Missa in illo tempore
Messa a quattro voci
Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Royale
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor
Harmonia Mundi, 2012
This recording has the aim to offer a glimpse of the musical and personal itinerary that took composer Claudio Monteverdi from Mantua to Venice with the performance of two Masses, the Messa a quattro voci da cappella and the Missa da cappella a sei voci “In illo tempore”, and the Adoramus a sei voci.
Missa in illo tempore and Missa a quattro voci: Composition
Messa a quattro voci
The Messa a quattro voci was probably composed for a Christmas celebration in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice because Monteverdi had to compose a mass for Christmas Eve as part of his duties as maestro di cappella. The Mass was first published in 1650 by Alessandro Vincenti, who collected «the sacred relics of the works of the most excellent Monteverdi», but the exact date of composition is unknown. The Mass has been composed in stile antico with a basso continuo (the organ, something that at the time does not contradict the definition “a cappella”), but Monteverdi used also more modern compositional techniques, as it is possible to notice in the vocal duets and trios.
Messa a sei voci “In illo tempore”
The Messa a sei voci “In illo tempore” (1610) is Monteverdi’s first large-scale attempt to compose music in the imitative polyphonic style, a practice extremely popular among composers of the time both for paying homage to other composers or to use consciously previous material to create a new composition. The Mass is an austere and archaic work in many regards and the most evident is the choice to write it for six voices, a custom that was becoming unusual for polyphonic writing.
A contemporary witness of the composition of the Mass can be found in a letter, dated 16 July 1610, that Bassano Casola, Monteverdi’s assistant as choirmaster at the court of Mantua, addressed to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga, were it is recorded that «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 [published in 1554]. 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». The Mass, published in Venice together with the Vesper of the Blessed Virgin, was actually dedicated to Pope Paul V Borghese.
Monteverdi composed the Adoramus te in 1620 to fulfill to another obligation as maestro di cappella that imposed him to provide new music for the festival of the Holy Cross and this motet reminds also of a significative aspect in Monteverdi’s life. Considering the reputation Monteverdi had acquired in the course of the years, it was not unusual that, his works were included in anthologies compiled by colleagues or former students. The Adoramus te, together with other motets written by Monteverdi a cappella with basso sequente, was part of the Libro primo de motetti in lode assembled by a Cremonese musician and Monteverdi’s pupil, Giulio Cesare Bianchi.
Missa in illo tempore and Missa a quattro voci: the Performance
The Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Royale, directed by Philippe Herreweghe, offers an inspired and solemn performance of the Masses and of the motet, something that constitute the worth completion of the wide itinerary suggested by the selection of works. The sound is vividly captured and the voices reach the listener’s ears preserving intact their enchanting power – this is absolutely a right definition, especially when you take into consideration wonderful pieces as (I choose one of many) the Credo from the Messa In illo tempore, in which the chorus describes a progression that culminate with undisputable joy.
The clear expression of feeling is actually one of the best features of this recording, where Monteverdi’s music is performed with heartfelt sincerity and emotion and assumes a character of light immediateness. It is implicit that the Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Royale sings very well and it is through the strict dialogue between the voices that this outcome is achieved. This is definitely one of the best presentations of Monteverdi’s music you can wish for.