Mind your Mannerists: Music of de Wert, Gesualdo, Marenzio & Monteverdi
Amor, poichè non vuole Giaches de Wert (1535-1596)
Dunque baciar de Wert
Ma di chi de Wert
Coppia di donne Luca Marenzio (1553/4-1599)
Ch’io t’ami Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Deh! bella e cara
Ma tu più che mai dura
Moro, lasso Carlo Gesualdo (c.1560-1613)
Vezzosi augelli Marenzio
Non mi conosci tu de Wert
Ahi, lass’ogn’or de Wert
Io pur respiro Gesualdo
Dissi a l’amata mia Marenzio
Beltà, poi che t’assenti Gesualdo
T’amo mia vita! Gesualdo
Voi bramate Marenzio
Cor mio, mentre vi miro Monteverdi
Vaghi e lieti fanciulli Marenzio
Shannon Canavin & Eunsun Song, soprano
Thea Lobo & Martin Near, alto
Eric Rice, tenor
Seth Katz, bass
Notes on the Program
The term maniera, literally style, was first used in the 15th century to describe “good manners.” However, by the mid-16th century, the term had developed a meaning closer to “artificial” or “mannered.” Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo put forth the first mature statement of mannerism in his Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scultura et architettura of 1584. Lomazzo emphasized the importance of the idea (concetto) producing the internal design (disegno interno), resulting in a hidden formal intricacy in the artistic object itself as well as in the mind of the artist. In art, this concept is exemplified in the work of Michelangelo’s figura serpentinata, whose aim was to produce shocking pictorial or sculptural effects through exaggerated turning and twisting of the body. A similar goal was being sought in music, most intently by several composers active in Italy, who were able to convey both the straightforward meaning of the text through simple word-painting as well as the emotional extremes of the poetry through new heights of dissonance and chromaticism. These composers flourished during a period of experimentation, unrest, and disintegration between two periods of relative stability – the Renaissance and the Baroque – and created music that was in turn disproportionate, discontinuous, surprising, and novel. Despite their common approaches and goals, however, their compositional voices were as different as their careers.
Giaches de Wert emigrated to Italy from Flanders as a boy singer in the household of Maria di Cardona, Marchesa of Padulla. In about 1550, he may have moved to Novellara under the governance of the Gonzaga family. According to surviving records, Wert visited Mantua and Ferrara, where he met Cipriano de Rore, the legendary mentor of Monteverdi, among others. Next he moved to Milan, where he was employed as the governor’s maestro di cappella and in 1565 assumed the same position at the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara in Mantua. In 1570, Wert learned of his wife’s infidelity; she was forced to return to Novellara and later sent to prison after her plot to overthrow the Gonzaga was uncovered. While details of Wert’s activities during the 1570s are sketchy, it is clear that his ties to the Este court in Ferrara became increasingly strengthened, especially following a marriage that united the Mantuan and Ferrarese courts. He became involved with Tarquinia Molza, an accomplished musician and member of the second Concerto delle donne, but the relationship was ended because it was considered inappropriate for a lady-in-waiting to associate with a court musician, who held the same social rank as a servant. Wert continued to work at the Este court into his final years until he Gastoldi succeeded him as maestro di cappella in 1592. Wert died in 1595 in Mantua.
Despite a substantial corpus of sacred music in manuscripts from the basilica of Santa Barbara, Wert is known primarily as a composer of madrigals and occasional pieces. His early madrigals show a strong indebtedness to Rore in their use of chromaticism, representational melodic figures, and dark coloring. After his third book of madrigals, Wert’s style is more refined, including increasingly more textural contrast and declamatory style, as in Ahi, lass’ognor, where the contrapuntal opening gives way to a more homophonic texture towards the middle of the piece. His seventh book, however, revealed the beginning of his most radical change, reflected in the music’s epic style and theatrical gestures often associated with later composers such as Monteverdi, who spent the early part of his career in Mantua during Wert’s last years there.
