9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


What Did They Really Sing in Eighteenth-century Venetian Churches?

Jonathan E. Glixon

When we think of sacred music in eighteenth-century Venice, the first things that come to mind are the elaborate works of Lotti, Vivaldi, and Galuppi. But was concerted music for virtuoso singers and players the norm or the exception? Did the Renaissance tradition of elaborate music in churches throughout the city continue into the late Baroque?

In this period, the regular use of concerted music is well established for both the Basilica of San Marco and the ospedali. For other religious institutions, however, the archives provide evidence for elaborate music almost exclusively on their annual patronal feasts; they had ceased employing trained professionals at other times, using instead choirs of priests.

Some clues as to the music that would have been performed on ordinary Sundays and feast days can be gleaned from the archive of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a confraternity which maintained a public church with a long tradition of elaborate music. By the second third of the eighteenth century, all music except that for the patronal celebration was provided by an organist and a choir of eight to twelve priests, one of whom was paid to compose and copy masses and motets sufficient to serve the choir for the year. It is the two large choirbooks he prepared that can provide the best evidence of the style of everyday church music; the pieces preserved there do not resemble works by Vivaldi or Galuppi, but rather are simple versions of the a cappella style of the sixteenth century.

The paper will be illustrated with recorded examples of works from the San Rocco choirbooks.

Conference Timetable
List of Participants
Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita