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Volume 11, no. 1:

Giovanni Rovetta: Messa, e salmi concertati, op. 4 (1639). Edited by Linda Maria Koldau. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era 109–110. 2 vols., 6 instrumental parts. Middleton, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 2001. [Part 1: xx, 135 pp. ISBN 0-89579-478-0; score: $58, parts: $15. Part 2: xi, 179 pp. ISBN: 0-89579-479-9; score: $69, parts: $19.]

Reviewed by Anne Schnoebelen*

1. Venetian Celebration of the Birth of Louis XIV

2. Rovetta’s 1638 Print and the History of the Mass, 1600–1640

3. Rovetta’s Mass

4. Rovetta’s Psalms and Magnificat

5. Rovetta’s Concertato Style

6. Performance Practice

7. Conclusion

References

1. Venetian Celebration of the Birth of Louis XIV

1.1 Linda Maria Koldau’s excellent edition of Giovanni Rovetta’s mass and vespers collection is a splendid addition to modern publications of seventeenth-century Italian sacred music. She has placed it in a substantial context of its conception and purpose: the Venetian celebration of the birth in 1638 of the future Louis XIV, Sun King of France. The mass setting was performed under Rovetta’s direction in the Basilica of San Giorgio in November, 1638, and the mass and vespers collection was published in 1639.

1.2 In the 1630s Giovanni Rovetta, then vice-maestro at San Marco, was one of the most renowned composers in Venice, second only to Monteverdi, who by 1638 was in his elder years. In what was probably the most significant event in Rovetta’s career as vice-maestro, he was requested by the French ambassador to Venice, Hamelot de la Houssaye, to provide “the most magnificent and solemn music that could be found” for this great occasion, according to the Venetian chronicler Fausto Ciro.1 The music, performed in the beautiful Palladian church on the Isola di San Giorgio, was part of a sumptuous four-day celebration which included a procession of gondolas, a splendid banquet, bullfights in the piazza San Marco, balletti, and fireworks, all described by Ciro.2

1.3 Rovetta was given orders and financial resources to hire all the available singers and instrumentalists from Venetian musical establishments, by now among the best in Europe. As Koldau suggests, the subsequent publication of the mass and vespers collection, dedicated to Louis XIII as father of the newborn son, may well have been subsidized by the French ambassador. Probably the monarch himself contributed, since dedicatees were often asked to provide funds for publications where such honor was given.

2. Rovetta’s 1638 Print and the History of the Mass, 1600–1640

2.1 The format of Rovetta’s publication—mass, vesper psalms, and Magnificat—was a common one in seventeenth-century Italy. Of the more than 500 vesper publications issued in Italy in the first five decades of the century, some 64 included a mass setting, usually the first work of the collection. After the Venetian musical press was nearly decimated by the plague in 1630–1, many fewer prints were issued in the following decade. Only Alesssandro Vincenti, the publisher of this collection, continued to issue church music with any consistency. The dauphin’s birth celebration was a splendid opportunity for Rovetta to gather his best, as yet unpublished sacred music in this large, liturgically oriented collection of a mass, twelve settings of vesper psalms, and a Magnificat.

2.2 The Mass is designated as messa concertata, indicating the modern mid-Baroque concerted style of church music, fully developed by the late 1630s. It is perhaps useful here to summarize the stylistic development of Italian sacred music since the beginning of the century. Psalms and motets, with their relatively free choice of texts, were the first to embrace the new expressive ideals of secular music. The mass was somewhat slower to adopt these new techniques. Composers of masses frequently cultivated both old and new styles. Among the older styles found in the first four decades are parody masses, masses based on hexachords and/or one of the church modes (e.g., Missa primi toni) for one to four choirs. The new style of mass is the messa concertata, a term which begins to appear around 1614, signifying the presence of soloists with a true organ basso continuo, as distinguished from the messa da cappella, sung only by full choir(s) and organ basso seguente. Participation of solo voices rapidly led to clearly marked textural and stylistic contrasts between soli and tutti. Very soon, instruments other than the organ were introduced into mass publications, around 1615. Works begin to appear offering flexibility in performance possibilities (ad libitum instruments and se piace ripieno choirs). Prints from the 1630s and 40s reflect the growing influence of instrumental forms and idioms on the mass (e.g., a Mass by Tarquinia Merula based on a popular instrumental ground bass, the Ruggiero). By this time nearly every musical chapel of any size had a resident string ensemble, and wind players were often hired for ceremonial occasions. Furthermore, increasing virtuosity in vocal solos, ceremonial masses involving large numbers of voices and instruments, and few-voiced masses for smaller forces, all mark the stylistic changes in this most conservative of liturgical forms, the mass.3