While little evidence exists regarding his earliest years, Luca Marenzio was reported by his father to be in 36th year in 1588, when he was in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. His family resided in Brescia, where Marenzio probably received instruction in music from a local priest. He may later have studied with Giovanni Contino at Brescia Cathedral; he entered the service of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo after Contino’s death. He remained in that post until the cardinal’s death in 1578, when he transferred to Rome as Cardinal Luigi d’Este’s maestro di cappella (which, while perhaps not a full-blown musical establishment, employed several singers and instrumentalists). The cardinal’s strong ties to France led him in 1583 to offer Marenzio to the King of France as a gift, but this plan apparently failed, much to the composer’s relief. Following the death of Luigi d’Este, Marenzio likely worked for Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici in Rome and then spent some time without a patron and employed as a musician at the papal court and elsewhere. In 1595, the pope ordered Marenzio to take over as maestro di cappella at the court of King Sigismund III of Poland, but the composer had returned to Italy by 1598. Nothing certain is known of his biography between this time and his death; it is possible that he traveled to Milan with Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini or that he returned to the service of the Medici, and that at their estate he died in the care of his brother.
Marenzio was in high demand as a singer and lutenist throughout his career, but it was not until his service with d’Este, during which time he produced many volumes of madrigals, that his fame as a composer spread and he became known throughout Europe as the madrigalist. He is most notable for his detailed word painting, which later gave way to an advanced harmonic expressiveness. Each poetic phrase is treated with a different and variable musical idea, often translating verbal imagery into musical symbolism, as seen in the opening phrases of Coppia di donne, in which the two soprano voices beginning the piece represent the “couple of ladies” described in the text. Marenzio also favored sophisticated and expressive word painting, highlighting words with chromatic alterations, as in Voi bramate, where the word “uccidermi” (“kill me”) is treated with a flat in the tenor. Though this alteration, resulting in a sweet-sounding major chord, may seem contradictory on its face, this sweet effect is in fact well placed when one considers the dual meaning of the idea of “death” in the 16th century.
Carlo Gesualdo has been called “the greatest master of the chromatic idiom,” but he is probably most notorious among today’s audience for murdering his adulterous wife, an event that spurred his fame in his own day. The scandal was chronicled in several poems and novels by such illustrious writers as Tasso and Brantôme, which helped cultivate a wide interest in Gesualdo’s eccentric lifestyle and passionate dedication to his music. The composer’s influence has been felt even into the 20th century; Stravinsky orchestrated several of Gesualdo’s madrigals — including Beltà, poi che t’assenti, heard on tonight’s program — in his 1960 Monumentum pro Gesualdo, though it has been argued that Stravinsky misunderstood the chromatic element of the earlier composer’s music.
Gesualdo came from a noble family in the Italian principality of Venosa. In 1594, he traveled to Ferrara following his second marriage to Leonara d’Este, the niece of Duke Alfonso II. Gesualdo made it known publicly that he preferred the music of the Ferrarese over that of the Venetians and while in Ferrara, he took full advantage of the rich opportunities available to him, such as composing for the Concerto di donne, meeting his idol, Luzzascho Luzzaschi, and enjoying the prestige of membership in aristocratic avant-garde musical circles. As time passed, Gesualdo’s renowned melancholy grew deeper as he delighted in nothing but his music. Despite his ample wealth, he denied himself the enjoyment of his position and his deterioration continued until he ultimately died having failed in his goal of continuing his lineage.
Gesualdo published nine books of madrigals for five and six voices, one volume of madrigali spirituosi, and a number of sacred works. While his first two books of madrigals were more representative of the prima prattica (the “first practice,” exemplified by earlier madrigalists), he discarded this style in his next two volumes. These later publications established Gesualdo’s reputation as an accomplished composer; until that time he, had been considered merely a competent amateur. As Gesualdo’s style progressed, his music became more chromatic and exceedingly daring. It is known that Gesualdo had access to Vicentino’s chromatic arcicembalo, which was kept at the Ferrarese court, and he was undoubtedly influenced by the theory behind the instrument. It is clear that Gesualdo attempted to fashion a specific public image through his published music (his first two “lighter” books were penned under an assumed name). Alessandro Guarini compared Gesualdo to Dante in that he did not avoid harshness or dissonance in his imitation of the text.
