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Monteverdi’s Successful Audition

The sheer variety and magnificence of Monteverdi’s 1610 collection is breathtaking, and in 1613, music from the Vespers may have served as part of Monteverdi’s successful audition for the position of maestro di capella at the ducal church of St. Mark’s in Venice, the most important church job in all of northern Italy. In this 1610 print, which also includes a conservative, even archaic, six-voice polyphonic mass, Monteverdi gathered the most diverse examples of modern musical style imaginable for his Vespers. Introducing the Vesper service is the solo plainchant versicle (Deus in adiutorium) followed by its massive, fanfare-like response with the full choir supported by a large instrumental ensemble of strings and brass. This response was reconstituted out of the fanfare introduction to Monteverdi’s own first opera of 1607, Orfeo. Following the opening of the service, virtuoso solo and few-voiced motets sit side-by-side with the psalms featuring falsibordoni (unmeasured chordal recitation of the Gregorian psalm chant), complicated imitative counterpoint, highly ornamented virtuoso duets for soloists, ground basses, dance-like triple meters, double-choir antiphony, and instrumental ritornellos. The hymn following the psalms and motets mixes conservative double-choir polyphony with instrumental ritornellos and soloistic renditions of the hymn tune in triple meter. The closing Magnificat is a showcase of virtuoso vocal and instrumental writing.

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