2.3 As Koldau points out, Rovetta was clearly well versed in all of these modern trends. The Venetian ceremonial mass and vespers owe their beginnings to Giovanni Gabrieli’s individual mass movements, psalm settings, and Magnificats in the Sacrae Symphoniae publications of 1597 and 1615. Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610, though written in Mantua, was surely known to Rovetta. Monteverdi’s four individual mass movements in the Selva morale e spirituale are brilliant illustrations of the ceremonial mass, perhaps performed at San Marco in 1631 in thanksgiving for deliverance of Venice from the plague. And in 1630 Alessandro Grandi, Monteverdi’s vice maestro at San Marco from 1620 to 1627, published a splendid ceremonial mass in the Venetian style for Bergamo, where he was then maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore.4

3. Rovetta’s Mass

3.1 Immersed in this sumptuous tradition, Rovetta presents his messa concertata as the opening work of this collection. In her well-written and thorough introduction, Koldau notes that Rovetta increases the number of voices from five to seven in each of the three mass movements (Sanctus and Agnus Dei are omitted in the Venetian tradition), as a means of musical “dramaturgy” in the entire collection, ending with the Magnificat for eight voices and two violins. Each of the three mass movements has a different key center: G minor, C major, and G major. Along with the gradual buildup of voices, she offers this diversity as a unifying device among the three movements, citing a “palindromic” G–C cadence at the end of the Gloria, i.e. G minor, C major (G–C cadence), G major. In my own edition of this Mass, I suggested that the variance in voices and key centers raised the possibility that Rovetta had drawn on previously written movements and put them together for this occasion.5 Though I am almost convinced by Koldau’s argument, my research suggests that it is most unusual for a mass to have different numbers of voices in each of its movements unless an ad libitum situation is presented, which is not the case here. Also, in the many integral works I have examined, it is unusual to have three different key centers in three movements. In fact, the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

3.2 With excellent insight, Koldau signals the representational intent of this work in the ritornello-like reiteration of the phrase “gratias agimus tibi” after each text segment in the closely related sections “Domine Deus Rex,” “Domine Fili,” and “Domine Deus Agnus Dei.” Because the Mass was the central liturgical and theological event, composers treated its text as inviolable. Rovetta’s disruption of its order is most unusual and was clearly done to highlight gratitude both to the Lord and to his earthly representatives, the French king and his newborn son.

3.3 Yet another characteristic of the Venetian ceremonial mass as found in Rovetta’s work is the musical setting of the intonations “Gloria in excelsis Deo” and “Credo in unum Deum.” Normally these words are sung in chant by the celebrant before the musicians begin. Most printed masses start with the next phrase, “Et in terra pax” for the Gloria and “Patrem omnipotentem” for the Credo. But ceremonial masses usually present ornate, soloistic settings of the opening words as in this work.           

4. Rovetta’s Psalms and Magnificat

4.1 All the characteristics of the messa concertata were espoused, even more so, in Rovetta’s settings of the psalms (salmi concertati) and Magnificat.6 Koldau’s descriptive analyses make them vivid for the reader, and the illustrative passages signaled in the score are clear and to the point. She provides a very useful table indicating scoring and the liturgical function of the psalms and canticle. Especially illuminating are her comments on imagery, both formal and textual. However, I find puzzling the use of the term “through-composed” to describe the sectional format in which much of this music is cast. Even with an explanatory footnote about her interpretation, the term seems anachronistic.