Gesualdo’s madrigals are characterized by distinct musical phrases for each textual image and distinguished by extreme chromaticism, often resulting in disparate musical sections. Although Gesualdo’s use of chromaticism can usually be understood linearly within the rules of 16th-century counterpoint, the consecutive and simultaneous accumulation of dissonances, while each individually correct, causes the effect of blurring the intervallic relationships that justify them, as seen in the opening line of Moro, lasso. Gesualdo also employs pedal points at cadences, emphatic pauses, and chromatic alteration of harmonic intervals.
Claudio Monteverdi began his career in Cremona, where he studied music and composition with Marc Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di cappella of the Cremona Cathedral. His first compositions were some minor sacred pieces and his first book of secular madrigals was published in 1587. He traveled to Milan in 1589, where he likely performed for the Gonzaga family at Mantua, and by 1592 he was employed as a violinist by Duke Vincenzo I. His third book of madrigals, published in 1592, shows a strong influence of the then maestro di cappella, Giaches de Wert. In 1607, Monteverdi was elected to the Accademia degli animosi in Cremona, where his first opera L’Orfeo may have first been performed, and later reluctantly returned to Mantua following his wife’s death in 1607. While in Mantua, he supervised the production of his second opera L’Arianna, as well as two other staged works, celebrating the homecoming and wedding festivities of Francesco Gonzaga. He returned to Cremona following this exhausting period, where he spent a year in a severe depression. His father requested that Monteverdi be released from the service of the Gonzaga family, but his request was denied, leading Monteverdi to write to the court complaining of his many grievances. In 1610 he traveled to Rome and Venice, probably in search of a new position. Upon the death of Duke Vincenzo in 1612, Monteverdi was dismissed from his post and the next year appointed the maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. He received several commissions from Duke Ferdinando who had succeeded his brother Francesco in Mantua, but did not take up an offer to return to the court’s service in 1620. He continued to publish books of madrigals and other large-scale works, but with the opening of public opera houses in Venice in 1637, Monteverdi found a new avenue for his staged works and composed four new operas (Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Le nozze d’Enea con Lavini, L’incoronazione di Poppea, and La vittoria d’Amore). He took a final trip to his hometown of Cremona before his death in Venice in 1643.
While Monteverdi is known for his contributions to the development of the seconda prattica (it was he, in fact, who coined the term in response to attacks by the theorist Artusi), he was very indebted to the prima prattica style of Palestrina, as can be heard in the choral movements of his 1610 Vespro della Beata Virgine. His books of madrigals show a definite development, progressively including more dissonance, chromaticism, declamation, and use of instruments. He was ultimately most concerned with the faithful representation of the words in music and he assisted in the development of this ideal in instrumental music through his specification of instruments (a new practice at that time) and representation of emotion, which he explained in the preface to his eighth book of madrigals. His madrigal output represents both the old style, using points of imitation and clever contrapuntal techniques, and the new emotional intensity of the mannerist poetry. Both of these can be seen in the brilliant set Ch’io t’ami, with contrapuntal entrances occurring in the first movement at “se tu nol sai” and in the third movement at “che si rigida Ninfa,” while his masterful use of declamation at the opening of the second movement “Deh! bella e cara” strikes just the right chord to convey the emotions of the speaker.
Nicola Vicentino provides today’s performer with a perfect summary of the spirit of the mannerist movement in his L’Antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (1555) when he urges singers to “sing the words in accordance with the composer’s intention, and express with the voice intonations accompanied by the words with their affects: now cheerful and now sad, now sweet and now cruel…in this manner he moves the listeners more; this mode of changing…stirs the soul.”
© Shannon Canavin and Eric Rice