A pillar of Baroque sacred repertoire, Monteverdi’s Vespers is open to countless interpretations on record, as Lindsay Kemp discovers.
Monteverdi’s Vespers is an iconic work in more ways than one. For the composer, who published it 400 years ago in 1610, it was a calculated summation of his skill as a writer of sacred music at a time when he most needed to advertise it. Aged 43, and largely known as a madrigalist, he wanted to escape the frustrations of working at the court of the Gonzaga dukes in Mantua and find a new job, ideally at the Papal chapel. In the event, the publication almost certainly helped him gain a prestigious alternative, the post of maestro di cappella at St Mark’s in Venice, which he would keep until his death in 1643.