VIIIF: Sacred Music of the Italian Settecento

We have noted that in the 17th century. 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, and this dichotomy survived in the eighteenth century. We also noted that most opera composers of the time., also wrote church music, and this continued into the new century with composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti. in this vein, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater from about 1730, a cantata-like work with Latin text, is a 'fine example' of good Italian church music.

In the 18th century, the main influence on church music was exercised by the Neapolitan school, the exponents of which were mainly trained by the conservatories that initially were foundling homes where musicians were first trained in church music and subsequently turned to the more profitable opera and spread their music all across Europe. Although the source of this style was homogenous, the music that emerged out of it showed a great variety, and that particularly due to the fact that the composers of the Neapolitan school were active throughout the entire century and that they had taken part in the major developments of this time. Thus one cannot say that there exists an actual 'Neapolitan mass or cantata' style, but rather, a general, basic outlook that prevailed during the 18th century. Most composers studied the stile antico, although not all of them wrote entire masses in this style. Alessandro Scarlatti, who wrote eight of his ten masses in the stile antico, showed in them a strict approach that left little room for expression; others, such as Franceso Durante, applied chromaticism and irregular harmonies even in works that he had initially described as written 'in Palestrina'.

Nevertheless, the stile antico also permeates many masses that were written in the more general 'stilus mixtus.' This mixture arose out of the combination of three main elements: of choirs in the stile antico with orchestral accompaniment of the voices, of choirs where the orchestra plays an important part in the formal organization, and of music for solo voices. In order to incorporate these, the mass text was subdivided into smaller sections, as this was also done in certain 17th-century compositions, with the difference that, in the Neapolitan style, the sections were more independent from each other, and many important mass compositions actually only consisted of the Kyrie and the Gloria. Some pieces served structural purposes, such as the emerging fugues of the 'Amen' at the end of the Gloria and the Credo, while others applied the expressive manner to solemn moments such as the 'Crucifixus', as, for example, in Leo's ten-part mass. The choirs with independent accompaniment reflected the emergence of orchestral forms. In these, the choir was mostly monophonic, with a vowel-emphasized declamation of the words, often in stereotypical, regular rhythms, thereby fulfilling the function of the recitative and strengthening the continuo harmonies; the most important thematic material was left to the orchestra. At the beginning of the 18th century, themes in concerto style were used, as in Alessandro Scarlatti's St. Cecilia Mass.

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