Preparing to Hear Masterworks
Spring 2023: Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610
Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin) of 1610 comprises a singular masterwork by a composer whose pathbreaking operas lent impetus and shape to the “new practice” of Italian Baroque music. Upper Valley Baroque will present two performances of this work during the last weekend of April; this class will offer a framework for understanding and appreciation of it.
In some key respects, the Vespers is enigmatic. It is a sacred work by a court composer renowned for his secular compositions who sought, and ultimately secured, a position as music director in a church. It is replete with pioneering techniques—highly ornamented vocal lines, piquant dissonances—about which conservative church leaders were skeptical; and it applies those techniques to polyphonic textures based on plainchant, the centuries-old foundation of Catholic music liturgy. It includes five psalm settings (each based on a chant model) and several “sacred concertos”—motets demonstrating Monteverdi’s mastery of the latest compositional strategies. There is no record of any performance during Monteverdi’s lifetime; there is uncertainty surrounding the motivation for its composition.
During our seminar sessions, we will consider the parallels between Monteverdi’s operas and the Vespers. We will examine the deft manner in which the composer has incorporated psalm chants into his textures. We will marvel at the ingenuity underlying the “sacred concertos.” And we will savor the innovations with which Monteverdi infused the work’s concluding tour-de-force, the Magnificat.
No prior music experience is necessary (though such experience is welcome!). There will be four Tuesday afternoon sessions; the last of the four will take place after the performance weekend, and thus will afford us an opportunity to discuss what we noticed at the concerts.
Tuesday class will meet in person at UVMC.
The online section will meet on Thursdays (April 13-20-27) and the last class will meet on Tuesday (May 2) in a hybrid session.
Length: 4 weeks, 2 hour classes
Minimum Enrollment: 5
Faculty: Mark Nelson
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