Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Madrigals Book II
Monteverdi's Second Book of Madrigals was published byAngelo Gardano in Venice in 1590 when the composer was just 22 years old andstill acknowledging himself to be a disciple of his former teacher Marc'AntonioIngegneri. Appearing barely three years after his first work devoted to thehighest form of Renaissance linguistic and musical experimentation, this newbook was dedicated to Giacomo Ricardi, an influential figure in Milanese life.We know that Monteverdi's talents as a violist had been recognised in Milan,but not whether he chose his dedicatee because he was still seeking a positionthere or because he was grateful for a recommendation already made to the courtof the Gonzaga family -- he was engaged by Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga as a viol orviolin-player there around that time (1589/90). It seems likely that Monteverdihad tried on more than one occasion to gain an introduction to this prestigiouscourt: by setting in his Second Book a significant number of poems by TorquatoTasso, a favourite of both the Estensi family of Ferrara and the Gonzagas ofMantua, he may well have been aligning himself with the court which mostappreciated and encouraged the development of the madrigal as the symbol ofsynthesis between the arts and the fruit of contemporary aristocratic culture.
In these new works he moves almost completely away from therepetitive structure typical of the First Book (Naxos 8.555307), and towardsthe \form without a form" which is shaped around the lyric that inspires andsustains it. The poetry and images chosen here emphasize the two favouritethemes of court culture: love and nature. While the composer and contemporarymusical culture had already covered the first of these in some detail, that ofnature, in its various guises -- vivid, gentle, unbridled and passionate --offered Monteverdi ample opportunity for the word-painting and pictorialismwhich characterize this book. Protagonists' sentiments can be perceived in theenraptured contemplation of the sights and sounds of nature, whether they aremirrored in or contrasted with the serenity offered by this spectacle.
One example of this is the two-part madrigal Non silevav'ancor 1 and 2, undoubtedly one of the most famous and frequently studiedpieces not only of this book but of the entire madrigal repertoire. Initiallythe music is subdued , describing a still sleeping nature. Images relatingto the imminent daybreak -- the moment just before dawn, the birds still intheir nests and the glow of Venus' light (non si levav[a] ... ne spiegavan ... mafiammeggiava) -- conceal the protagonists on whom we gradually zoom in: twolovers who must part after a joyful night together. Their many differentimpulses then appear: kisses, tears and sighs. In the second part 2 thesefeelings are increasingly transformed into dreadful suffering as natureawakens, setting the seal on their separation. The music follows the turn ofevents with a series of examples of word-painting: the due vaghi amanti becometwo solo voices, Venus' fiammeggiare fleet and sparkling writing followed by asweet love theme, the birds' flight a whirl of notes, the felice notte adance-like theme, the sospiri an interrupted sequence, the pianti and sufferingof the partita (which for the lovers is almost synonymous with death) harsh anddissonant harmonies and melodic leaps whose boldness is still striking today.Most striking of all here are the silences, translated into musical pauses thatfrom here on Monteverdi elevates into moments of maximum expressivity.Brilliant too is the presence of the opening theme whose notes arch gentlyupwards to mirror the sunrise, recurring at the end of the first section of thepiece and again in the second, when the much anticipated and feared appearanceof the sun condemns the lovers to the pain of separation.
Nature, with its movements, sounds and colours, is again theprotagonist (here without human counterparts) in Ecco mormorar l'onde #, amasterpiece of great freshness in which somnolent nature wakes at dawn, with ashiver of life starting from the darker voices in the lower tessitura andgradually unfolding towards the higher voices. These then imitate the sound ofbirdsong and, from the initial darkness, announce fanfare-like the triumphant entryof the sun to illuminate the sea and the mountains, and breathe gentle gusts ofwind over them (as suggested by flurries of notes that chase each other throughthe different voices). Rarely do we find such accurate, sophisticated andeffective skill at evoking visual drama elsewhere in the madrigal repertoire.
Two other madrigals form with Ecco mormorar a delightfultriptych set to Tasso poems published between 1586 and 1587: Dolcemente dormiva$ e Mentr'io mirava fiso @. These three pieces are quite deliberately placed atthe heart of the book and begin with a kind of recitative, a repeated note forsolo voice, then taken up by three voices, leading to a wonderful fusion ofcounterpoint and harmony, varied tonal combinations and a knowing musical inspirationwhich perfectly interprets and accentuates the playful and often mischievoustext. In Dolcemente dormiva the reflective held notes and the rapid melodieswhich signal the stormy arrival of the little cupids emphasise a lover'scontrasting feelings of desire and timidity towards his beloved. A beautifulcentral episode, surely something more than simple word-painting, provides amusical description of the way he gradually and fearfully lowers his lips tohers: the slowly descending melody is in complete contrast to the ascendingscale which follows, representing the sensation of paradise offered by thesensual meeting of their lips.
There are many other amorous, even erotic, scenes in thisbook, from Quell'ombr'esser vorrei 0 to Intorno a due vermiglie 6, and Non sonin queste rive 7 to Tutte le bocche belle 8. Their conspicuous presence makesit seem all the more likely that Monteverdi was seeking patronage from theGonzaga family, who had after all built the Palazzo del Te with its manyfrescoes on the theme of love. Still in this amorous, ironic field, we findMentr'io mirava fiso @, a masterpiece of counterpoint, a rapid whirl ofsuperimposed and contrasting texts and melodies, perfectly depicting theconfusion and bewilderment caused by Love. All that remains to the man struckby Cupid's arrows (in this case by "two lovely little sprites") is to yield andabandon himself to desperate cries for help which in the second part of themadrigal materialise into highly effective slow-moving superimposed melodies,with dissonant vertical harmonies (in contrast with the horizontal nature ofthe first part). The same process is seen in Non m'?¿ grave'l morire (, mostimpressive for its gradually developed and beautiful harmonies on the wordslagrimar per piet?á, after a horizontal first section (beginning in recitativostyle on a single note) and a reflective second section in which clusters ofvoices move vertically with the same rhythm and words.
S'andasse Amor a caccia ! is a charming fresco whichtransports us into the description of a hunting party, with all the calls andother sounds of this typical Renaissance court event. The final piece in thisbook is Cantai un tempo ?í, an "archaic" madrigal in terms both of itscompositional process and the choice of poet (the classical scholar PietroBembo, 1470-1547, a representative of an older era). This is an entire piecededicated to word-painting, whose "archaistic motet-like style with luxuriantmelismas and an uninterrupted flow of the five voices, somewhat in the style ofthe Rore of 1542 or of Willaert's Musica Nova" (Einstein, The Italian Madrigal,1949) demonstrates the way in which Monteverdi unders