continually, in every note through all the parts, building up more and more, the eight points of imitation [actually ten] which are in Gombert’s motet ‘In illo tempore’ and together with it he is also having printed some psalms of the Vespers of the Madonna with various and different manners of invention and harmony, and all on a cantus firmus, with the idea of coming to Rome this autumn to dedicate them to His Holiness.

Monteverdi’s 1610 Mass—musical settings of texts for the ritual re-enactment of the Last Supper which lies at the heart of the Catholic liturgy—was designed, then, to demonstrate that he was a serious composer capable of writing the most learned music in a conservative style designed to appeal to a Counter-Reformation papacy and qualifying him to seek employment at a major Roman church. Even the Vespers settings, characterized by virtuosity and opulence, have a learned aspect in being based upon plainsongs.

Although Monteverdi did not obtain employment in Rome, as he may have hoped, the 1610 publication stood him in good stead when, in 1613, he applied for the post of choirmaster of St Mark’s, Venice. The report on his audition, for which he directed a Mass—perhaps the 1610 setting—mentions the ‘quality and virtue [of] his works which are found in print’ even before expressing satisfaction with his performance. It is likely, then, that Monteverdi intended his 1610 book to be admired and read as a whole, and this provides us with an historical justification for recording the music of the publication in its entirety and, indeed, for performing the Vespers music as a concert work. The chief justification, though, lies in the music itself, which speaks to us directly and powerfully across the four centuries since it was created.

from notes by John Whenham © 2006

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Details for CDA67531/2 disc 2 track 11
Movement 13 Magnificat. Part 11: Sicut locutus est
Recording date
11 February 2006
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ben Turner
Recording engineer
Philip Hobbs
Hyperion usage
  1. Monteverdi: Vespers (CDA67531/2)
    Disc 2 Track 11
    Release date: May 2006
  2. Monteverdi: Vespers (SACDA67531/2)
    Disc 2 Track 11
    Release date: May 2006
    Deletion date: March 2012
    2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted
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