Claudio Monteverdi

Vespro della beata vergine, for chorus & instruments, SV 206

    Description by Roy Brewer

    The historical interest of this work is almost as great as its inherent qualities. Vespers are part of the daily Offices, or Canonical Hours, of the church, music for the Offices including psalms (with antiphons), hymns, and canticles, as well as chanted lessons (with responsories). Although inspired by the Church Office, Monteverdi's Vespers in many ways transcends the original concept, perfectly exemplifying the transition between austere Renaissance polyphony and sheer Baroque splendor. Monteverdi makes his characteristic contribution to sacred music in a bold, almost operatic, style, complete with daring stereophonic and echo effects, and includes a suite of instrumental dances, concerti sections for both voices and orchestra, and a love song. To what extent this is liturgical music is debatable in view of the choice of texts, which some in Monteverdi's time considered blasphemous. Completed in 1610, the Vespers was written for the court of the Gonzaga family in Mantua, where Monteverdi was employed from 1590 to 1612, and dedicated to Pope Paul V. But the composition's true home is undoubtedly the cathedral of St. Mark in Venice, where Monteverdi was appointed maestro di cappella in 1613. Indeed, the Vespers could well have been conceived with its echoing spaces, galleries, balconies, organ, and choir lofts in mind.

    The sections contain striking contrasts, but the unity and continuity of Monteverdi's grand design is maintained theatrically as well as musically. The overture, for choir and orchestra, is manifestly operatic, and close to that of Monteverdi's first opera, Orfeo -- an upsurge of joyous energy, interposed by an orchestral toccata and ending with a jubilant Alleluia. The instrumentation (cornets, sackbuts, a variety of single and double reeds, recorders, strings, organ, and harpsichord) is, with the exception of the instrumental ritornelli, mainly intended to contribute to the formal structure of the choral sections, coloring the choir in the manner of organ stops, as in the "Dixit Dominus," "Laetatus sum," "Audi, coelum," and the beginning and end of the closing Magnificat, the climax of the whole work. The ways in which Monteverdi treats the cantus firmus by incorporating it into the counterpoint of the choral writing, as in "Dixit Dominus" (Psalm 109), is not found in earlier choral literature, nor is the flowing, unfettered parlando (recitation) style used in "Nigra sum," a metrically free poem with allusions to the biblical Song of Solomon. The concerto "Due Seraphim" is probably the most interesting section in the Vespers. It is set for two "answering" voices -- a sort of singing competition for angels -- and almost exceeds the limits of human vocal technique. The choral writing is also demanding in its splendor and complexity, much of it in six, seven, and, as in the psalm "Laudate pueri," eight parts; yet the simplicity of the two-part hymn Ave Maris stella is also among the many treasures of this magnificent work.

    It has not been easy to arrive at satisfactory modern performing editions of the Vespers, and interpretations differ in important details. The title page of the first edition is inscribed "ad Sacella sive Principum Cubicula accomodata Opera" (for use in princely rooms and chapels)," but unfortunately several modern editors have attempted to regard it as a vast choral work, ignoring the comparatively small forces needed to realize its grandeur. This work was little known and not recorded until the 1930s, when musicologists and scholars, such as Nadia Boulanger, researched the puzzles and complexities of authentic Baroque performance.


    1. Domine ad adiuvandum, Mxiv 123
    2. Dixit Dominus, Mxiv 133
    3. Nigra sum sed formosa, Mxiv150
    4. Laudate, pueri, Dominum, Mxiv153
    5. Pulchra es, amica mea, Mxiv170
    6. Laetatus sum, Mxiv174
    7. Duo Seraphim clamabant, Mxiv190
    8. Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, Mxiv198
    9. Audi, coelum, verba mea, Mxiv227
    10. Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum, Mxiv237
    11. Sonata sopra 'Sancta Maria' ora pro nobis, Mxiv250
    12. Ave maris stella, Mxiv250
    13. Magnificat 1 à 7, Mxiv285
    14. Magnificat 2 à 6, Mxiv327

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Pan Classics PC 10371
    2017 Glossa GCD 922807
    2016 Erato 0190295962104
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95188BR
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMG 50156667
    2015 Erato 2564619528
    2014 Ambronay AMY 041
    2014 Carus CARUS 83394
    2013 Archiv Produktion 002894791045AB55
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791044
    2012 Rondeau ROP 701213
    2012 Naïve V 5313
    2011 Novum NCR 1382
    2011 Alto 2011
    2011 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099964199
    2011 EMI Classics 9187332
    2010 Avie 2206
    2010 Harmonia Mundi 501247.48
    2010 Dynamic 656/1-3
    2010 Erato 256468686-3
    2010 Ars Musici 232135
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Virgin Classics 50999966965
    2009 Challenge Classics 72311
    2009 EMI Classics 212685
    2008 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697281822
    2008 EMI Classics 212959
    2008 Alia Vox 9855
    2007 Document 222945
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 2901247
    2006 Archiv Produktion 4776147
    2006 Hyperion 67531/2SACD
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 5901566.67
    2006 Brilliant 99452
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 68631
    2004 Apex 4614292
    2004 Naïve 30403
    2004 Naïve OP 30544
    2003 K 617 617136
    2003 ATMA Classique ACD22304/5
    2003 Astree Naive 9983
    2002 Nuova Era 7324/25
    2002 Harmonia Mundi HMX290 8131/4
    2001 BIS 1071/2
    2000 Rene Gailly 92045
    2000 Arts Music 47594
    2000 Angel Records 61662
    2000 Astree Naive 9936
    2000 Raumklang 9605
    1999 Erato 063017907
    1999 Eclectica / SNE 2038
    1999 K 617 7100/2
    1998 Erato 23139
    1997 Telarc Distribution 80453
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 62656
    1996 Harmonia Mundi 901566/67
    1996 Erato 12981
    1995 Naxos 550662/3
    1995 Capriccio Records 10516
    1994 London 443482
    1993 Teldec 92629
    1993 Teldec 4509-92175-2
    1992 Harmonia Mundi 901247/8
    1990 Archiv Produktion 429565
    1989 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 7760
    1989 Astree 8719
    Ambitus 383826
    Teldec 18955
    Hyperion 67531/2
    Carlton 91877
    Memories 4598
    Disques Pierre Verany 797031
    Azzurra Music / Venice Records 21001
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 38178
    London 414572
    Brilliant 99455