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MONTEVERDI: Madrigals, Book 1

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Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Madrigals Book I • Secular Manuscript Works

Il Primo Libro de’ Madrigali

Monteverdi’s First Book of Madrigals for five voices was published in Venice in 1587; it was his third major publication and he was still only nineteen. In it he took up one of music’s greatest challenges, the madrigal. The secular work par excellence, a form without a form (in that it is shaped around the lyric that inspires and sustains it), and one inviting linguistic and musical experimentation, the madrigal is the symbol of synthesis between the arts and the highest achievement of the sophisticated aristocratic culture of those courts and patrons whose pleasure it was to surround themselves with the finest artists of the time.

In the First Book, with its wonderful variety of light and shade, and its highly effective unravelling of melodies and intricate harmonies, the seeds are sown for Monteverdi’s mature works, which would change composition for ever and mark the divide between the music of the past and that which we define as modern. In the dedication to Count Marco Verità of Verona Monteverdi wrote that these were "youthful compositions" desiring "no other praise than that which is usually given to the flowers of spring, compared with that given to the fruits of summer and autumn". Concealed within the words of the first madrigal [1] is a tribute to a lady: Ch’ami la vita mia (That I love my life) can also be heard as Camilla vita mia (Camilla, my life), while Se’l ver porti in te scritto (If within you the truth be written) alludes to the name Verità (truth). The young composer’s mature and dramatic use of musical episodes is already striking here: by extracting and inserting the vocal lines, repeating the lyric in different pitches and timbres, and making intelligent use of colour contrast (light and shade for the antitheses of love—suffering and life—death), he succeeds in building up the tension until the final catharsis.

Guarini’s Canzon de’ baci [5] is about eroticism pure and simple: the sense of arousal throughout this madrigal full of sighs and gasps transports us towards a lovers’ union, as conventionally signified by the word "morire" (death). Kisses are also the theme of Filli cara ed amata (Dear, beloved Phyllis) [7], which uses a technique characteristic of this book, that of adding to the number of voices, so that one grows to three, then four to five for the exclamation "Ahi" (Alas) to provide maximum dynamic intensity and the break between the lover’s dream and the suffering he must actually endure. The music then dissolves into a section full of persistent dissonances, which will only find resolution in the imagined serenity of kisses the lover wishes would fill the silence of his lady’s withheld response.

The First Book ends with a cycle of three madrigals: Ardo, sì (I burn, yes, but love you not) [19], Ardi o gela (Burn or freeze, as you wish) [20] and Arsi ed alsi (I burned and froze) [21]. Their texts are by Guarini and Tasso, two brilliant Italian poets whose words Monteverdi would often set to music in later collections. As Leo Schrade wrote in 1950 in Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music, "the relation of the texts to each other is not of true dialogue, but of a parody. Tasso’s poem parodied Guarini’s madrigal, and Monteverdi translated the parody into musical terms by patterning one composition on the other. When he composed Ardi o gela as Tasso’s "risposta" to Guarini’s Ardo, sì, ma non t’amo, he used the musical material of the first madrigal. The bass of Ardi o gela is, in fact, a variation of the first madrigal, while in all parts both have the same ending, with only slight variation".

Heavy notes, dissonances and chromatic progessions for words such as "morte", "martiri" and "pene" (death, suffering and sorrow) are to be found in abundance in this book. Monteverdi was skilled at choosing texts to inspire his effective and impulsive compositional practices. La vaga pastorella (The pretty shepherdess) [16], one of the masterpieces of this collection, begins with a skipping progression depicting the shepherdess wandering in a flowery field, after which the music slows down in an introspective section which disperses the opening sweetness. Monteverdi here employs the technique of superimposing two contrasting textual/musical phrases: the phrase e carco di martiro (and laden down with suffering) descends heavily in long notes, while la seguo tuttavia (still I follow her) moves quickly, leaping and anticipating the per dio, non mi fuggire (For God’s sake, do not run from me) episode before the dramatic and expressive finale.

