Of the two large collections of Monteverdi’s Venetian church music, the composer was responsible in some degree for the 1641 Selva morale
, much of whose contents dated back at least a decade. After his death, the publisher Alessandro Vincenti collected ‘the sacred relics of the works of the most excellent Monteverdi’, beginning his volume with a ‘Messa a 4 voci da Cappella’. The composer shows himself to be particularly concerned with thematic economy, and much of the music is derived from the descending scale of a fourth and the rising thirds of the opening theme. The power of the descending fourth as a ground had been demonstrated in the Lamento della Ninfa
; here it is less regular and often disguised. The vocal lines are more florid than in the 1610 Mass and nearer those of Monteverdi’s concertato music; the texture is varied with duets and trios, time changes and chordal passages with strong rhythms. In 1610 Monteverdi was looking backwards; but later in his life (there is no clue when the 1650 Mass was composed, but it is inconceivable that it antedates the 1610 one), he could write in a more uninhibited way, combining the practices of both old and new styles without incongruity, the fruits of his labours on Gombert’s themes being the contrapuntal freedom of this four-voice Mass.
from notes by Clifford Bartlett © 1985