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Vincenzo Ugolini

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington has a professional choir, of which I am a member. (In one of the pictures on the Web site, you can see me, directly over the oboe player but very out of focus.) We perform at the high Mass on Sundays at noon, as well as for various special celebrations and concerts throughout the year, and we sing a lot of music. One piece that stands out among those we are rehearsing right now is a motet by Vincenzo Ugolini (d. 1638) titled Beata es virgo Maria. It is in 12 parts (3 choirs), one of several pieces in that arrangement of voices published by this composer, and it is quite enjoyable to sing.

Ugolini was choirmaster at the French church in Rome (S. Luigi dei Francesi) and had a brief stint directing the choir of the Cappella Giulia, one of the big musical organizations in the Vatican, during which he composed the 12-part pieces. Financial records indicate that three organs were used to perform them, with the regular choir augmented by a score of temporarily hired singers and separated into three groups. Take that, San Marco! For anyone who is interested, we will be performing this piece at the Shrine at noon Mass on Assumption (August 15), the same feast for which it was composed.

It is particularly thrilling for a musicologist who is also a singer to perform historical music in a way that recalls its origins. We are not going to use three organs in our performance, although there are three available at the Shrine, but the parallels are often striking. The Shrine is an immense place, with no fixed congregation, and the choir is accomplished and led by extremely talented people, which is about as close to San Pietro in the early 17th century as one could hope to get. There are other big churches in the same situation around the world. However, nothing was as close to touching history as the tour that the Shrine Choir made of Rome in 1993, including singing Palestrina's motet Tu es Petrus at the tomb of St. Peter and works by Giovanni Anerio (d. 1630) in the Lateran Basilica where he was choirmaster. I think musicians alone among artists enjoy this chance to relive and be involved in the creative gestures of the past in such an intimate way.


Tami said...

I, too, love the Ugolini piece. However, I can not find a source for his printed music. What source do you use?

Charles T. Downey said...

We use the Mapa Mundi edition at the National Shrine, and they have at least three Ugolini motets in their catalogue. Plus there's an online score of Surge Petre (also for triple choir).

John Wiens said...

MAPA also has scores to two other fine ones - Exultate Omnes and Quae es Ista. Edited by Graham Dixon, a very fine musicologist. The Exultate's opening is a really superb piece of writing.