In Questa ordì il laccio (This hand set the snare) % we hear some striking word-painting before the protagonist entreats Love, source of so much suffering, to bring him vengeance (vendetta, Amor, vendetta), in a manner reminiscent of the much later Eighth Book. Other pieces in this collection also show signs of what was to come: A che tormi il ben mio (Why deprive me of my love) [3], a promising first solo work for Cantus (the upper voice), which anticipates T’amo, mia vita from Book Five, and the short madrigalesque triptych about the shepherdess Fumia [9], [10] and [11]. This has three distinct narrative sections, our introduction to Fumia, her solemn hymn to the sun and to spring, and the final song of praise. Monteverdi re-used this tripartite narrative and musical scheme more than fifty years later in the Lamento della Ninfa: Fumia is represented by a solo voice, and her lament is framed by two bold and dissonant three-voice episodes.

Monteverdi’s manuscript works

Monteverdi’s complete secular works taken from manuscript copies rather than official printed sources form a generous appendix to this disc.

Voglio di vita uscir (I would depart this life) [22], preserved in Naples, is built on a variation over a bass pattern, a structure often used by Monteverdi (e.g. Zefiro torna, 1632), and one which highlights his skill for variety and innovation. Ahi che si part’il mio bel sol (Alas, my precious sun is leaving) [24] exists in a handwritten book of villanelles in Modena, and is believed to have been one of the canzonets written for Duke Cesare d’Este, many of which were published posthumously in 1651.

This disc also includes two canzonets from a 1610 partbook containing devotional madrigals and canzonets held in Brescia’s Biblioteca Queriniana. Of its five pieces by Monteverdi, three were published in the Scherzi of 1607, while two were never printed: Fuggi cor (Flee, heart) [23] and Se d’un angel’ il bel viso (If the lovely face of an angel) [25]. They are recorded here for the first time and we have provided a plausible reconstruction around the beautiful melodic line which is all that survives.

The final piece is the Lamento di Olimpia [26], a superb work in several sections which, although it has its own character, owes much to the better-known Lamento d’Arianna. The manuscript came from Rome’s Biblioteca Borghese, but is now in London, part of the collection of the composer Luigi Rossi (1598—1653). Its authenticity having been questioned by some scholars, the work has been neglected, yet any doubts are unfounded: one has only to hear this masterpiece to know that nobody but Monteverdi could have composed a work of such dramatic power, echoing, quoting and re-working itself. The story of Olympia, a Dutch noblewoman betrayed and abandoned by Bireno, comes f
Item number 8555307
Barcode 747313530724
Release date 01/10/2002
Label Naxos Records
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Claudio Monteverdi
Conductors Marco Longhini
Orchestras Delitiae Musicae
Disc: 1
Secular Manuscript Works
1 Ch'ami la vita mia nel tuo bel nome
2 Se per avervi, ohime, donato il core
3 A che tormi il ben mio
4 Amor, per tua merce vattene a quella
5 Baci soavi e cari
6 Se pur non mi consenti
7 Filli cara ed amata
8 Poiche del mio dolore
9 Fumia la pastorella - prima parte
10 Almo divino raggio - seconda parte
11 Allora i pastor tutti - terza parte
12 Se nel partir da voi
13 Tra mille fiamme e tra mille catene
14 Usciam, ninfe, omai fuor di questi boschi
15 Questa ordi il laccio
16 La vaga pastorella
17 Amor s'il tuo ferire
18 Donna s'io miro voi, giaccio divengo
19 Ardo, si, ma non t'amo
20 Ardi o gela a tua voglia - risposta
21 Arsi ed alsi a mia voglia - contra risposta
22 Voglio di vita uscir
23 Fuggi cor
24 Ahi, che si part'il mio sol
25 Se d'un angel' il bel viso
26 Lamento d'Olimpia
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