Monteverdi Unfiltered: How to read Monteverdi part books

If you have found yourself singing a Monteverdi piece in your choir, perhaps you might want to unveil the mystery behind its original formats and not put your whole trust in a modern editor.

In my experience, reading from the original is not only better for the environment (fewer pages) and historically fun (you do feel a lot more connected to the music when you sing from the original notation), but it is actually a bit easier and less hectic than reading from modern scores.

The good news is that many of Monteverdi’s pieces are available online at the International Music Score Library Project in their original formats. When you go to his composer page, look under the Collections tab for them.

These parts can look a bit foreign at first if you’re used to seeing round notes vertically aligned with all the others parts in a modern score. These parts typically have no bar lines, use strangely shaped notes and rests, are somewhat crudely printed, and use odd time signatures. In the immortal words of the early music musicologist Jan Herlinger, “Everything was strange and difficult to read before you learned how to read it!”

If you have never tried early notation before, Monteverdi’s music is a great place to start, since the music is usually quite clear and easy. So let’s start from the beginning of a part to learn this system. Continue reading Monteverdi Unfiltered: How to read Monteverdi part books

Monteverdi Bass Part Book

This season, BREVE is doing a concert of Monteverdi’s music, including both sacred and secular music. Since we are doing Monteverdi, the music is rather available online, particularly in the original part book formats. I was originally reading straight from the old part books, but getting tired of the crude printing, I opted to draw out all of the music in Illustrator.

The final product is something quite nice.

The entire hour of music for me is only eight pages, or four sheets of paper. I used the original large block initials for each part and had Illustrator auto-trace them into cleaner vector images. I also replicated as exactly as possible all of the spelling conventions and abbreviations, including ampersands, m/n tildes, and long s’s. All of them are copied¬†exactly from part books except for Cantate Domino, which I could not find anywhere online, so I just converted it from a modern edition.

This is the first time I have typeset an entire concert folder into this system of notation. To me, it is not only much more elegant, but also more enjoyable. I feel a kind of intimacy with the music that I didn’t have when reading it from a score or from round notes. Having no bar lines also helps a lot with text stress, like in the “Confregit” section of the Dixit Dominus. Reading it with the added bar lines in a modern edition will tempt singers to sing “CON-fre-GIT re-GES” instead of “con-FRE-git RE-ges.” This book is satisfying to sing through.