5. Rovetta’s Concertato Style

5.1 In her analysis of Rovetta’s individual approach to the concertato style—that which sets him apart from his contemporaries—she points out his unusual setting of the doxology, the conspicuous use of the cantus firmus, his unusual favoring of the alto voice as soloist, his use of triplets and occasional thirty-second notes, and the increasing emancipation of the violin duet from the vocal parts. She also notes the limitations of his style in the repetition of small melodic fragments in imitative patterns carried through “relentlessly”—a fair criticism of Rovetta’s music, and that of many of his contemporaries.

6. Performance Practice

6.1 Koldau’s section on performance reveals her welcome encouragement of flexibility in modern performances within the boundaries of mid-Baroque style. (Such flexibility was encouraged by many published works of the period.) For example, she urges considering in each individual case whether passages marked “solo” (or “pian”) should be sung by single soloists or perhaps by a group of soloists, as distinguished from the “tutti” (or “forte”) passages for full choir. She cites the Laudate pueri Dominum (without specifying which of the two settings—it is the “Primo”) in which the “Laetantem” section is marked “tutti” in the continuo, while imitative entries of the individual parts are marked ”solo.” However, these indications do not appear in her score; one finds them only in the Critical Notes. I would have preferred to see them in the score as well.

6.2 The performance of accidentals in early seventeenth-century music is often a thorny problem. Composers (and printers) were notoriously careless about their placement. Koldau follows standard editorial practice by applying editorial accidentals in brackets, which are almost always stylistically valid. Occasionally, however, they produce questionable results. One such example is in “Dixit Dominus Primo” (vol. 1, p. 64, m. 143) where the resulting f-sharp and g-sharp in Basso I seem strange over the implied C-major chords on beats 3 and 4. (No reference to this passage is made in the Critical Notes.) However, this is a rare case. Her application of accidentals is usually accurate and stylistic, though like all good editors she encourages thoughtful examination of her editorial additions by the performer.

6.3 Koldau’s summary of current thought on proportio tripla is essential for the performer to note: “the battuta has become flexible and the proportional interpretation of metrical changes is no longer adequate” (p. xiv). For this reason she omits equation signs in the score as being confusing to the performer. She correctly urges consideration of the text and its affect in determining the tempo of the battuta.

7. Conclusion

7.1 A-R Editions has done its usual fine production work for this edition, which includes texts and translations. With these few minor criticisms, it is a pleasure to recommend highly this edition of Rovetta’s ceremonial sacred music from seventeenth-century Venice.

References

*Anne Schnoebelen (aschnoeb@rice.edu) is the Joseph and Ida Kirkland Mullen Professor Emerita of Music, Rice University. She was one of the founding faculty of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice.

1 Introduction, vii. Cited from Fausto Ciro, Venetia festiva (Venice: Baba, 1638), 24.

2 See James H. Moore, Vespers at St. Mark’s: Music of Alessandro Grandi, Giovanni Rovetta and Francesco Cavalli (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), 1: 89–91, 264–8 for a more detailed description and documents.

3 For a summary of early seventeenth-century mass developments, see my “Printed Settings of the Mass Available to North Italian cappelle musicali in the 17th Century,” Barocco padano II, Atti del X Convegno internazionale sulla musica sacra nei secoli XVII–XVIII, Como, 16–18 luglio 1999 a cura di Alberto Colzani, Andrea Luppi, Maurizio Padoan (Como: A.M.I.S., 2002), 109–20.

4 For an edition of this Mass, see my Masses by Alessandro Grandi [et al.], Seventeenth-Century Italian Sacred Music 4 (New York: Garland, 1995), 3–82.

5 Masses by Giovanni Rovetta [et al.], Seventeenth-Century Italian Sacred Music 5 (New York: Garland, 1996), xii.

6 For a summary of early seventeenth-century vesper music, see Jeffrey Kurtzman, “Il Vespro della Beata Virgine di Claudio Monteverdi e il repertorio italiano dei Vespri dal 1610 al 1650: un quadro riassuntivo,” Barocco padano II (Como: A.M.I.S., 2002), 7–39.


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