Nicolò Jommelli (1714-1774), Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Sacred Music In 18th-Century Naples
In 18th-century Naples, a city teeming with churches and monasteries, ecclesiastical orders and confraternities, rites based on miracles, the saints, the Madonna or Christ’s Passion were innumerable, and allowed for an immediate explication of the sacred and of popular religious sentiment.
In such a context, ample space was given to texts such as the Miserere and the Salve Regina, which were set to music by nearly every local composer.
Inspired by the forceful images of the baroque, these musicians placed their compositional means at the service of musical expression which, though not contemplative, was nonetheless responsive to popular faith.
The Miserere, Psalm 50 of the Vulgate and the 4th penitential psalm, which expresses the contrition and terror of repented sinners in the face of divine justice, was sung during Holy Week and funeral Offices.
Salve Regina, the most famous of the four Marian antiphons of the Breviarium, which gives hope through the maternal mediation of the Madonna, was instead sung at the close of Vespers, from the Trinity Sunday to the first Sunday of Advent.
In order to underline these delicate sentiments, composers turned to the modern concertato style, often accompanying a solo voice by a group of strings and basso continuo or, more rarely, using two voices and adding some wind instruments.
The most commonly employed form was that of the so-called “Neapolitan” motet, a sort of chamber cantata without recitatives, whereby the various sections of the text were set to bipartite church arias of contrasting tempo, meter and tonality, for the purpose of exalting the contents of the words.