Douglas Shambo II


Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 – Not for the Faint of Heart

The following is an article I wrote several years ago to serve as the program notes for a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers by Consortium Carissimi:

The music of Claudio Monteverdi can strike fear in the heart of the most technically capable singer; it can also create similar feelings of shock and awe for the typical modern listener. It is not that Monteverdi makes vocal demands that differ sharply from those of other composers of his day – historical evidence shows that he really didn’t. For singers, Monteverdi’s music seems to force a different approach vocally and interpretively. For listeners unfamiliar with Monteverdi’s music, understanding this difference requires a bit of context and explanation.

Singers today are trained to sing in the Bel Canto style. This manner of singing places emphasis on maximizing resonance and breath through a low position for the larynx, low breath support, a free vibrato, a raised soft palate, and an open throat – and in not using the larynx or throat to manipulate or stop sound. What results is the resonant, flexible sound we generally think of as healthy and beautiful. This technique works well for singing most vocal repertory.

What generally impresses the average listener first about Monteverdi (and can scare the heck out of singers) is his use of – and seeming insistence on – many ornaments, the execution of which can seem at great odds with Bel Canto. He made lavish use of (and wrote frequently of his fondness for) the trillo, a rapid repetition of the same note in almost machine-gun-like fashion. He also made liberal use of trills, grupetti, apoggiature, accaciature, and rapid melismas requiring the singer to employ the throat and breath in very non-Bel-Canto-like ways.

These ornaments were not unique to Monteverdi. Such expressive effects were actually common and expected in the interpretation of the music of the new secunda practica (second practice), ushered in by the then-new medium of opera, all the rage in Florence and Venice. Singers were expected to let the text lead the singing (as opposed to the more objective, intellectual style of the prima practica), painting the text expressively through precise diction and lavish ornament. The new stile recitative style was monophonic, featuring a single vocal line (as opposed to the prima practica of closely imitative multiple vocal lines), supported by a realized “general bass” accompaniment (which later became, with symbols or “figures” to define the harmony, the “figured bass”). The composer generally left the decision about ornamentation to the singer.

In the preface to his collection of monodies entitled Le Nuove Musice, Monteverdi’s contemporary Giulio Caccini attempted to define the conventions of the style. Caccini documented such elements as the filling in of melodic leaps with melismatic flourishes and grupetti, cadential ornaments, trills, and effects such as the trillo, tremolo, and grogia. Caccini notwithstanding, exactly how singers of the time ultimately handled these is a still matter of scholarly inquiry.

Unlike his contemporaries who left ornamentation largely to the singer, Monteverdi actually wrote ornaments into the music in the places he wanted them sung. (Years later J.S. Bach pursued a similar compositional practice, for which he was harshly criticized by his contemporaries.) In so doing, Monteverdi elevated vocal ornamentation from a merely expressive and somewhat ad libitum element to an integrally structural one.

As much as he was invested in the secunda practica, Monteverdi was nonetheless a dedicated student of the prima practica. Among the composers of that era that he admired were Josquin des Prez, Jacques Arcadelt, and Nicolas Gombert. All three combined strong intellect and technique with powerful expressive gesture. Monteverdi’s admiration of Gombert is particularly noteworthy, since he is known even today to have written some of the most complex music ever composed.


The Vespers of 1610 is perhaps the most unique of Monteverdi’s works. The choral movements, with their dense counterpoint, are remarkably similar to those of Gombert. The best example of this kind of writing in the Vespers is “Nisi Dominus,” with its moments of almost incomprehensively complex counterpoint and its chorus-versus-chorus dialogue. And, like the sacred music of the prima practica, there is a plainchant cantus firmus present in nearly every movement, although the cantus does not really seem to perform its traditional role of structurally underpinning any of the movements, given the swirling imitative counterpoint over, under, and around it.

The solos, duets, and trios, though, are very much of the secunda practica, and represent some of Monteverdi’s most daring vocal writing. In the movement “Duo Seraphim,” a veritable tour-de-force for three tenors, the top two lines are heavily and imitatively ornate, with frequent melismas, grupetti, and trilli. When the third tenor finally enters about half way through the movement, Monteverdi reverts for a moment to a very prima practica bit of suspension and resolution, and then goes quickly back to the close and complex ornamental imitation of the beginning of the movement.

