Many people retain an image of the pipe organ as a giant, projecting majestic power, and dominating the space around it, with the sheer volume of its thunderous sounds. While many magnificent instruments can match the description above, most pipe organs can also adopt sound characteristics that are the exact opposite: intimate, meek, and in consort with voices and other instruments. This second "personality" of the pipe organ makes it a perfect companion to vocal and instrumental ensembles.
The organ's ability to blend and support other instruments turned out to be especially important at the beginning of the Baroque era, when a new concertato style unfolded. The concertato style ( "concertato" literally means in Italian "playing together") is characterized by various groups of instruments or voices sharing in the musical narrative, often in a complementary fashion. The style is almost always heard over a so-called "continuo group" that provides harmonic support for the melodic lines. The continuo group can include plucked instruments (harp, lute, theorbo) or harpsichord. In sacred music performed in churches the instrument of choice was the organ.
The concertato style has its roots some 16th-century performance practices at the San Marco Basilica in Venice, where singers were often divided into several groups located in various, often remote, parts of that immense church. The vast space of San Marco made it difficult for singers to sing together at the same time and tune to each other. Alternating groups of performers was, thus, initially done for pragmatic reasons. Very quickly the composers learned, however, that the interaction of distinctive groups of performers created new expressive possibilities. The concertato style was born.
The music featured in today's program was written by some of the most important musical personalities of the period: C. Monteverdi – one of the fathers of the Baroque; D. Buxtehude – a chief North German composter of the 17th century and one of the most important German organists before J.S. Bach; and Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki – a preeminent representative of the of the Polish Baroque.