In 17th-century Italy, vespers (the chief evening service of the Office, the daily cycle of prayer) were celebrated with lavish music on special feasts. A vespers service contains an introit, five psalms that are framed by chant antiphons, a hymn and the Magnificat. Those are the basics. What composers have done with those psalms, hymns and Magnificat has resulted in some of the most thrilling music of the period.
Perhaps the most famous of all Vespers settings is the Vespro della Beata Vergine of Claudio Monteverdi. The Green Mountain Project’s 2010 concert commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of Monteverdi’s Vespers was one of the finest performances of the work I’ve ever heard. The Green Mountain Project is a consortium of some of the finest performers on the early music scene and is anchored by Tenet, the excellent New York-based vocal ensemble. Last January the group again presented the 1610 Vespers and released a recording of the 2010 performance. You can buy this marvelous recording at the Tenet website. Here’s what I wrote about it last year.
The 1610 Vespers are on hiatus this year, but on January 3rd, 4th (NY) and 7th (MA) the Green Mountain Project will present A Grand Festive Vespers in Venice, c. 1640. As much as I adore the 1610 Vespers, this new program has me very excited. Music Director Scott Metcalfe and Artistic Director Jolle Greenleaf have created a Marian Vespers for the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, based on the 1610 model. Monteverdi won’t be left by the wayside though, music from his spectacular collection of sacred works Selva morale e spirituale (published 1640/41) will be featured. Fans of the 1610 Vespers will also get to hear his setting of the hymn Ave maris stella. I’m also very excited about the other music on the program too. The Venetian master Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1555 – 1612) and Milanese composer-nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – c.1676) will also be featured.
The inclusion of Gabrieli and Cozzolani is particularly thrilling for me. One of my greatest musical memories was hearing Gabrieli’s music at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. Surrounded by Tintoretto paintings we were bathed in Gabrieli’s brilliant polychoral writing. Cozzolani may be the hidden treasure on the program. Her story is remarkable and her music sublime (Robert Kendrick’s excellent essay is a good place to learn more about her). For years I’ve been grabbing any Cozzolani recordings I could find and, thankfully her discography has grown over the years. Who knows? Maybe there’s a Cozzolani Vespers yet to happen. Monteverdi, Gabrieli, Cozzolani and the Green Mountain Project. This one is going to be a winner.
Tickets for all the Green Mountain Project concerts are available on their website.
Here are some highlights of the 2011 performance of the 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine.