Sunday, September 8, 2013

Carlo Gesualdo – Madrigals from Book VI


   Carlo Gesualdo was one of most original late renaissance composers. He is famous as musical rebel, who was exciding rules and bursting musical meanings. The one another reason for his fame is also fact, he was murderer. His harmonics were unseen in the era of polyphonic culmination which took place in works of Palestrina. In fact Gesualdo uses some harmonic ideas more usual for late romantic music 300 years later. The aim of such uncompromised attitude was to enhance the emotional impact of music. His works are vocal compositions. Main work is series of 105 madrigals for five voices published in six books during the period of 1594-1611, and many of them were probably composed to the own texts. He composed also sacred works – Sacrae Cantiones for five voices (1603) and six-voice Tenebrae Responsories (1611). Although his work was not massive, it has strong impact on Neapolitan school composers up to early barock Ferrara prodigy Girolamo Frescobaldi. 
   Carlo Gesualdo was noble man of aristocratic family related to popes and saints. Born about 1560 in Venosa, he received an excellent education in arts and humanities of poets and composers who became later his friends. One of them was his teacher composition Pomponio Nenna, who was also known for his madrigals. The other was more friend than teacher Torquato Tasso. Surrounded by artists from his early years, he was focused on music and arts as part of reality. There is widespread belief his style, comprising onomathopeic and emphatic meanings, was connected with his personal experiences. And despite the passage of four centuries, preserved testimonies are still shocking. 
   In 1586 he was married to his cousin Donna Maria d’Avalos. When after two years of marriage his wife started love affair with Fabrizio Carafa, he was the last to know about it. Two years later, October 16th, 1590, after four years of marriage, he arranged an ambush and caught his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto. He murdered them with the sword in his wife’s bed. It is not sure if he killed his rival himself or it was done by servants who helped him with spears. Daughter whose paternity was unsure has been killed as well. List of criminal atrocities committed that night on dead bodies is shocking even now, after more than four centuries passed. Next morning he ordered to put three butchered bodies on public display on the steps of Palazzo Severo.

Carlo Gesualdo – Madrigals from Book VI (1983)

   As a nobleman Gesualdo escaped punishment. He sought refuge fearing the revenge of the relatives of murdered wife or her lover. He fled to Ferrara and then to his castle in Gesualdo. As it was said by Wolfgang Fromme, “under the pressure of extreme psychological stress, Gesualdo developed compositional techniques which went far beyond the accepted conventions of his time”. But before he found relief in music, he cut down all forests around his palace and he did it himself. During his stay in Ferrara, Carlo Gesualdo started to publish first books of his madrigals – two were issued in 1594, third next year and fourth in 1596. Last two books were published in Gesualdo in 1611. He died of asthma in Gesualdo, September 8th, 1613. The last two books and especially Book VI is most extravagant artistically and the quintessence of Gesualdo’s stylistic achievements.
   Despite his personal history Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, Count of Conza known to the present day as Gesualdo da Venosa or Gesualdo di Venosa was probably most original composer of late 16th and early 17th century. His musical works, highly expressive almost ecstatic, with chromatised polyphonic structures show him as one of most original composers in history of music and one of most visionary in late Renaissance. Among numerous recordings of Carlo Gesualdo’s music, the choice of Madrigals from Book VI in CBS Masterworks series is worth of attention. It was recorded in Paris Deutsche Evangelische Christuskirche, 7-11 December 1981 and published in 1983. The rendition of Collegium Vocale Köln conducted by Wolfgang Fromme is one of the best. The last madrigal in this choice is No. 2 Beltà, poi che t'assentiBeauty, since you must abandon me, then with my heart take all my tormentsWith such a vision we can agree it or not. But we have to admit this is definitely the voice of traumatized man, who was able to enclose his feelings into highly efficient musical form. Five stars for music, concept and performance.

1 comment:

Krzysztof Szatrawski said...

The art on cover was painted by Luca Signorelli. It is the detail from The Damned are taken to Hell and received by Demons - about quarter of whole scene. The fresco is part of complete set Signorelli painted in Cappella Nuova in the Cathedral of Orvieto - the right wall besides the altar. Why on Madrigals cover it was printed as a mirror image, I don't really know.

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