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Choral Music Notes - Claudio Monteverdi Mass for four voices (1650)

Dr. Jimbob's Monteverdi page, with a short biography

Contents of this page:

  • Notes on Monteverdi's Mass for four voices (1650)
  • Translation of the Mass text
  • Recommended recordings
  • Bibliography
  • Web sites with more information
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    Notes on Monteverdi's Mass for four voices (1650)

    Monteverdi's life as an opera and madrigal composer is well documented from the paper trail that accompanied large-scale productions and publications, and from the composer's letters. His work as a church musician is not nearly as thoroughly documented. We know that he wrote music not only for St. Mark's, but for a variety of other churches and confraternities in Venice. Most of this music called for the more practical seconda prattica style of accompanied melody. Monteverdi published an anthology of sacred music that he wrote in Venice in the Selva Morale e Spirituale in 1640. A second anthology, the Messa a quattro voci e Salmi, was published posthumously, in 1650, by Monteverdi's pupil and admirer Alessandro Vincenti. Neither edition leaves any indication as to when or why any of the works were written.

    Monteverdi did not restrict his interests to the modern seconda prattica. Church records indicate that he bought Mass settings by Roman masters, including Palestrina, the master of prima prattica, for use in daily Mass services. Monteverdi almost certainly wrote multiple settings of the Mass Ordinary text himself, though only three of them survived by publication. Two of these settings call for a choir of four parts, with organ basso continuo.

    The Mass setting published in the 1650 anthology is written in the Dorian mode, a scale associated with Renaissance music. The Mass is rich with imitative counterpoint and long arching lines which extensively work out a single thematic idea in multiple different ways. One might think of it, then, as Monteverdi's effort to look back at the learned, increasingly obsolete prima prattica style. But the mass also features major and minor tonalities mixed in with Dorian modal harmonies, madrigal-like use of expressive dissonances and abrupt shifts of rhythm and meter, techniques associated with the seconda prattica. Phrases are deliberately kept relatively short, often with a single note for each syllable so that the text can be clearly understood. Monteverdi's Mass of 1650 thus uses the rich textures of Renaissance counterpoint while retaining the clarity and expressiveness of the new style. New and old styles are blended together to create something with distinctive touches of both.

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    Texts and Translations

    The left column contains the Latin text, plus a word / for / word / translation / where / necessary. The right column contains a more idiomatic English translation. The choral movements are as follows:
  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Credo
  • Sanctus
  • Benedictus
  • Agnus Dei

    Kyrie eleison.
    Christe eleison.
    Kyrie eleison.

    Lord, have mercy upon us.
    Christ, have mercy upon us.
    Lord, have mercy upon us.
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    Gloria / in / excelsis / Deo.
    Glory / in / highest / to God.

    Et / in / terra / pax / hominibus / bonae / voluntatis.
    and / on / earth / peace / to men / of good / will.

    Glory to God in the highest.

    and on earth peace to all those of good will.

    Laudamus te.
    Benedicimus te.
    Adoramus te.
    Glorificamus te.

    We praise you,
    We bless you,
    We adore you,
    We glorify you.

    Gratias / agimus / tibi / propter / magnam / gloriam / tuam.
    Thanks / we give / to you, / for / the great / glory / Yours.

    We give thanks to You, according to Your great glory.

    Domine / Deus, / Rex / coelestis, / Deus / Pater / omnipotens.
    Lord / God / King / of heaven / God / Father / almighty

    Domine / Fili / unigenite, / Jesu / Christe.
    Lord / son / only-begotten / Jesus / Christ

    Domine / Deus, / Agnus / Dei, / Filius / Patris.
    Lord / God / lamb / of God / son / of father

    Lord God, king of heaven, God the almighty Father.

    Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.

    Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.

    Qui / tollis / peccata / mundi, / miserere / nobis.
    Who / remove / the sins / of the world, / have mercy / on us.

