Claudio Monteverdi: Notes and Commentary

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi “was the first composer to write operas with a full awareness of the artistic potential of this musico-framatic genre; he was the first musical dramatist. He created the first opera that a present-day audience can listen to with appreciation and pleasure. We can, therefore, readily understand why his contemporaries should have referred to him as ‘music’s prophet.'”—David EwenThe Complete Book of Classical Music

“Claudio Monteverdi’s brilliant output spanned the formative period of Baroque music. [He was] more a culmination than a creator of a new style.”—Claude Palisca,  Baroque Music (3rd Edition)

“Baroque ‘Modernist’ of harmony; first opera composer.”—Phil GouldingClassical Music

Monteverdi was an Italian composer, gambist, singer, and Roman Catholic priest. His work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition: 1) the heritage of Renaissance polyphony, and 2) the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque. He wrote one of the earliest operas, L’Orfeo, an innovative work that is still regularly performed. He was recognized as an innovative composer and enjoyed considerable fame in his lifetime. His works are split into three categories: madrigals, operas, and church-music, also known as sacred music.

Madrigals. Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked primarily on madrigals, composing a total of nine books. It took him about four years to finish his first book of twenty-one madrigals for five voices. As a whole, the first eight books of madrigals show the enormous development from Renaissance polyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.

Operas. Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas over the course of is life, but only L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, L’incoronazione di Poppea, and the famous aria, Lamento, from his second opera, L’Arianna, have survived. During the last years of his life, Monteverdi was often ill. During this time, he composed his two last masterpieces: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1640), and the historic opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea, (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on an episode in the life of the Roman emperor Nero. The libretto for Il ritorno d’Ulisse was by Giacomo Badoarro and for L’incoronazione di Poppea by Giovanni Busenello.

Church music. Monteverdi’s first church music publication was the archaic Mass In illo tempore to which the Vesper Psalms of 1610 were added. The Vesper Psalms of 1610 are also one of the best examples of early repetition and contrast, with many of the parts having a clear ritornello. The published work is on a very grand scale and there has been some controversy as to whether all the movements were intended to be performed in a single service. However, there are various indications of internal unity. In its scope, it foreshadows such summits of Baroque music as Handel’s Messiah, and J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Each part (there are twenty-five in total) is fully developed in both a musical and dramatic sense – the instrumental textures are used to precise dramatic and emotional effect, in a way that had not been seen before.

He lived from May 15, 1567, to November 29, 1643.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

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