VG: Sacred Music in the Seicento

Although the Roman school kept up the old a capella tradition, Italy was also the country in which the new musical style, nuove musiche, emerged. One of the first important collection of church music at the turn of the 17th century was Viadana's Cento concerti ecclesiastici of 1602. Viadana was not the only composer to write both secular and sacred music: most opera composers of the time, such as Carissimi, Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Legrenzi, also wrote church music. Others, however, such as Francesco Durante almost exclusively composed church music. A work by Orazio Benevoli, a 53 part mass from the year 1628 reflects another tradition as a continuation and expansion of the Venetian technique and represents the Baroque principle of the grandiose.

The stylistic duality of the early 17th century found expression in the so-called prima prattica and seconda prattica. This contrast was, however, marked in church music than in secular vocal music or in motets and psalm chants. This may be ascribed to the unchanged mass text and also to the fact that fewer masses were written for less than four parts. In some cases, the use of prima prattica was a deliberate imitation of the stile antico, as, for example, in Monteverdi's six-part Missa da cappella of 1610, that was based on Gombert's motet In illo tempore. Intentional imitation of the old style can also be found in Carissimi's mass, L'homme armé, both with respect to the choice of a popular melody of the 15th and 16th centuries as well as in the use of the cantus firmus. The prima prattica or stile antico masses were mainly written and used in Rome, where the influence of Palestrina and his pupils was the strongest. Works of this kind are those of Anerio, G.M. Nanino and Soriano. Nevertheless, in these works one can also observe the emergence of an increasingly harmonic (musical) language. A surprising characteristic of these works is the continued use of all parts or voices and the avoidance of contrasting textures. This continued use of all voices or parts can also be found in Monteverdi's six-part Missa In illo tempore. As an advantage of the stile antico mass, one can name its natural unity, retained by such 16th-century techniques as the parody of the use of a head motif in various parts. Its naturalness and simplicity was of great advantage to the musician, since these masses could be performed both in small churches, and, on special occasions, in larger churches. The disadvantages of this style lay in its lack of expression and in its isolation from contemporary musical idioms.

The survival of the polyphonic style in its simple form also contributed to the fact that a few concert-style masses for a limited number of parts were written. Viadana used this style for the first time in his Missa dominicalis (1607) for solo voice, a work that added continuo accompaniment to the solo voice. However, this version of the style was not pursued further, since both the singing style and the solo voice were unsuitable for its expansion. What proved more suitable were three-part to five-part masses such as those by Alessandro Grandi (1630), with little polyphonic thematic development. Later examples, such as Carissimi's Missa a tre (1665-6), had more melodic solo phrases. The melody for masses with few parts was shaped by vowel-emphasized text development. The organizational methods were still those of the 16th century; thus, for example, Grandi used head-motifs, and in his mass that was based on the continuo madrigal of 1628 by Monteverdi Tamo mia vita, he used parody.

The 16th-century style of mass composition using two or more choirs was continued in the 17th century and developed further in two ways, namely through the use of spatially separated, identical scores and the combination of voices and instruments. The first of these methods was strongly preferred in Rome, where polychoral music was heavily influenced by the methods of Palestrina and Victoria. For example, in 1616, the first mass by G.F. Anerio was sung by eight choirs that were positioned in eight of the fourteen galleries of the church of Gesu; in 1629, in St. Pietro, the Name Festival was celebrated with 12 choirs performing. In Ugolini's Missa 'Quae est ista' most passages were written for twelve voices, while other passages were written for three cantus voices, three alto voices, three tenor voices and three bass voices. From the Rome of the later 17th century, the polychoral masses for up to four choirs by Orazio Benevoli, Francesco Beretta and Carissimi have been preserved, all of which still used the idioms of the stile antico.

While instruments in connection with voices were sometimes used in the churches of Rome during this time, their independent role in masses for two and more choirs was actually developed systematically and idiomatically in Northern Italy. In Gabrieli's Symphoniae sacrae of 1615 trombones and solo voices were used in addition to a ripieno choir. In G.F. Capello's Missa ad votum of 1615 one can already find at its beginning the tendency of all 17th century music, namely that of limiting to relatively few the instrumental colors based on the tone of string instruments. Eccole Porta's Mass in G major for two violins, three trombones, continuo and a five-part choir or a group of soloists from the year 1620 lends ornamented lines to the voices, while the instruments accompany them to less bright passages. This mass also shows a tendency towards the breaking-up of single movements in shorter sections, a technique that emerges more strongly in Grandi's mass for soloists with ripieno choir and orchestra of 1630, in that the Crucifixus is described as a miniature aria for the solo tenor. In Monteverdi's mass written on the occasion of the abating of the plague in Venice in the year 1630, the Gloria was subdivided in a sequence of duets that were grouped together through techniques of strophe variation and through massive contrapuntal choirs.

In the Venetian tradition, it was customary to leave out one or more parts of the Ordinary Mass, and, as a substitute, other parts were expanded. In addition, in this procedure the left-out parts were replaced by instrumental music. In this context, the larger-concept masses also showed problems, such as in Cavalli's Messa concertata of 1656 and the works of Orazio Tarditi as well as those of Cazzati; for example, the ariosos became overly long, while the somewhat more muted cori did not show enough variety.

The Composers (and some others)

Supplemental Materials

Poetry and Prose


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