Jean-Baptiste Duval of the Venetian Republic’s French Embassy records that on Christmas Eve 1607, Midnight Mass in St. Mark’s was celebrated by the light of more than one thousand candles, sixty huge torches and silver lamps. He counted no less than eight ‘choirs’ of voices and instruments sounding back and forth across the gilded vaults from the high organ-galleries and the pulpit below.
At Mass on Christmas Day, the accompaniment was provided by two organs and several other instruments, notably trombones, cornetti and violins blending with the voices of the singers. Duval was too caught up in the ceremony to tell us who composed this magnificent music but we may reasonably assume that the Christmas music he heard was by one of the resident musicians at St. Mark’s – possibly the maestro di cappella, Giovanni Croce, but more likely the first organist, Giovanni Gabrieli, to whom Croce tended to leave the composition of music for the big festivals. It might also have been by Giovanni Bassano who was in charge of the instrumental ensemble at St. Mark’s and the composer of the vivacious motet for Christmas Day, Hodie Christus natus est.
Some of John Eliot Gardiner’s very first recordings were made for Decca, before he proceeded to make a series of celebrated recordings for Philips and Deutsche Grammophon. ‘Christmas in Venice’ was recorded with the Monteverdi Choir and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and included festive music of the early Baroque by Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Bassano. To this has been added the great ‘Magnificat’ section from the 1610 ‘Vespers’ of Monteverdi, in Gardiner’s first recording of the work, in January 1974.
Canzona ‘Sol sol la sol’
Hodie Christus natus est
Angelus ad pastores
Quem vidistis, pastores?
Sonata pian’ e forte
O magnum mysterium
Magnificat (Vespro della Beata Vergine, 1610)
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
John Eliot Gardiner
Recording producers: Michael Woolcock (1-9); James Mallinson (10)
Recording engineers: James Lock (1-9); Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot (10)
Recording locations: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, April 1972 (1-9), St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, UK, January 1974 (10)
‘John Eliot Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in performances that will take your breath away’ Customer review on Amazon.com
‘There is some grand and characteristically sumptuous music on this record of motets and instrumental pieces that might have been heard during the feast of Christmas in St Mark’s or one of the other great churches of Venice round about 1600 or a little later. A strong point in its favour, too, is the unhackneyed choice of programme’ Gramophone