    Qui tollis peccata mundi, / suscipe / deprecationem / nostram.
    Who remove the sins of the world, / receive / entreaty / ours.

    Qui / sedes / ad / dexteram / Patris, / miserere nobis.
    Who / sits / at / the right hand / of the Father, / have mercy on us.

    You who remove the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

    You who remove the sins of the world, receive our prayer.

    You who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

    Quoniam / tu / solus / Sanctus.
    because / you / alone / holy

    Tu / solus / Dominus.
    you / alone / Lord

    Tu / solus / Altissimus, / Jesu Christe
    you / alone / highest / Jesus Christ  

    Cum sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris,


    Because you alone are holy.

    You alone are the Lord.

    You alone are the highest, Jesus Christ

    With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father,

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    Credo / in / unum / Deum,
    I believe / in / one / God,

    Patrem / omnipotentem,
    Father / Almighty,

    factorem / coeli / et / terrae,
    maker / of heaven / and / earth,

    visibilium / omnium, / et / invisibilium.
    visible things / all / and / invisible things.

    I believe in one God,

    the Almighty Father,

    maker of heaven and earth,

    and all things visible and invisible.

    Et / in / unum / Dominum / Jesum / Christum,
    And / in / one / Lord / Jesus / Christ

    Filium / Dei / unigenitum,
    Son / of God / only-begotten

    et / ex / Patre / natum / ante / omnia / saecula.
    and / from / Father / born / before / all / ages

    Deum / de / Deo, / lumen / de / lumine,
    God / from / God / light / from / light

    Deum / verum / de / Deo / vero.
    God / true / of / God / true

    Genitum, / non / factum, / consubstantialem / Patri:
    Begotten / not / made / of one substance / with the Father

    per / quem / omnia / facta / sunt.
    by / whom / all things / made / were

    Qui / propter / nos / homines,
    Who / for / us / men

    et / propter / nostram / salutem
    and / for / our / salvation

    descendit / de / caelis.
    descended / from / heavens

    Et / incarnatus / est / de / Spiritu / Sancto
    and / made flesh / was / by / Spirit / Holy

    ex / Maria / Virgine. / Et / homo / factus / est.
    from / Mary / Virgin / and / man / made / was

    Crucifixus / etiam / pro / nobis / sub / Pontio Pilato:
    crucified / also / for / us / under / Pontius Pilate

    passus, / et / sepultus / est.
    suffered / and / buried / was

    Et / resurrexit / tertia / die, / secundum / Scripturas.
    and / rose again / third / day / according to / Scripture

    Et / ascendit / in / caelum: / sedet / ad / dexteram / Patris.
    and / ascended / into / heaven / sat / at / right / Father

    Et / iterum / venturus / est / cum / gloria,
    and / again / will come / is / with / glory

    judicare / vivos / et / mortuos:
    to judge / living / and / dead

    cujus / regni / non / erit / finis.
    whose / reign / not / will be / end

    And (I believe) in one Lord Jesus Christ,

    the only-begotten Son of God,

    and born of the Father before all ages.

    God from God, Light from Light,

    True God from True God.

    Begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father:

    by whom all things were made.

    Who, for us

    and for our salvation

    descended from the heavens.

    And was made flesh by the Holy Spirit

    from the Virgin Mary, and was made human.

    And was also crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

    he suffered, and was buried.

    And he rose again on the third day, in accordance with scripture.

    and he ascended into heaven, and sat at the right of the Father.

    And he will come again with glory,

    to judge the living and the dead,

    and his reign shall have no end.

    Et / in / Spiritum / Sanctum, / Dominum, / et / vivificantem:
    and / in / Spirit / Holy / Lord / and / bringer of life

    qui / ex / Patre / Filioque / procedit.
    who / from / Father / and Son / goes forth

    Qui / cum / Patre, / et / Filio / simul / adoratur / et / conglorificatur:
    who / with / Father / and / Son / together / prayed to / and / glorified

    qui / locutus / est / per / Prophetas.
    who / speak / is / through / Prophets

    And (I believe) in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life,

    who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

    who is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and Son,

    who spoke through the Prophets.

