In my 6th form years (late 1960s!) I was invited to join an otherwise adult Madrigal Group that met once a month to sing through secular gems from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Other members of the group included my 6th form tutor and my English teacher but also a man called Alan Kitching, who was the group’s guiding spirit. He was a major figure in the revival of interest in Handel’s operas in this country but it is also thanks to him that I became acquainted with the music of a certain Claudio Monteverdi. Mostly we sang English repertoire, but no session passed without Alan reaching under his chair for a pile of music and ‘suggesting’ that we ‘have a shot at Monteverdi’s Book 5 tonight’. (The eight other books of madrigals were also available.) These announcements were greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation. I rapidly realised that this was brilliant and inventive music but also that the notes were hard and the words were in Italian! There was probably quite a lot of singing to ‘la’. It is striking how similar in style – especially in the harmony – our Jacobean Secrets are to those bold madrigals.
But I had met Monteverdi. My next encounters were via recordings, one called ‘Monteverdi at St Mark’s’ which included the tuneful Beatus vir and solos from the young Ian Partridge and Nigel Rogers and another from St John’s College, Cambridge which included two of the three surviving masses. One of these is represented by its vigorous Gloria in our forthcoming concert. During my university years I even sang a role in L’incoronazione di Poppea, one of CM’s three surviving operas. Then came the 1610 Vespers, but I suspect that I’ll have quite a lot to say about them and Monteverdi in general later in the year.