Claudio Monteverdi

Biography

Born: May 15, 1567; Italy   Died: Nov 29, 1643; Italy   Period: Baroque
If one were to name the composer that stitches the seam between the Renaissance and the Baroque, it would likely be Claudio Monteverdi -- the same composer who is largely and frequently credited with making the cut in the first place. The path from his earliest canzonettas and madrigals to his latest operatic work exemplifies the shifts in musical thinking that took place in the last decades of the sixteenth century and the first few of the Read more seventeenth.

Monteverdi was born in Cremona, Italy, on the May 15, 1567. As a youth his musical talent was already evident: his first publication was issued by a prominent Venetian publishing house when he was 15, and by the time he was 20 a variety of his works had gone to print. His first book of five-voice madrigals, while bearing a dedication to his Cremonese mentor Ingegnieri, succeeded in establishing his reputation outside of his provincial hometown, and helped him find work in the court of the Duke Gonzaga of Mantua. His compositions from the Mantuan period betray the influence of Giaches de Wert, who Monteverdi eventually succeeded as the maestro di cappella. It was around this time that Monteverdi's name became widely known, due largely to the criticism levied at him by G.M. Artusi in his famous 1600 treatise "on the imperfection of modern music." Artusi found Monteverdi's contrapuntal unorthodoxies unacceptable and cited several excerpts from his madrigals as examples of modern musical decadence. In the response that appeared in the preface to Monteverdi's fifth book of madrigals, the composer coined a pair of terms inextricably tied to the diversity of musical taste that came to characterize the times. He referred to the older style of composition, in which the traditional rules of counterpoint superseded expressive considerations, as the prima prattica. The seconda prattica, as characterized by such works as Crudi Amarilli, sought to put music in the servitude of the text by whatever means necessary-including "incorrect" counterpoint-to vividly express the text.

In 1607, Monteverdi's first opera (and the oldest to grace modern stages with any frequency) L'Orfeo, was performed in Mantua. This was followed in 1608 by L'Arianna, which, despite its popularity at the time, no longer survives except in libretti, and in the title character's famous lament, a polyphonic arrangement of which appeared in his sixth book of madrigals (1614). Disagreements with the Gonzaga court led him to seek work elsewhere, and finally in 1612 he was appointed maestro di cappella at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.

His earliest years at Venice were a rebuilding period for the cappella, and it was some time before Monteverdi was free to accept commissions outside his duties at the cathedral. In 1616 he composed the ballet Tirsi i Clori for Ferdinand of Mantua, the more-favored brother of his deceased and disliked ex-employer. The following years saw some abandoned operatic ventures, the now-lost opera La finta pazza Licori, and the dramatic dialogue Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.

The 1630s were lean musical years for Monteverdi. Political battles and an outbreak of the plague left him without commissions from either Mantua or Venice. However, with the opening of Venetian opera houses in 1637, Monteverdi's operatic career was revived. A new production of L'Arianna was staged in 1640, and three new operas appeared within two years: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia, and L'incoronazione di Poppea. This resurgence preceded his death by just a few years: he passed away in Venice in 1643. Read less

Songs to Mary - Monteverdi, Grandi, Carissimi: Motets / Robert Crowe
Release Date: 02/22/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 10054   Number of Discs: 1
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Sacred Garland - Devotional Chamber Music From The Age Of Monteverdi / Gonzaga Band, Et Al
Release Date: 07/28/2009   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 761   Number of Discs: 1
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Claudio Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine (1610)
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Ambronay  
Catalog: 41   Number of Discs: 2
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Flaming Heart - Monteverdi: Madrigals, Etc / I Fagiolini
Release Date: 01/16/2007   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 730   Number of Discs: 1
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Monteverdi: Fire And Ashes / Hollingworth, I Fagiolini
Release Date: 03/04/2008   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 749   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: L'Orfeo

 

About This Work
Monteverdi's Orfeo is one of the seminal works in the canon of Western music, the first great opera. When it was first given on February 24, 1607, in a room in the ducal palace at Mantua, the history of the genre dated back less than a decade. The Read more direct model for Orfeo was one of the earliest operas, Jacopo Peri's Eurydice, first performed in Florence in 1600 -- although dramatic settings of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice including music dated back at least a century earlier, stemming from the Renaissance fascination with Greek antiquity. The opera was commissioned by Francesco Gonzaga, the son of the Duke of Mantua (Monteverdi's first patron), for the Carnival season of 1607, and was given before the membership of the Accademia degli Invaghiti, one of the many artistic academies that played a major role in Italian cultural life.

The libretto for Orfeo was the work of Alessandro Striggio, who based his version of the legend largely upon Ovid's Metamorphosis. It opens with an allegorical prologue in which Music pays compliments to the audience, particularly the ruling Gonzaga family, and then introduces Orpheus. The whole of the prologue is bound by an instrumental ritornello, also heard in the opera itself, that symbolizes the power of music, a topic important to most early operas based on the legend. The drama is then unfolded throughout five short acts which move from a pastoral scene in which Orpheus and Eurydice are celebrating their wedding day with a group of shepherds, through to the great dramatic turning point marked by the arrival of a Messenger giving the stunned assembly news of Eurydice's death. Joy now turns to lamentation and mourning, followed in the third and fourth acts by Orpheus' journey to the underworld to reclaim Eurydice -- the centerpiece of which is the great aria "Possente spirto," Orpheus' plea to the underworld. The published version of the score gives alternative versions, one a simple melodic outline, the other elaborately ornamented -- a uniquely important piece of contemporary documentary evidence of how embellishment was employed. The music throughout shows Monteverdi mixing both the new recitative style that inspired the birth of opera with older forms such as the madrigal (heard among the shepherds), and danced airs, all at the service of the central drama. Despite the use of some closed forms, the greatness of Orfeo lies in its total fulfillment of the objectives of the founding fathers of opera: the expression of a natural sequence of events in which the music is at the service of the words and of dramatic veracity.

The preservation of the first published edition of the score (Venice, 1609) gives full details of the instrumentation, thus providing further unusual performance insights for this period. The large body of instruments includes strings (violins, viols), brass and wind instruments (cornetti, recorder, clarino trumpet, four trombones), and a huge continuo grouping that includes a double harp, two chittarones (large continuo lutes), two small "flue" (pipe) organs, and a regal organ.

-- Brian Robins
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