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Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709) was the reputed father of the instrumental concerto; what is not widely known is that he also composed sacred vocal music. Discovered in 2001, when the Berlin Sing-Akademie’s archive was returned from Kiev (where it had been hidden away since the Second World War), his three-movement Christmas motet Totus orbis, umbra canit (The whole world, the darkness sings), scored for soprano, two violins and continuo, is a splendid example of its genre. Torelli probably wrote it at Ansbach during a brief interregnum around 1700 when his employer, the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, temporarily suspended its orchestra, leaving its members to seek their fortune elsewhere. This is an exciting, technically challenging work full of exquisite touches that reaches the level of similar motets by Alessandro Scarlatti and looks forward to Vivaldi.
Music example (pdf)