Vespers in San Marco


A reconstruction of Renaissance vesperal liturgy in Venice with the music of Adriaen Willaert.



Preambulum (organ)

Deus in adiutorium meum intende

Intonatio (organ)

Antiphon: O admirabile commertium (plainchant)

Psalm: Laudate pueri (Willaert: I salmi appertinenti)

Antiphon: O admirabile commertium (Willaert: Musica Nova)

Intonatio (organ)

Antiphon: Quando natus est (plainchant)

Psalm: Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (Martini/Brebis)

Antiphon: Quando natus est (Willaert: Musica Nova)

Intonatio (organ)

Antiphon: Rubum quem viderat (plainchant)

Psalm: Lauda anima mea (Martini/Brebis)

Antiphon: Rubum quem viderat (Willaert: Musica Nova)

Intonatio (organ)

Antiphon: Germinavit radix Jesse (plainchant)

Psalm: Laudate Dominum quoniam bonus (Martini/Brebis)

Antiphon: Germinavit radix Jesse (Willaert: Musica Nova)

Intonatio (organ)

Antiphon: Ecce Maria (plainchant)

Lauda Jerusalem (Willaert: I salmi appertinenti)

Antiphon: Ecce Maria (Willaert: Musica Nova)


Responsorium: Verbum caro factum est

Intonatio (organ)

Hymnus: Christe Redeptor omnium

(Wilaaert: Hymnorum musica)

Versiculus: Tamquam sponsus

Intonatio (organ)

Antiphon: Mirabile mysterium (Willaert: Musica Nova)

Magnificat sexti toni (Willaert: I sacri et santi salmi)

Antiphon: Magnum haereditatis misterium

(Willaert: Musica Nova)


Benedicamus Domino (Willaert: I sacri et santi salmi)

Alma redemptoris mater (Willaert: Musica nova)

Adriaen Willaert

musicus celeberrimus excelentissimusque

ac chori divi Marci illustrissimae republicae

Venetiarum magister


Adriaen Willaert: I sacri e santi salmi, che si cantano a Vespro et Compieta, Venezia: Gardano, Antonio 1555

Hymnorum musica secundum ordinem Romanae ecclesiae excellentissimi Adriani Wilart ac aliorum authorum,

Venezia: Scotto, Girolamo 1542

Musica Nova di Adriano Willaert, Venezia: Gardano, Antonio 1559

Di Adriano et di Jachet i salmi apertinenti, Venezia: s.n. 1550

Breviarium Aquileiense, Venetia ca. 1496

et al.

About the Programme

In 1559 a monumental anthology of motets and madrigals by Adriaen Willaert was printed under

the name Musica Nova. The music however was anything but new. Most pieces seem to had been

composed already at the beginning of 1540s as musica reservata of sorts. The only manuscript copy

of this music was in the possession of one Polissena Pecorina, an expert singer and a friend of

Willaert. A contemporary visitor to one of the musical evenings she hosted described them thus:

"... you would have been amazed if you had heard the divineness which I witnessed here in Venice.

There is here a gentle woman, Polisena Pecorina (consort of a gentleman from my own city) ...

At her house I heard one evening a concert of viols and voices at which she played and sang with

others. The 'perfect maestro' of the music was Adriano Willaert whose diligent inventions are no

longer usual with composers. His music is so well unified, so expressive (dolce) so appropriate

(giusta) and it so wonderfully adorns the words, that I confessed not to have known what music

was in all my days save for that evening." Young Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara purchased this

manuscript at great cost in 1554, had Willaert revise the compositions and the whole collection was

printed in 1559 by Gardano.

The motets setting the antiphons for the feast of the Circumcision of Christ ‐ the Octave Day of

the Nativity of the Lord ‐ which are part of this collection stand out as rather singular and peculiar,

especially considering the supposed original purpose and context of the collection. The cycle

consists of seven motets, five antiphons for the psalms that would be used in both Laudes and

Vespers and two magnificat antiphons, for both first and second Vespers. What made these texts

so special? Polyphonic settings of office antiphons were far from typical, in Vespers polyphony

would mostly be limited to magnificat and hymnus. Furthermore, Willaert is far from the only

one to have written motets on these texts. E.g. at least 18 other settings of the text O admirabile

commercium are known before 1550, including a more well known complete cycle of the first five

antiphons by Josquin. Where would this sort of popularity come from?

We do not have ready and clear answers to these intriguing questions (yet?) but as an indispensable

element in the process of answering them (or even beginning to be able to answer them) we

decided to present these motets in this programme in their integral liturgical context of a Vespers

service for the feast of the Circumcision. Even though these compositions might not have been

originally intended for liturgical use but rather a performance for a small group of patrons and

friends in a private concert, their liturgical function remains implied and referred to, e.g. by the

liturgical order, plainchant motives they are entirely based on etc. While the original audience

would have been aware of these references and allusions as a matter of course, it is a world almost

entirely unknown to the modern listener, hermeneutical key he is largely missing. Hence the need

to make it that much more explicit.

Myths and half truths surround the polychoral practice of singing psalms in San Marco and in the

psalms settings for two choirs by Willaert included in this programme we will attempt to correct

some of these misconceptions. As a tribute to earlier generation of musicians working in North

Italy we opted also for three psalm settings of Brebis and Martini. Willaert would very likely be

familiar with these from the years he spent as a singer in Ferrara earlier in his career might have

very well served as an inspiration for his own psalm setting, a connection that as far as we know

have not yet been explored. These Ferrara psalm settings survive in two choirbooks, now in Modena,

Biblioteca Estense, covering the vesperal psalter for the whole week. For most psalms only

superius and tenor is written down, and contratenor voice(s) was improvised based on conventional

formulas and rules of counterpoint. This practice will be carefully reconstructed by the singer

of Cantores Sancti Gregorii.

For this programme, keeping with what we know about the personnel of the Capella Marciana in

16th century we use 8 singers, 4 instruments (alta capella) and an organ.

About the Ensemble

The ensemble Cantores Sancti Gregorii was founded in

2013 by Jan Janovcik as an experimental artistic platform

for performance of early music. The ensemble specializes

in sacred and religious music with a special focus on

Gregorian chant and polyphony inspired therewith. Recognizing

the inexhaustible power of inspiration that can

be found in beauty and tradition Cantores always strive

to present sacred music in its integral liturgical context,

its 'Sitz im Leben', whether that be in a concert or in an

actual liturgical celebration.

The ensemble gathers singers who are not afraid to look

for beauty at unexpected places, gives space to both careful

study and use of historical sources as well as the instinctive

and subconscious in improvisation and

ornamentation. In the performance of chant and mediaeval

and renaissance polyphony, music that was often

born in violent times, Cantores look for interpretation

that is manly and strong.

In 2014 they performed at Canto Aperto festival in Sint

Truiden and also as a part of the Fabulous Fringe series of

Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht to wide public acclaim.


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