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Monteverdi’s “Selva morale e spirituale” of 1641

Claudio Monteverdi’s collection of sacred music, "Selva morale e spirituale," will be explored with performances by Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino.

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Claudio Monteverdi

By 1640 Claudio Monteverdi had achieved a lifetime’s worth of success. Yet he continued to compose new works that were startling for their size and sophistication (keep in mind that Monteverdi was already in his 70s). During this period he managed not only to compose three operas but compiled and had published a retrospective collection of church pieces from his Venetian years.

Entitled Selva morale e spirituale, or “Moral and Spiritual Forest,” the collection contained nearly forty vocal works that included motets, psalms, mass settings, and madrigals. They varied in size, too, from the small motet for solo voice and continuo to the more grand settings like the Gloria for seven voices, two violins, four violas, four trombones, and basso continuo.

The ‘Selva’ begins with three madrigals. They are technically not sacred works but are set to Italian words of a moral nature. Two of the three texts were written by Petrarch, one of Monteverdi’s favorite poets, while the third was contributed by Angelo Grillo, a Benedictine monk.

In some cases, there are multiple musical settings on a single text. Take, for example, Psalm 117, Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, or “O praise the Lord, all ye nations.” Monteverdi has no less than three settings, yet he also sets fourth one that also begins with ‘Laudate Dominum,’ but this time it’s Psalm 150, which begins similarly but continues with different words.

Sometimes Monteverdi recycled ideas from some of his previous compositions. The ‘Selva’ is no exception. For the first setting of Psalm 111, Beatus vir, he recalls a secular work from his Seventh Book of Madrigals composed many years before.

New Release

Our new release of the week features the American ensemble Baroque Nouveau in program of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s complete “Pièces de clavecin en concerts,” a work for obbligato harpsichord, violin, flute, and viola da gamba.

The music heard on this episode was performed by Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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