When Monteverdi published his Vespers of 1610, the publication
included not only vespers but a mass. Whilst the vespers tend
to get performed regularly, the mass has had less exposure.
Monteverdi's style is vastly different in the mass than in the
vespers. The vespers are firmly in the most modern style, the
seconda prattica but the mass is in a more traditional,
not to say old fashioned prima prattica.
Whilst the Mass and Vespers of 1610 are associated in people's
minds with Monteverdi's appointment to St. Mark's in Venice
they were written whilst he worked in Mantua. Their existence
probably owes something to Monteverdi's situation there.
When the Duke of Mantua, Guglielmo Gonzaga, built a new basilica
in Mantua, the Basilica of Santa Barbara, to act as a family
temple the maestro di cappella was Giaches de Wert. De
Wert had been born in Flanders and was very much a Gonzaga ‘company
man’, having previously held Gonzaga-associated posts.
De Wert was still in office when Monteverdi arrived in Mantua
in 1590. Monteverdi was initially employed as an instrumentalist
and subsequently produced copious amounts of madrigals and the
operas Orfeo and Arianna.
De Wert died in 1596. Monteverdi never became maestro di
cappella of the basilica even when the post became vacant.
One of the reasons may have been that Monteverdi was not associated
with sacred music, his last sacred publication had been in 1582
when he was still studying in Cremona.
So Monteverdi's publication of the Mass and Vespers in 1610
was probably an audition piece, a statement to demonstrate that
his sacred music was as advanced as his secular.
The mass, Missa in illo tempore, is a six-part affair
which is a parody based on Nicholas Gombert's motet In illo
tempore in turn composed some seventy years earlier. In
style Monteverdi chose to use the prima prattica in a
dense imitative manner. The ordinary of the mass was relatively
neutral in style and so was suitable for the more old-fashioned
polyphony. Monteverdi eschewed writing in the more recent homophonic
style of Andrea Gabrieli instead wrote in the flowing polyphonic
style preferred by his teacher, Marc'Antonio Ingegneri.
On this disc the ensemble Odhecaton have recorded the mass in
the Basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua. The church preserves
two galleries half way down the nave, one of which has the organ
by Costanza Antegnati which was installed in 1565. It is from
these galleries that the choir performs, with the microphones
in the body of the church nicely picking up the acoustic.
Odhecaton are an all-male ensemble of some sixteen singers who
perform the mass with organ and instrumental accompaniment.
They make a lovely warm, rich and dark sound. Using male voices
at a slightly low pitch gives the piece a fascinatingly deep
texture. Monteverdi shows himself wonderfully apt at the older
The mass is performed with three of Monteverdi's motets, two
Salve Regina settings and a Regina Caeli, all
three recently re-discovered. They are set for three voices
and organ. These are delightful and firmly in the seconda
The choir follows this with four of De Wert's pieces. First
comes fantasia which enables us to hear the historic organ.
Then three motets: Vox Rama from 1581, a wonderful five-part
setting of Jeremiah set in a stark, dark and dramatic manner.
This is followed by Ascendente Deus, also from 1581 which
includes some delightfully tricky rhythmical passages. Then
there is Adesto dolori mei, more restrained than the
other two, printed in 1566. De Wert wrote surprisingly little
sacred music so it is rather interesting to have these performances.
They conclude with a fine performance of Gombert's original
motet on which Monteverdi's mass is based.
The choir give strong, well shaped performances and are quite
naturally placed within the Santa Barbara acoustic. It has to
be admitted that one of the counter-tenors does have a rather
prominent voice, but given the disc’s other charms this
is something that I can live with.
The booklet includes informative articles about the music and
about the recording process along with full texts and translations.
Monteverdi's Missa in illo Tempore has not had that many
outings on disc. It is included in Robert King’s survey
of the complete Monteverdi sacred music on Hyperion, a set which
should be on any Monteverdi-lover’s shelves. This new
disc has the advantage of being recorded in the Basilica of
Santa Barbara by an interesting ensemble.
see also review by Johan
van Veen (June 2012 Recording of the Month)