    Et / unam / sanctam, / catholicam / et / apostolicam / Ecclesiam.
    and / one / holy / catholic / and / apostolic / Church

    Confiteor / unum / baptisma / in / remissionem / peccatorum.
    I acknowledge / one / baptism / for / remission / of sins

    Et / expecto / resurrectionem / mortuorum.
    and / I expect / rising again / of dead

    Et / vitam / venturi / saeculi. / Amen.
    and / life / coming / world / Amen

    And (I believe) in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

    I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiving of sins.

    And I await the rising again of the dead,

    and the life of the age to come. Amen.
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    Sanctus, / Sanctus, / Sanctus,
    Holy / Holy / Holy

    Domine Deus Sabaoth,
    Lord / God / of Hosts

    pleni / sunt / caeli / et / terra / gloria / tua.
    filled / are / heavens / and / earth / glory / your

    Osanna in excelsis!
    Hosanna / in / highest

    Holy, Holy, Holy,

    Lord God of Hosts,

    the heavens and earth are filled with your glory.

    Hosanna in the highest!
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    Benedictus / qui / venit / in / nomine / Domini.
    blessed / who / comes / in / name / of Lord

    Osanna in excelsis!
    Hosanna / in / highest

    Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

    Hosanna in the highest!
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    Agnus Dei, / qui tollis peccata mundi, / miserere nobis.
    Lamb of God / who removes the sins of the world, / have mercy on us.

    Agnus Dei, / qui tollis peccata mundi, / miserere nobis.
    Lamb of God / who removes the sins of the world, / have mercy on us.

    Agnus Dei, / qui tollis peccata mundi, / dona / nobis / pacem.
    Lamb of God / who removes the sins of the world, / give / us / peace

    Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

    Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

    Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world, grant us peace.
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    Recommended recordings

    There are a few good recordings of the Monteverdi Mass for Four Voices in print. One good performance is Harry Christophers's recording on Hyperion with The Sixteen. Those on a budget can try searching the Berkshire Record Outlet for cut-out, or remaindered, recordings. Quantities of these are limited, but as of January 2003, you can still buy a copy of my favorite recording, Philippe Herreweghe's Harmonia Mundi CD.

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    Recommended Reading

  • Arnold, Denis. Monteverdi Church Music (BBC Music Guides). London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1982.
    A concise guide to Monteverdi's sacred music and the details in Monteverdi's life that influenced their creation.

  • Brindle, Reginald Smith. "Monteverdi's g minor Mass: An experiment in construction." The Musical Quarterly 54:3 (1968): 352-360.
    An interesting analysis of Monteverdi's Mass which demonstrates how Monteverdi derives most of his music from a relatively simple opening motif.

  • Fabbri, Paolo (trans. Tim Carter). Monteverdi. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
    A landmark study of Monteverdi's music, providing a history of all of his most important compositions and analysis of the compositions.

  • Stevens, Denis. Monteverdi: sacred, secular, and occasional music. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978.
    An expanded version of the doctoral thesis of the other great English-language Monteverdi scholar named Denis. This volume sought to catalog and describe Monteverdi's major known compositions, and provides some history and analysis.

  • Jeffers, Ron, ed. Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, vol. 1: Sacred and Latin texts. Corvallis, OR: Earthsongs, 1988.
    A really nifty volume with all of the Latin texts commonly used in sacred music, along with a word-for-word translation which inspired the format above, annotations about the texts and their backgrounds, and a list of examples of each text. Indispensable for choral conductors and singer-nerds like me.
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    For more information:

  • IMSLP page on the Mass of 1650
    Public domain scores of the mass, including facsimiles of some pages from the first edition.

  • Choral Public Domain Library page on the Mass of 1650
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