The Vespers show Monteverdi at the height of his intellectual and expressive powers. They show him to be, like Beethoven or Stravinsky, at the culmination of an older style, and at the vanguard of a new one.


An Obsession with the Mass

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 10:55 AM

Like every composer, I write works for hire. I take a professional approach to these works, keeping my patron in mind, even as I look for the inspiration and instinct to create something fresh and original. And, like every composer, I have those works I write for myself, initiated by the odd idea, often coming from a desire to experiment and explore what for me is previously unexplored territory.


Lately, all of my self-stimulated random ideas for new works have been settings of the Latin Mass. All of my own ideas for the last six months seem to be focused on it. Why the Latin Mass? There are a few reasons. First, I know the texts intimately and feel them deeply. Second, they offer many possibilities for settings. Third, they are tied to choral music and ritual.


There is another mass in me to complete by the end of this calendar year. This will be a daring concert setting that will demand much of those who sing it, and will use a choir in ways not previously employed. I can clearly hear the piece in my head. I’m excited by what will emerge once the piece is “out there.”


Categories: None

Post a Comment


Oops, you forgot something.


The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.


Reply shoop-parfum
3:20 PM on November 26, 2022 
neck collar designs for kurti nike hyper ko 2 limited edition amazon hat cap difference between radar ev path and pitch nba jersey clippers purple and green air max 97
Reply kozeis
4:54 AM on November 27, 2022 
mexico away kit ny giants hat womens puma mid xxi moncler jacket windbreaker michael michael kors mk charm small ns tab phone crossbody cheap night dresses
Reply trangmuaban
3:34 PM on November 27, 2022 
harry styles tattoo phone case spiderman tutu rangers powder blue cap astr white lace dress air force 1 cute antique dress
Reply lucianoluz
7:20 AM on November 28, 2022 
coach monogram handbag pandora rose necklace air max 98 charlotte mens oakland raiders 61 rodney hudson nike white elite jersey mk lg th satchel hugo boss slim fit long sleeve polo
Reply catfishmoe
9:47 AM on November 28, 2022 
miami heat kendrick nunn jersey flower print one piece dress nba snapbacks mitchell ness chargers burgundy gold jordan 1 82nd airborne baseball caps
Reply bcsarts
3:36 PM on November 28, 2022 
womens new nike shoes 2021
Reply friedads
9:25 PM on November 28, 2022 
pandora gold spacers minnesota north stars jersey history accenteur moncler new england patriots salute to service hoodie real madrid away kit socks engraved necklace pandora
Reply starori
9:27 PM on November 28, 2022 
nike ravens 73 marshal yanda purple mens stitched nfl limited rush jersey moncler fur parka nike kyrie 3 sz 12 adidas sneakers originals white
Reply supreme hoodie
9:15 PM on December 5, 2022 
Thank you so much for giving everyone an extremely special chance to read critical reviews from this blog. It can be so lovely and as well , stuffed with amusement for me and my office co-workers to search your blog particularly thrice in one week to read through the fresh issues you have got. Not to mention, I am usually satisfied with your spectacular guidelines you serve. Selected 3 facts in this posting are without a doubt the most efficient we have had.
supreme hoodie
Reply curry 8
9:16 PM on December 5, 2022 
I as well as my friends were actually viewing the best ideas found on your website then instantly got an awful suspicion I had not expressed respect to the site owner for them. All the guys are already as a consequence happy to read them and have in effect seriously been having fun with those things. I appreciate you for getting indeed thoughtful and for getting certain fantastic things millions of individuals are really needing to learn about. Our honest regret for not expressing appreciation to sooner.
curry 8
Reply goyard tote bag
10:47 PM on December 5, 2022 
I precisely had to say thanks once again. I am not sure the things that I would have accomplished without the tips shared by you regarding such a area of interest. It actually was a real daunting case for me personally, nevertheless looking at the expert avenue you resolved it forced me to weep for gladness. I'm happy for the service and then pray you comprehend what a great job you happen to be providing instructing others thru a site. I know that you have never encountered any of us.
goyard tote bag
Reply ggdb
12:03 AM on December 6, 2022 
