MONTEVERDI: Madrigals, Book 4
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Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Madrigals Book IV
Monteverdi's Fourth Book of Madrigals was publishedin Venice by Ricciardo Amadino in 1603, a good elevenyears after his last published work. This period has oftenbeen examined by Monteverdi scholars as it seemsexcessively long for a composer whose previous workshad appeared at intervals of no more than two or threeyears. The originality of the Third Book of 1592 (Naxos8.555309) had made it a great success, and by 1644 thisFourth Book had been reprinted seven times, in Italy andabroad. What then were the reasons for such an extendedbreak?Various events in Monteverdi's life probablycontributed to the delay. In 1594, the year in which bothPalestrina and Lassus died, and Gesualdo's First Book ofMadrigals was published, four of his Canzonettasappeared in an anthology. The following year he leftMantua for Hungary with Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga'scourt. Vincenzo was keen to join the Holy RomanEmperor Rudolf II's crusade against the Turks, albeitwith a view to financial gain rather than soldierlyprowess. He took advantage of the crusade to visit suchcities as Trent, Innsbruck, Linz, Prague and Vienna,where he and his entourage were received with everyluxury. The documents pertaining to this chivalrousexpedition provide us with some fascinating detailsabout contemporary performance practice. Vincenzorequired a Cappella Musicale comprising four singers,under Monteverdi's direction. We know that one ofthese four was a famous castrato and two were basses(probably one bass and one baritone, the latter taking thetenor part), and we also know that Monteverdi himselfwas renowned for his singing ability (and was a tenor) aswell as for being \a new Orpheus on the viol [viola dagamba]". The duke's cappella was therefore entirelymale and was employed both to perform the Catholicliturgy and to entertain at Vincenzo's frequent andsumptuous banquets, at which the noble guests "spentmuch of the day engaged in amorous pursuits". Thechronicler continues thus: "the singers and organist theDuke had brought with him performed Vespers duringsolemn ceremonies" and "it was also very common forhis most serene highness the Duke to have the samesingers perform for his own amusement".
On his return to Mantua Monteverdi found himselfbetrayed by the city, which had offered the prestigiousrole of maestro di cappella, left vacant by the death ofGiaches di Wert, to the composer Benedetto Pallavicino.
He therefore turned his attention to Alfonso II of Este,Duke of Ferrara, a city in the vanguard of cultural andartistic activity. Unfortunately he was to have bad luckhere, just as he had in Verona and Milan: Alfonso diedin 1597 (as he had no heir, Ferrara was handed over tothe Holy See, bringing to an end a rich and enlightenedmoment in history). Furthermore, performances ofMonteverdi's new madrigals led to a notorious disputewith the theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi, an aggressiveand inflexible defender of the traditional rules of musicand composition, who was violently opposed to anyattempt to go against them. L'Artusi, overo Delleimperfettioni della moderna musica, published in 1600,inveighed against some of Monteverdi's as yetunpublished madrigals (some would appear three yearslater in the Fourth Book, and others even later in theFifth), which he had heard performed in Ferrara.
While this battle between the old and the new raged,as described in my notes for the Fifth Book (Naxos8.555311), the Duke of Mantua was, in 1598, dedicatinghis efforts to a staging of Guarini's Pastor fido which weknow to have been visually magnificent (sadly no reportsurvives on the music). A few months later, in 1599, heoffered Monteverdi a bride in the shape of his favouritesinger, Claudia Cattaneo, who may also have been hismistress. The composer then accompanied him on ajourney to Flanders, during which he is thought to havemet Rubens: the painter went on to work for theGonzaga family in later years. 1601 and 1602 werehappier years for Monteverdi: he became a father and, afew years later on Pallavicino's death, "Maestro dellamusica del serenissimo signor duca di Mantova" (as hehimself wrote on the frontispiece of the Fourth Book).
This led to his being granted Mantuan citizenship andlodgings within the Ducal Palace. From that timeonwards, therefore, he was responsible for all the court'smusical activities except for those of the ducal chapel ofSanta Barbara which remained the responsibility ofGiacomo Gastoldi. The dedication of the Fourth Book isa diplomatic masterpiece -- by offering the work to theAccademia degli Intrepidi of Ferrara, founded in 1601,it pays tribute both to the cultural environment in whichthe madrigals had initially been commissioned andperformed, and, indirectly, to Mantua and Vincenzo, oneof the Accademia's most eminent members.
The expressive innovation that had characterized theThird Book is also to be seen in the Fourth, consideredone of Monteverdi's most attractive collections. (TheFifth too continues along similar lines stylistically,being in a way both an appendix to the Fourth and itsnatural continuation.) Artusi quoted indiscriminatelyfrom the two books, and the setting of so many lyrics byGiovanni Battisti Guarini in both is clearly related toVincenzo's 1598 production of Il pastor fido. Duringthose eleven years of publishing silence then,Monteverdi was busy both performing and composing,and indeed his discernment, commercial and otherwise,when it came to distributing his works was key to thesuccess enjoyed by the Fourth and Fifth Books.
If we discount the wonderfully lighthearted anddescriptive Quell'augellin 14, clearly reminiscent of Orossignuol from the Third Book, the other texts, as notedby Paol Fabbri (Monteverdi, 1985) deal with"experiences of the pain, or at least, the yearning causedby the vicissitudes of love, from the obvious sensuallanguors of S?¼ ch'io vorrei morire 16 ... to the moreexhausting, from the skirmish in Non pi?? guerra 15 tothe the pathos of heartbreaking separations or farewellsin, for example, Longe da te, cor mio 19".
Once again, Monteverdi chose to open (and close)the book with an especially distinctive work: the firstmadrigal here is a remarkable innovative composition,while the final piece, on a text by Torquato Tasso, is oneof the most charming madrigals ever written. Ah,dolente partita 1 had already been published in aGerman collection of 1597, and its prominent positionhere suggests that Monteverdi wanted to pay tribute tothe memory of Giaches de Wert who had set this text tomusic and included it in his own Eleventh Book (1597)alongside Cruda Amarilli, which Monteverdi went on touse as the opening piece of his Fifth Book. This ofcourse is another link between the Fourth and FifthBooks as well as a further reference to the relationshipbetween Mantua and Ferrara. The slow opening notescall to mind the solo introductions of the previous book.
Monteverdi surpasses himself here, however: two voicessing the first few notes in unison, then divide intoseparate melodic lines, generating a string of hauntingdiscords, subsequently taken up and developed by theother voices which follow their example of dissonantdivision. Listeners will be captivated by the sorrowfuleffect of bewilderment, so similar to that produced by areal separation. Here madrigalismo, or word-painting, isused not to create aesthetically sophisticated plays onwords, but to express pure human emotion: two voicesunited in a single melody, travelling the same road inlife, are then forcibly separated. All they (and thelisteners) are offered are alienation, dissonance andgrief.
The compositional device of unison voices,representing harmony of purpose, dividing from oneanother into two stunning, dissonant sounds is usedagain at the end of A un giro sol de' belli occhi lucenti11, a madrigal which evok