Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers of 1610 “Duo Seraphim”

Monteverdi’s “Duo Seraphim,” from the Vespers of 1610, is in my ear because I am teaching a course about Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). This very musical English Puritan — his father was a composer; he himself played the gamba and the organ, and loved to sing — is as far removed from the Italian and Catholic Monteverdi as we might at first imagine. Monteverdi’s lines are florid, but so are Milton’s. Milton insists on an individual’s need to worship God, alone, without priest or liturgy; Monteverdi, though he is writing for high liturgical purposes in Venice’s San Marco, finds a way here to show us two (and then three!) seraphim singing God’s praise as if they were inventing it on the spot. And how serene it is in this recording by The Sixteen! It is the perfect parallel to Milton’s lines about how Adam and Eve hear the angels singing at night in Eden:

how often from the steep
Of echoing hill or thicket have we heard
Celestial voices to the midnight air,
Sole, or responsive each to other’s note
Singing their great Creator. [Paradise Lost, 5.680-84]

Nicholas Jones
Professor Emeritus of English, Oberlin College
EMA Board Member

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