Saturday Chorale: Claudio Monteverdi: Cantate Domino and Ecco mormorar l’onde


Monteverdi contributed a number of short motets, of which ‘Cantate Domino’  is one, to an anthology of motets for from one to eight voices published in 1620 by his fellow Cremonese Giulio Cesare Bianchi. It seems probable to me that Monteverdi wrote this motet quite a bit earlier than 1620 and donated it to Bianchi as a suitable for performance by a choir with slender resources. I’ve two reasons for thinking this:

  1. The scoring – it’a well within the range of a provincial choir with modest resources.
  2. The sequence he uses for the phrase ‘Cantate et exultate’  is also found at the end of his madrigal ‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’ – although the effect is quite different.

Monteverdi published his setting of Torquato Tasso‘s poem  ‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’ (‘Hear now the murmuring waves’) in 1590 by Monteverdi in his Second Book of Madrigals. It seems very unlikely to me that in 1620 Monteverdi should suddenly decide to reuse a piece of music that he’d written thirty years earlier. Surely it’s far more likely that he gave it to Bianchi (who was his friend and colleague at the Gonzaga court, Mantua during Monteverdi’s time there as maestro di cappella) and that Bianchi used it in his anthology years later. I’ve set up a playlist which you’ll find below with both pieces so that you can hear and decide for yourselves. The performance of ‘Canate Domino’ is by the University Singers of the University of Missouri – Columbia  it dates from May 18th 2010 and was given in Chiesa Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. The music video of ‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’ is by the Irish choir ‘New Dublin Voices’ and comes from their prize winning performance of the piece given at the Budapest International Choir Festival 2009. There are plenty of excellent performances of both pieces of music to be found on YouTube. I’ve picked these because I think that the University Singers of the University of Missouri bring out the amost playful back and forth between the choir parts very well. You can really hear the madrigal-like quality of the piece. I like the ‘New Dublin Voices’ performance they sing it relatively fast but with a very clear diction that does Monteverdi’s attempt to convey Tasso’s lyrical description of the souncds to be heard at sunrise full justice. The music videos, lyrics, Latin to English and Italian to English translations are all below the fold. The picture I’ve chosen to illustrate the posting is Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ found in Chiesa Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milano.

Enjoy :-).


Playlist source: Cantate Domino & Ecco mormorar l’onde a playlist on markfromireland’s YouTube channel.

Video Sources:

  1. Cantate Domino – Claudio Monteverdi – YouTube Uploaded by MUChoralEnsembles on Oct 6, 2010
  2. Ecco mormorar l’onde – YouTube Uploaded by jaywilsonmusic on May 6, 2009

Lyrics and Translation: Cantate Domino

Cantate Domino canticum novum,

cantate et benedicite nomini eius,

quia mirabilia fecit.

Cantate et exsultate et psallite.

Psallite in cythara et voce psalmi,

quia mirabilia fecit.

O sing unto the Lord a new song,

sing and speak well of his name,

for he has done wonderful things.

Sing and exult and rejoice.

Rejoice with the lyre and the voice of psalmody,

for he has done wonderful things

(After Psalm 97 (98))

Lyrics and Translation: Ecco mormorar l’onde


Ecco mormorar l’onde,

E tremolar le fronde

A l’aura mattutina, e gli arboscelli,

E sovra i verdi rami i vaghi augelli

Cantar soavemente,

E rider l’Oriente;

Ecco già l’alba appare,

E si specchia nel mare,

E rasserena il cielo,

E le campagne imperla il dolce gelo,

E gli alti monti indora:

O bella e vaga Aurora,

L’aura è tua messaggera, e tu de l’aura

Ch’ogni arso cor ristaura.

Hear now the murmuring waves

The rustle in the tree tops

As morning breezes stir the swaying branches.

And on the verdant boughs

The birds sing sweetly

Airs that greet the sunrise

The eastern sky is beaming.

See how the dawn arises

Mirror’d deep in the ocean.

She brightens all the heavens.

She turns to pearl drops of dew

And decks the mountains with gold.

O loveliest and gracious Aurora,

The Breezes are your heralds ,

And you are theirs envoy.

Scalded hearts to life restoring.

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