Thanks for your own effort on this web page. My mother really loves getting into investigation and it's easy to understand why. Most of us hear all about the compelling manner you provide both interesting and useful techniques through your web site and as well cause response from some others on that concern while our princess is truly understanding so much. Take advantage of the remaining portion of the year. You are always performing a first class job.
Reply bape
12:12 AM on December 6, 2022 
I precisely wished to thank you very much all over again. I am not sure the things I would have sorted out in the absence of the type of suggestions provided by you about such problem. It was before a real frightening dilemma in my position, but noticing this expert manner you dealt with that took me to cry with happiness. Extremely happier for your guidance as well as have high hopes you comprehend what a great job that you're undertaking training many others thru your blog post. Probably you haven't encountered any of us.
Reply alexander mcqueen outlet
12:31 AM on December 6, 2022 
I enjoy you because of each of your work on this web page. My mum delights in managing investigations and it is easy to see why. Almost all hear all about the compelling medium you produce powerful guides on your website and as well recommend participation from some other people on this concern then our favorite daughter is certainly studying a lot. Enjoy the rest of the new year. You have been carrying out a superb job.
alexander mcqueen outlet
Reply curry shoes
2:43 AM on December 6, 2022 
My wife and i have been really more than happy that Peter managed to round up his investigations from the precious recommendations he grabbed from your own web pages. It is now and again perplexing just to always be giving freely thoughts which usually people today have been selling. And we acknowledge we need the website owner to thank for this. All the illustrations you have made, the straightforward blog navigation, the relationships you make it easier to create - it's got all incredible, and it's really leading our son and the family understand the situation is thrilling, which is quite important. Thanks for everything!
curry shoes
Reply yeezy boost 350 v2
6:14 AM on December 6, 2022 
Thanks so much for giving everyone a very superb opportunity to read critical reviews from this blog. It is usually very pleasurable and also full of a good time for me personally and my office peers to search your website at a minimum 3 times in 7 days to read the latest items you have. And lastly, I am just actually astounded with all the very good points you give. Selected two areas on this page are without a doubt the most impressive I've had.
yeezy boost 350 v2
Reply supreme clothing
6:23 AM on December 6, 2022 
I must convey my passion for your generosity in support of individuals who really need assistance with this concept. Your special commitment to getting the solution all over had been extraordinarily advantageous and have truly permitted those just like me to get to their targets. The important help and advice indicates this much to me and still more to my fellow workers. Thanks a ton; from everyone of us.
supreme clothing
Reply golden goose sneakers
7:21 AM on December 6, 2022 
I am glad for commenting to let you know of the nice experience my girl gained reading yuor web blog. She came to understand plenty of details, most notably what it is like to possess a wonderful teaching nature to have certain people effortlessly understand some impossible matters. You truly surpassed her expected results. Thank you for providing the warm and helpful, trusted, explanatory not to mention cool thoughts on your topic to Jane.
golden goose sneakers
Reply kd 15
7:29 AM on December 6, 2022 
I just wanted to develop a message in order to thank you for all of the nice items you are sharing at this site. My time intensive internet investigation has at the end of the day been honored with sensible facts to exchange with my company. I would tell you that we visitors are very much endowed to dwell in a fabulous website with so many lovely individuals with very helpful tips. I feel somewhat happy to have encountered your entire web page and look forward to many more awesome moments reading here. Thanks once more for all the details.
kd 15
Reply supreme clothing
7:30 AM on December 6, 2022 
Thanks a lot for giving everyone such a brilliant possiblity to check tips from this site. It is usually very useful and as well , stuffed with a great time for me personally and my office peers to visit the blog not less than three times per week to study the new guidance you have got. Not to mention, I'm so always astounded with your perfect inspiring ideas served by you. Certain 2 ideas in this post are undeniably the very best we have ever had.
supreme clothing