The Marian motet ‘Exultent caeli’, for five voices and continuo, was published in the Quarta raccolta de’ sacri canti
(Fourth Collection of Sacred Songs, 1629) of Lorenzo Calvi, choirmaster of Pavia Cathedral as he styled himself on the title-page of his third collection (1626). Calvi’s book includes music by a number of able north Italian composers who had, to use his own words, ‘favoured him’ with compositions for inclusion in the anthology. In the source this appears to be a motet with two verses, and it has previously been performed as such. In fact, though, each verse refers to a different Marian Feast day and it is clear that only one should be sung at a time. The text of the second verse of Monteverdi’s motet identifies it as suitable for the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March). Monteverdi sandwiches the verse between two passages in triple time: the first is the five-part chorus of rejoicing that opens and closes the motet, the second a suave three-voice hymn to Mary which begins as a setting over the so-called ‘Chaconne Bass’, often used as an ostinato in music of the 1630s (Monteverdi himself used it for his setting of Rinuccini’s ‘Zefiro torna’, published in the Scherzi musicali
of 1632). In a note to the choirmaster Monteverdi states that the ‘Exultent caeli’ section can be performed with instruments doubling the voices.
from notes by John Whenham © 2004