Monteverdi Call and Response
January 8, 2010, at Washington National Cathedral, the Folger Consort presented a courtly concert of Claudio Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers in tribute to this 400 year-old work. The main sanctuary of the Cathedral was filled with an attentive audience while the altar gave stage to ten singers and fourteen musicians. The Dresser chose this concert after getting a brief taste of the Folger Consort playing Monteverdi in their opening season concert "A Harmony of Friends: Music of Italy and China."
The Folger Consort creatively presented the 1610 Vespers, which has continued through the centuries to be a puzzle for the modern day performer in deciding what to perform. As the Folger Consort's program notes explain, vespers are comprised of five psalms and their antiphons, a hymn, and a concluding Magnificat. The 1610 Vespers is a Marian Vesper, which means the same Latin texts for the psalms, hymn, and Magnificat are used. The antiphons, which respond to the psalms, are a variable component that Monteverdi left up to the producing performers to decide, based on the feast occasion when the 1610 Vespers would be performed. Also the antiphons are traditional pieces written in the plainchant style and are not compositions by Monteverdi. According to Robert Eisenstein, the traditional plainchant antiphons do not relate well musically to Monteverdi's psalms in his 1610 Vespers and he says there is enough plainchant in the texture of the psalms. For a variety of reasons including the 17th century practice of inserting antiphon substitutes of both vocal and instrumental pieces, the Consort has inserted, after the psalms, sacred songs by Monteverdi as well as an instrumental composition by Giovanni Gabrieli which was played after the "Ave maris stella" Hymn and before the "Magnificat."
For this one hour and forty-five minute production, the Consort assembled musicians playing two theorbos, two violins, two violas, one violone, one cello, three trombones (one doubled on cornetto), three cornettos (two dedicated), and one organ. While the 1610 Vespers is considered a chamber music piece, the vast space of Washington National Cathedral demands a bigger sound than what a typically sized chamber group would be.
As to the playing, the Dresser considered herself fortunate to have seats up close to the players. While there was subtle mic-ing to aid the sound volume at the back of sanctuary, the Dresser cannot believe that the remote audience received the clarity of music making that she heard. She particularly admired the passionate playing by violinist Julie Andrijeski and Robert Eisenstein who stood for the entire length of the concert. (They were not, however, "on stage" the entire time.) In the playing of the "Magnificat," the Dresser also loved the echo effect Eisenstein created by moving away from Andrijeski and then turning his back. The echo effect also was used by two tenor voices in the Sacred Song "Audi coelum."
Unlike a concert that would have been mounted in Monteverdi's life (1567-1643), two sopranos--Johanna Arnold and Jolle Greenleaf--joined the group of singers. (Jolle Greenleaf, who also performed in "A Harmony of Friends: Music of Italy and China," replaced an ailing Ann Monoyios.) The Dresser guesses that the sopranos sang the parts that would have been assigned to castratis. In his book Monteverdi: Vespers (1610), John Whenham talks about this issue of men singing both male and female parts as well as others addressed by this Folger Consort production.
The Folger Consort created an impressive Monteverdi program that uplifted and restored the senses. Below is the first call and response pairing (the Latin and English translation) of Psalm 109 with the sacred song drawn from King Solomon's "Song of Songs."
DIXIT DOMINUS PSALM 109
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis, donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Dominus ex Sion; dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum. The LORD shall send forth the rod of thy strength from Zion; rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae, in splendoribus sanctorum; ex utero ante luciferum genui te. Thine is the foundation in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness; I have born thee from the womb before the morning star.
Juravit Dominus, et non paenitabit eum: The LORD has sworn, and will not repent:
Tu es sacerdos in aeternum, secundum ordine Melchisedec. Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedec.
Dominum a dextris tuis confregit in die irae suae reges. The LORD at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas; conquassabit capita in terra multuorum. He shall judge among the nations, he will fill them with ruins; he will break the heads over populous lands.
De torrente in via bibet; propterea exaltabit caput. He shall drink of the spring in the way; therefore shall he lift up the head.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Glory be to the Father...
NIGRA SUM SACRED SONG
Nigra sum sed formosa filia Jerusalem
I am a black and also beautiful daughter of Jerusalem
Ideo dilexit me Rex, et introduxit me in cubiculum suum
et dixit mihi:
So the King loved me and led me into his chamber and said to me:
Surge, amica mea, et veni.
Arise my love and come away.
Iam hiems transiit imber abiit et recessit, flores apparuerunt in terra nostra,
tempus putationis advenit.
now winter has passed, the rain has gone,
and flowers have appeared in our land;
the time of pruning has come
Snapshots drawn from the rehearsal and the Cathedral were taken by Mack Ramsey (trombone and cornetto).