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God in the details

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Audience to benefit from students’ work to edit vespers

For the early music program at the University of North Texas, the two-night staging of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 is an artistic and academic achievement.

The Vespers demands technical precision of vocalists and musicians performing on historical instruments. It also asks performers to commit to a hefty artistic presence as they perform, said professor Hendrik Schulze, who’s directing both the artistic and academic aspects of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine.

“The way this actually started was that the publisher — Barenreiter — contacted me and said, ‘Would you be willing to do an edition of the Monteverdi vespers?’” Schulze said.

Schulze, a native of Germany, said he’s written editions for the prestigious music publisher before, and his name came up when it sought a new edition of the vespers, one of the most popular and most performed works by the composer. In fact, Schulze said the work is likely the most popular piece of 17th-century church music.

“I told them I couldn’t possibly do it,” Schulze said. “Yeah, it’s a huge amount of work that’s involved with all this and I just didn’t have the time.”

The publishing house didn’t accept his response. It wanted a new edition that would reflect what early music has discovered about the composer, how he most likely would have intended the vespers to sound, and how 17th-century musicians would have played the vespers. Schulze said Oxford University has a more recent edition done by scholar Jeffrey Kurtzman, but this didn’t deter Barenreiter from pursuing a new German edition.

“I said the only way for this to work for me to do this was to tie it to teaching, with actually having the students do the edition, and I would supervise that,” he said. “The publisher required reassurance for [student involvement], and I told them I could vouch for the quality.”

This edition marks the first to involve students in a Barenreiter project.

A small group of UNT graduate students enrolled in a seminar class that met three hours during twice-weekly classes. The students came from different disciplines. There were several music history students, a music theory student and one French horn player. Music history doctoral student Emily Hagen said the seminar took the students through the project, pacing them through research, writing, editing and proofing.

“I almost had the feeling throughout the semester that Dr. Schulze had structured the class as sort of a publishing cooperative,” Hagen said. “We would make decisions together. We’d meet together in class after having done research in small groups on a particular aspect. Then we’d present our research to the class.”

The students learned a lot about how the vespers had changed over time, and the class was well-versed on Monteverdi’s biography around the time the work was written.

“Our discussions affected the decisions we made about editing,” Hagen said. “And for some of those issues that have turned up new ideas that have come up for this edition, we thought very hard before making those decisions.”

Schulze said the project was finished early and submitted to Barenreiter before its deadline. Rounds of editing and proofing followed. The project began in 2011, and musicians and singers began studying the edition in January for the performances on Friday and Saturday.

The class work will be reflected in the performances.

“One of the differences is performance practice,” Schulze said. “There are certain movements in the vespers that appear to be very high — just the setting is very high for the voices and also for the instruments. And it is now accepted — and this is in the last 10 to 12 years — that they transposed those down. And that is reflected in our edition.”

A better understanding of medieval music tones will also make some small differences to the audience’s ears

“We have a wonderful moment at the end of the hymn ‘Ave Maris Stella’ [‘Hail Star of the Sea,’ an 8th-century song to the Virgin Mary], where the tenors are singing a downward line, an F-natural, and everyone else sings an F-sharp,” Schulze said. “Which sounds horribly dissonant, but once you do that with conviction, and not with the fear of ‘Oh, I’m doing something wrong here,’ all of a sudden you have this beautiful line in this part.

“I get goose  bumps when I hear this, now.”VESPERS OF 1610What: UNT Collegium Singers, members of the UNT Baroque Orchestra and guest artists perform the entirety of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610.

8 p.m. Friday at Cathedral Guadelupe, 2215 Ross Ave. in Dallas. Tickets cost $30 for VIP seating, $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

8 p.m. Saturday in Winspear Hall at UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center, 2100 I-35E. Tickets cost $10 for adults; $8 for seniors, non-UNT students, children, seniors and UNT faculty and staff; free for UNT students with valid ID. For reservations, visit or call 940-369-7802.