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PREVIEW | Ottawa Bach Choir Presents Monteverdi: The Maestro of San Marco

By Anya Wassenberg on February 27, 2024

Ottawa Bach Choir (Photo courtesy of OBC)
Ottawa Bach Choir (Photo courtesy of OBC)

The JUNO award-winning Ottawa Bach Choir will perform rarely heard works by Claudio Monteverdi on March 2. Titled The Maestro of San Marco, the program includes both sacred and profane music by the Late Renaissance/Early Baroque master, and takes its name from his 30-year tenure as Maestro di cappella of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

“We are delighted to present rarely heard music by the Italian Baroque master, Claudio Monteverdi, which traces the journey from the balanced counterpoint of the Renaissance to the dramatic text-inspired music of the Baroque,” says Founder and Artistic Director, Lisette Canton in a statement.

Works to be performed include Monteverdi’s Messa a quattro voci da cappella and selected Madrigals from Books 1-8. The choir will be joined by a chamber instrumental ensemble.

L: Claudio Monterverdi, painted by Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644), from the Tyrolean State Museum collection (Public domain); R: The original title page of the 8th book of Madrigals by Monteverdi, dated 1638 (Public domain)
L: Claudio Monterverdi, painted by Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644), from the Tyrolean State Museum collection (Public domain); R: The original title page of the 8th book of Madrigals by Monteverdi, dated 1638 (Public domain)

Claudio Monteverdi

Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi lived from 1567 to 1643, and straddled the transition in Western music from the Renaissance to the Early Baroque. He is credited with pioneering and/or developing many orchestral techniques we now take for granted, such as the pizzicato, and the use of specific instrumentation. In his day, his work was considered so revolutionary that he was attacked by Giovanni Maria Artusi, a prominent music theorist of the era.

He’s also considered the grandfather of modern opera, although, unfortunately, most of his operas were lost over time. However, his Orfeo and L’incoronazione di Poppea, are still regularly performed today. L’Orfeo, which premiered in 1607, is the earliest opera written that is still performed.

His stylistic shift can be observed through his eight books of madrigals, written between 1587 and 1638; (a ninth book was published posthumously in 1651). The first four are characterized by a late Renaissance polyphonic style, or one where each voice sings its own melody in harmony with the others. The fifth book of the madrigals is the first to take on the characteristics of the early Baroque, which included the iconic basso continuo, or (typically) a single note bass line, and one voice carrying the melody against accompaniment by the other voices. It was his fifth book of madrigals (Quinto Libro), published in 1605, that sparked the controversy with Artusi, who attacked his new, modern style.

Monteverdi’s Messa da Capella a quattro voci was written in 1641. It was part of a collection of sacred works titled Selva Morale e Spirituale, which he composed during his time as the Maestro of San Marco (or mastro di cappella at St. Marks Basilica in Venice).

He began his tenure there in 1613 after a difficult period in his life, eventually becoming a priest in 1632. Monteverdi held the position until his death in 1643 at the age of 76.

The Concert

The Ottawa Bach Choir was founded in 2002 by Dr. Lisette Canton, and performs a variety of works, while keeping Bach’s choral works at the heart of their repertoire. In 2014, the OBC became the first Canadian choir ever to be included among the performers in Bachfest Leipzig. The OBC won the 2020 JUNO Award for Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral with its album, Handel: Dixit Dominus; Bach & Schütz: Motets.

The concert takes place at Knox Presbyterian Church, 120 Lisgar Street, in Ottawa, on March 2.

Tickets and more information about the concert [HERE].

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