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It was during Christmas of 1616 Monteverdi wrote to the great poet Alessandro Striggio in Mantua, apologizing for not getting back in reply to Striggio's original letter.
By this time, Striggio had also become secretary to the new Duke. This was Ferdinando I, the second son of the murderous and obsessed Vincenzo Gonzaga, who had made Monteverdi’s life in Mantua such a nightmare. He had taken over a Duchy that was now depleted of resources by his profligate father (among other things, Vincenzo sent an expensive mission to the New World in quest for a rumored, powerful aphrodisiac).
Monteverdi explained to Striggio why he was behind on writing, explaining that with “the hard work that had to be done on the Mass for Christmas Eve, for what with composing it and copying it out, I had to give up the entire month of December, almost without a break.”
There have been attempts in the past to reconstruct this setting using the available evidence, as well as employing Monteverdi’s own later work in Venice. The persuasive Danish Chamber Choir version from 1999, which we heard on this program, is a good example.
Now the brilliant Andrea Marcon (who founded the superb Venice Baroque Orchestra) has put together a two-CD liturgical reconstruction, with the short Gabrieli organ pieces that apparently introduced the large choral Psalm and Hymn settings, and Christmas pieces that were contemporary and used in San Marco at the time (Alessandro Grandi, and a rare and lovely Hodie by Giovanni Valentini). He is working with his old college cohorts from his Basel days at the Schola Cantorum, including the Baroque ensemble La Cetra and the Basel Vocal Ensemble. The results are stunning.
Deutsche Grammophon has given us the rare opportunity to premiere this piece, and has sent along copies to make available for new members, people giving gifts, or anyone who upgrades their membership with us (such as going from Bronze to Silver level).
We are also making the Christmas special program available to one and all—just click on the link below—and, as always, thank you for the wonderful and generous support, and all the very best of the season from all of us at Millennium to all of you and your loved ones.
Your Free Show
Monteverdi Christmas Vespers (December 12, 2022)