Recorded March 1990. released 1991
Performed by the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players, conducted by Andrew Parrott.
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Venetian Church Music
By the time the aged Titian died in 1576, Venice was a mature political power which had already passed its peak. But although Tintoretto's death in 1594 marks the end of its period of distinction in the visual arts, its era of musical distinction was still in its infancy. The appointment of the Netherlander Adrian Willaert as maestro di cappella in 1527 was a sign that the Venetian authorities aimed to make the music at the ducal basilica of San Marco comparable with the best in Italy, and Andrea Gabrieli in particular did much to create a distinctive musical style that matched the pomp of the state ceremonies. But it was really in the century and a half from Giovanni Gabrieli to Vivaldi that Venetian music was at its peak.
Giovanni Gabrieli followed his uncle Andrea's example and his two books of Symphoniae sacrae (1597 and 1615) contain characteristically Venetian music, often to texts that tie them to specific Venetian ceremonies: the two vocal works of his heard here come from the posthumous second volume. Although polychoral music was not a Venetian invention, we tend to associate it particularly with San Marco, the church whose elaborate liturgy honoured the independence of Venice and its unique political structure. But there were other Venetian institutions which vied with San Marco to celebrate their own traditions with similar elaboration, and Giovanni Gabrieli (organist at San Marco) was in charge of the music at the Scuola di San Rocco. These works may equally have been written for the sombre grandeur of the Basilica or for the great hall of the Scuola, where each year on 16 August the patronal saint was celebrated by a large ensemble of voices and instruments amid the magnificence of Tintoretto's paintings.
The senior position for a musician in Venice was undoubtedly that of maestro di cappella at San Marco. Three are represented here-Monteverdi, Legrenzi and Lotti-and Grandi was Monteverdi's deputy from 1620, before moving to Bergamo in 1627, where he died of the plague three years later. Monteverdi had achieved fame (though not fortune) in Mantua; his three decades in Venice brought more material rewards. The music here comes, not from his own collection of church music Selva morale (1641), but from three anthologies published in the 1620s, by Bianchi-a former Mantuan pupil, Calvi-a bass at Pavia Cathedral, and Simonetti-a castrato from San Marco. The two polyphonic motets Adoramus te, Christe and Christe, adoramus te are short meditations on the crucifixion, probably intended to be sung at the Elevation or Communion at Mass.
By the 1620s motets were more often written for a solo voice (exemplified by Monteverdi's Exulta, filia Sion and Currite populi and Grandi's O quam tu pulchra es) and in the new, virtuosic style associated with early opera, often (as in the work by Grandi) taking advantage of the amorous language of the Song of Songs to address the Virgin Mary in the manner of a secular beloved. Such pieces were included in the liturgy as subtitutes for Psalm antiphons, a practice familiar from Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers. By the time of Vivaldi, the motet normally comprised two arias separated by a recitative and concluding with an Alleluia-the form still current when Mozart wrote his Exsultate, jubilate in Milan in 1773. The texts were usually in a rather tortuous, non-liturgical Latin.
Vivaldi had little to do with San Marco, though his father had been a violinist there. By the 18th century, Venice had become what it is now-a tourist centre. And the place tourists visited for music was not San Marco by the chapels of the ospedali- orphanages for young ladies which gave them musical training and attracted alms by the excellence of their musical performaces. In 1703 Vivaldi was appointed maestro di violino at the Pieta; the manuscript of Clarae stellae, scintillate is headed 'per la Sig: Geltruda', a figlia di coro who sang there for at least thirty years from 1705.
There was a long Venetian tradition of instrumental music in church (many of Vivaldi's concertos-which mark the climax of Venetian instrumental music-were in fact written for his pupils at the Pieta). In Gabrieli's time, works like Canzon VIII would have been played at Mass and Vespers by an ensemble comprising chiefly cornetts and sackbuts. Although the name and form of the canzona derive from the French chanson, its secular origin was ignored. As in In ecclesiis, with its recurring 'Alleluia', Gabrieli holds the piece together with a remarkable cadential sequence of chords. Despite his employment as organist, the only keyboard music he published was a series of brief intonations in each of the 12 tones (using the system devised by Glarean to replace the eight modes). The Fuga is one of several longer works that have been attributed to him. The sonata by Dario Castello (wind player and leader of San Marco's instrumental ensemble under Monteverdi) is more loosely constructed than Gabrieli's contrapuntal pieces, with a series of unrelated sections, and (like contemporary solo motets) depends very much on the eloquence of the performer for its effect. By Legrenzi's time at San Marco in the 1680s, the pre-eminence of wind instruments had been displaced by that of strings, and he pubished a considerable quantity of music for violins and for string ensembles. It is on this that his reputation now depends, rather than on his 19 operas and nine volumes of vocal church music.
Lotti, who came to Venice to study with Legrenzi in 1683, spent most of his life attached to San Marco, becoming maestro di cappella in 1736. He wrote 28 operas, a large quantity of secular cantatas, and some madrigals (one of which caused Bononcini's downfall in London when he presented it as his own composition and was caught out), but it is largely by his settings of the Crucifixus passage from the Creed that his music has entered the modern performing repertoire. Why he composed so many of them is unknown: perhaps, as with the English In nomine two centuries earlier, a short section of a Mass achieved an independent popularity and was imitated, or, more probably (as with three Creed fragments in Monteverdi's Selva morale), these settings were to be inserted into Masses in a plainer style. They show that the expressive counterpoint of Monteverdi's polyphonic motets was still alive a century later.