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Monteverdi’s Vespers – the Crest of a Wave

The second half of the sixteenth century witnessed a growth in published Italian Vespers repertoire, a growth that increased dramatically as the century approached its end. In the first decade of the new century, the number of extant prints once again augments by approximately 50 per cent. I have located more than 150 publications from this period, about two thirds of them issued between 1605 and 1609. From the year 1610 alone, aside from Monteverdi’s print, I have been able to trace an additional 25 surviving collections containing vesper music. Of the total of nearly 180 publications from these eleven years, 24 are reprints. By this time, the number of vesper publications has exceeded the number of mass prints from the same period. It is clear that by the first decade of the century, a major shift in emphasis had taken place in the public services of the Catholic Church in Italy. The vesper service had become a ceremony of major musical importance, not merely rivalling the mass, but actually surpassing it in number of publications and, consequently, in musical significance for the church calendar.

[Adapted from The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance by Jeffrey Kurtzman. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, p 99.]

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