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Thursday, December 20 7:30PM, 2018 at Christ Church Cathedral



David Fallis - music director, Cappella Borealis 

Soloists: Arwen Myers, Danielle Sampson, Vicki St. Pierre, Colin Balzer, Kevin Skelton, Nicholas Burns, Paul Grindlay, Martin Auclair

With violins, cornetti, sackbuts, theorbos, keyboards and voices, this Christmas presentation recreates the lavish celebration of Christmas Vespers from the Church of San Marco in 17th-century Venice, with music by the incomparable Claudio Monteverdi!  Featuring works from his 1641 collection of sacred music, the concert will resound with the glorious sounds of a Christmas celebration you won’t soon forget. Gloria in excelsis!


Christmas Vespers
by Claudio Monteverdi

I Versicle: Deus in adiutorium
Respond: Domine ad adiuvandum me festina (Alessandro Grandi)

II Antiphon: Rex pacificus
Psalm 109: Dixit Dominum
Motet: Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius

III Antiphon: Magnificatus est
Psalm 110: Confitebor tibi
Motet: O bone Jesu

IV Antiphon: Completi sunt
Psalm 111: Beatus vir
Motet: Cantate Domino

V Antiphon: Scitote quia prope est regnum Dei
Psalm: 112: Laudate pueri


Motet: Salve Regina

VI Antiphon: Levate capita vestra
Psalm 116: Laudate dominum omnes gentes
Motet: Canzonetta spirituale sopra la nanna (Tarquinio Merula)

VII Hymn: Jesu redemptor omnium

VIII Antiphon: Cum ortus fuerit
Magnificat à 8

"David Fallis... brought out, to great effect, the power of Monteverdi's dissonant modernisms and eccentric orchestrations... More importantly, Fallis never forgot a purity of style."


— Opera Canada



On Christmas Eve, Vespers is celebrated with the sweetest sounds
of voices and instruments by the salaried musicians of the church
and by others hired specially to make a greater number,
since on that evening they sing in eight, ten, twelve and
sixteen choirs to the wonder and amazement of everyone,
and especially of foreign visitors, who declare that they
have never heard music as rare, or as remarkable in
other parts of the world.


This wonderful description of Christmas vespers in 17th-century Venice comes from Francesco Sansovino’s Venetia, città nobilis et singolare, descritta in XIIII libri (“Venice, Singular and Noble City, described in 18 volumes”). Sansovino was an Italian editor, translator and publisher, and his encyclopedic portrait of his adopted city, published in the second half of the 17th century, is a useful source for descriptions of churches, works of art, personalities, famous events, and customs of the time.

Claudio Monteverdi had come to work in Venice in 1612, after over twenty years of service for the Gonzaga family in Mantua, where he had been employed as a court musician (not, as is sometimes assumed, as a church musician). In fact, his famous 1610 publication of sacred music, which includes the beloved Vespers of 1610, was most likely assembled to display Monteverdi’s skill as a church composer at a time when, towards the end of his tenure with the Gonzagas, he became increasingly dissatisfied with his treatment and opportunities at the Mantuan court, and he began to seek a position with a leading ecclesiastical establishment elsewhere. He made tentative enquiries in Rome, but when, in 1612, the position of maestro di capella at San Marco in Venice came available, Monteverdi applied. In the report signaling his appointment to the position, the procurators of St. Mark’s commended him as “a most outstanding individual” and stated that they “are further confirmed in this opinion of his quality and virtue both by his works which are found in print and by those which today Their Most Illustrious Lordships have sought to hear”.

In Monteverdi’s time, San Marco was not the cathedral of Venice, but rather the chapel of the doge, the ruler of the Venetian city-state. It had its own special liturgy that sometimes varied considerably from the Roman rite formalised by the Council of Trent (the Tridentine rite).  Although in his new position, Monteverdi was required to compose a great deal of sacred music, it was not until 1640/41 that another large collection of his music appeared in print. This was the Selva morale e spirituale, which, like his 1610 publication, included music in a wide variety of styles, including music for the mass, psalm settings suitable for vespers services, and motets that could be used on many occasions. Interestingly, very few of the unusual items from the liturgy of San Marco were included. Monteverdi seems to have intended his publication for as many churches as possible, and was careful not to make the collection specific to his place of employment. It is from this collection that most of the music on tonight’s program is taken; we have constructed an order which follows the Tridentine rite for the First Vespers of Christmas, celebrated on Christmas Eve.

Vespers is one of the eight daily services that together form the Divine Office, celebrated (in some churches and monastic orders since the sixth century) around the clock at intervals of roughly every three hours. As early as the Middle Ages, the vespers service assumed special significance among the Office hours, and it has long been a favourite for musical elaboration. The service consists of an opening verse and response; five psalms, each preceded and followed by an antiphon (a brief work of plainsong specific to the themes of the day); a short Bible reading; a hymn; another verse and response; the Magnificat, also preceded and followed by an antiphon; prayers, and a benediction.

In a 1639 set of rules governing services in Venice, it was allowed that sacred motets could be sung between the psalms at vespers. Most likely, these motets acted as “antiphon replacements” by which an appropriate sacred motet could be substituted for the antiphon repeated after each psalm. We have followed this practice, and in our choice of motets have concentrated on celebratory texts, and texts relating to the two main figures of the Christmas Eve story, Mary and Jesus. All of the music on the program is by Monteverdi, except the opening respond, set by Alessandro Grandi, and the remarkable spiritual madrigal by Tarquinio Merula which is used as the antiphon substitute after Laudate dominum omnes gentes. Grandi was an important composer of church music and solo songs who acted as Monteverdi’s deputy at San Marco for a period. Merula , another contemporary of Monteverdi, also wrote many unusual solo songs, including the Canzonetta spirituale sopra la nanna (“Sacred song based on “La nanna”). A nanna is an Italian genre of lullaby sung to the infant Jesus; Merula’s piece is one of the first works by an accomplished composer to use the rocking figure associated with the lullabies, and sets a heart-rending text in which Mary already sees the tribulation her son will face in his life.

The practice of antiphon substitution is a fascinating one because it creates such variety in the music of the vespers service. The age-old simplicity of the plainsong, followed by the spectacular grandeur of many of the psalm settings, followed by the intimacy of the motets makes for a remarkable panorama, especially in Monteverdi’s brilliant settings.


David Fallis


Tickets for the Pacific Baroque Series concerts at the Cathedral can be purchased:


Online Here


By calling the Victoria Conservatory of Music Box Office:​ 250.386.5311

In person:

  • At the Victoria Conservatory of Music & Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Performance Hall Box Office (900 Johnson Street, Victoria BC (box office charges apply)

  • Or at the Cathedral Office (930 Burdett Avenue)

  • And at the following outlets:

    • Ivy’s Bookshop: 2188 Oak Bay Ave

    • Munro’s Books: 1108 Government St


Parking Information

The Cathedral is located on Quadra Street at Rockland Avenue. 

Street parking is available on Quadra Street, Burdett Avenue, and Rockland Avenue, as well as at the south entrance to the Cathedral off Burdett.

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