It’s Christmas Eve, 1629, at the Vatican palace, where a performance is taking place of The Shepherds of Bethlehem, an oratorio by Kapsperger with a libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi (later Pope Clement IX). The nativity story is told in two parts, beginning with the Shepherds being visited by an angel who announces the imminent birth of Jesus, followed by the angels surrounding Jesus in the manger. Between the two parts, a narrator (Testo) sings praises to Pope Urban VIII who we can assume was also at the performance.
Kapsperger developed solo writing for the lute and theorbo. Although Kapsperger’s family were German, it is thought that they settled in Venice where Kapsperger was probably born. He moved to Rome where he quickly established himself as an exceptional virtuoso.
The oratorio movements are interspersed with German and Italian motets from both Protestant and Catholic faiths, opening with Hassler who settled in Augsburg which was Catholic although he was Protestant. He was able to combine both Catholic and Protestant musical styles so that his compositions could be used in both contexts.
“It was an excellent presentation of lesser known Christmas music, performed by a group of young musicians who are helping to carry the baton in the Early Music World. It was an altogether enjoyable, immersive and fresh performance!” – Audience feedback, York Early Music Festival