Last November, Third Practice, directed by Brian Bartoldus, performed Father Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine in a liturgical celebration of Solemn Vespers and Benediction in Washington DC. Together with this work was a new composition by Baltimore-based composer, Joshua Bornfield, Beatis videamus, taking as its text the Litany of the Saints and as its musical inspiration the motifs found in the Monteverdi vespers. Third Practice were joined by members of Chorus Sine Nomine who provided the plainchant antiphons, and instrumentalists on period instruments.
As is well-known, the various parts of the Monteverdi Vespers do not themselves constitute Vespers of Our Lady in the Roman Rite. In fact, there is some ongoing discussion about the intended use of the settings. Were they intended to be sung together at all? Were they intended for another feast altogether? And so the celebration presented here had to draw also on the plainchant antiphons of the Roman office, and imaginatively position some of the Monteverdi movements around (and outside) the liturgical office to try to use as many of the musical movements as possible. This saw the Pulchra es sung before the office began, the beautiful Duo Seraphim as the altar was prepared for Benediction, and Audi cœlum as an offering to Our Lady after the conclusion of Benediction. It also meant that Monteverdi’s setting of Nigra sum (which in fact contains the texts of both the third and fourth antiphon for Vespers of Our Lady) was sung between the third and fourth psalm, without any break.
This celebration was the third performance of the Vespers by Third Practice, and the only liturgical performance. It was also the best-attended of all three, and attracted a large number of Catholic and non-Catholic faithful for what was a primarily liturgical act of worship, but also a opportunity for a cultural interchange. By presenting the cultural heritage of the Church in its proper context, the “congregation” and the “audience” (as different people saw their roles) were exposed to the full beauty and splendor of the Church’s ritual prayer. It was also an opportunity to include a fine new composition, which itself promotes the Church as a primary patron of the arts, not as an end itself but for the greater glory of Almighty God.
Below you can find a video of the whole liturgy, as well as some pictures (full album here).