Claudio Monteverdi • Missa “In illo tempore”

Missa da capella fatta Sopra il motetto In illo tempore del Gomberti – «Monteverdi is having printed an a capella Mass for six voices of great study and effort, he being obliged to handle continually, in every note through all the parts, building up more and more, the eight points of imitation which are in Gombert’s motet ‘In illo tempore’ and together with it he is also having printed some psalms of the Vespers of the Madonna with various and different manners of invention and harmony, and all on a cantus firmus, with the idea of coming to Rome this autumn to dedicate them to His Holisness.»

In this letter, of 16 July 1610, written to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga by Monteverdi’s assistant at Mantua, Don Bassano Cassola one can find this work as a calling card used by Monteverdi. This Mass was designated to demonstrate that he was a serious composer capable of writing the most conservative style corresponding to a Counter-Reformation movement and thus qualifying him to a post in a major Roman church. This is also the case of the Vespro della Beata Virgine 1610 volume in which this Mass is included. These two works present at the 1610 edition didn’t have the same destination in mind: while the Mass was explicitly intended to be sung in the church, the Vespro, was intended to be performed in the private chapel, reserved for the private use of a princely chapel. The 6-part Mass is written in the stile antico, after the motet In illo tempore by Nicolas Gombert, with ten points of imitation, contrary to the eight stated by Don Bassano.

Although Monteverdi did not obtain the post he wanted in Rome, this 1610 publication stood him in good stead when, in 1613, he applied for the post of choirmaster at St Mark’s, Venice. In this audition Monteverdi directed a Mass (probably the 1610 setting) – saying the report that the «quality and virtue his works which are found in print», before expressing satisfaction with his performance.

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