MONTEVERDI: Scherzi Musicali a Tre Voci (Concerto delle Dame di Ferrara/ Sergio Vartolo/ Silvia Melloncelli) (Naxos: 8.553317)
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Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643)
Scherzi Musicali a tre voci
Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567, the son of an apothecary and physician who had come to occupy a leading position in his profession in the city. Monteverdi was probably trained as a chorister at the cathedral and was certainly a pupil of the distinguished maestro di cappella Marcantonio Ingegneri, a composer of international reputation. Monteverdi' s first published compositions, sacred music in the spirit of the reforms of the Council of Trent, appeared in 1582, followed in succeeding years by other collections of madrigals and canzonets, sacred and secular. In 1590 or 1591 he entered the service of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua as a string-player, continuing to work in the musical establishment of the Gonzaga court until Duke Vincenzo's death in 1612, from 1601 as maestro di cappella to the court.
Among Monteverdi's compositions in Mantua, which include further innovative collections of madrigals in the new style of the period, the dissonances of the modem style giving rise to controversy with more conservative musicians, is the court opera Orfeo, first staged in 1607. With a text by Alessandro Striggio based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice as recounted by Ovid and by Vergil, Orfeo was a remarkable and significantly successful achievement. It was followed in 1608 by Arianna, a work now lost, except for the very influential lament of Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. This was reworked by Monteverdi as a five-part madrigal and subsequently published in its original form in a collection of music by various composers. Monteverdi himself, near the end of his life, matched the lament with a sacred text.
Duke Vincenzo was succeeded in 1612 by the older of his two sons, Prince Francesco, the initiator of Orfeo, but now, as the ruling Duke, determined to institute various reforms and economies at his court. There had been no reason to suppose that Duke Francesco harboured any ill-will towards Monteverdi but, for whatever reason, he and his brother Giulio Cesare were dismissed from the service of the Gonzagas during the summer of 1612. The two returned to Cremona, while seeking other employment, which Monteverdi found triumphantly in 1613 with his appointment as maestro di cappella at the basilica of San Marco in Venice, a position that brought opportunity and security of tenure. His setting of the Vespers in 1610, with its exploration of the new styles of composition favoured in Venice, would have served as strong support for his candidature. He remained there for the rest of his life, refusing attempts to recall him to Mantua and instituting various reforms at San Marco, particularly in the employment of instrumentalists.
It was in Venice in 1637 that the first public opera-house was opened and Monteverdi was able again to contribute to this repertoire. In 1640 his Arianna was revived at the Teatro San Moise, now converted from theatre to opera-house, and in the same year a new opera Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria (The Home-Coming of Ulysses) at the Teatro San Cassiano. For carnival in 1643 Monteverdi wrote another new opera, La coronatione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), staged at the Teatro Grimani.
Monteverdi died in Venice on 29th November 1643, after returning from an extended journey through Lombardy, his death widely mourned. He was succeeded at San Marco by one of his pupils, Giovanni Rovetta, who had served as Monteverdi's assistant, while his fame is witnessed by the contemporary tributes to his achievement and a series of posthumous publications of his music.
In 1605 Monteverdi had published the fifth of his nine collections of madriga1s, taking the occasion to answer the hostile criticism of his work levelled against him by the conservative Giovanni Maria Artusi. Two years later, in 1607, the year of Orfeo and of the death of the composer's wife, Monteverdi's brother issued a collection of three-part works, the Scherzi musicali a tre voci, to which he added a further answer to the renewed attacks of Artusi, pointing out the necessity of judging vocal music together with the words, the expression of which was, to him, paramount. In the quarrel between proponents of the traditional First Practice and the new Second Practice, the difference lay principally in the importance Monteverdi and other proponents of the modern style placed on the meaning of words set and their novel treatment of dissonance to match the text. Giulio Cesare Monteverdi's Dichiarazione (Declaration) is an important element in the controversy, his position, based on Platonic teaching as then understood, in support of which he summons aristocratic support, reflecting cultured contemporary preoccupations. The Dichiarazione also makes it clear that Monteverdi wrote the Scherzi musicali some years earlier, some time after 1599, when he had visited Flanders in the entourage of the Duke, bringing back with him a knowledge of what Giulio Cesare describes as canto alla francese, a suggestion that has given rise to further argument among scholars as to what precisely this French singing was, although it was something that Duke Vincenzo seems to have encouraged, while others deplored the mannerisms they associated with it. Some, however, have identified the French style simply with the practice of alternating vocal sections of a work with instrumental ritornelli, a method of performance prescribed in the introduction to the 1607 publication.
Eleven of the Scherzi musicali set words by the poet Gabriello Chiabrera, who enjoyed favour at the Mantuan court, as he did in Florence, Turin and Rome. Chiabrera was influenced by the French poets of the Pleiade, in particular Ronsard, and reflected current literary preoccupations by his attempts, not always successful, to introduce ancient Greek verse forms into Italian. In particular he sought variety in breaking away from the traditional Italian verse-patterns of seven-syllable or eleven-syllable lines. It is to him that the term scherzi in the present context may be attributed, signifying a work that might grace a light-hearted courtly entertainment. The seventh Scherzo sets words by the earlier poet Jacopo Sannazaro, author of the influential pastoral Arcadia, and the ninth, twelfth, fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth set poems by the lesser known Ansaldo Cebà. The last three pieces in the collection are by Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, with a final balletto with words attributed to Ferdinando Gonzaga, younger son of Duke Vincenzo, Giulio Cesare dedicates the publication to Don Francesco Gonzaga.
The Scherzi are in the form of strophic three-voice settings, preceded and each strophe followed by an instrumental ritornello in three parts, the two upper parts to be played by vialini da braccio (violins) and the lower part by a chitarrone, or harpsichord or similar instrument. There is freedom to treat the vocal part, in alternation, as a soprano solo or an octave lower. They are largely in the contemporary manner of Gastoldi or Vecchi in their treatment of the texts, although the hemiola break of rhythm that is a feature of Monteverdi's writing finds a frequent place. Dissonance is relatively rare, but is used to point a word in the text, at least as it first appears. The varied metres of the words set will be apparent from the texts, given later in this booklet.
Concerto delle Dame di Ferrara
In 1982, under the auspices of the Settimana Internazionale Girolamo Frescobaldi and to celebrate , the