Gesualdo, Carlo (ca. 1560–1613)

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Gesualdo, Carlo (ca. 15601613)

A musician and composer, Gesualdo was born into a noble, wealthy family and in 1584 inherited the title of Prince of Venosa, a small domain in southern Italy. He studied composition from an early age and devoted himself to music for the rest of his life. His work and life were strongly affected by a sensational crime he committed on October 16, 1590, when on discovering his wife Donna Maria d'Avalos with her lover, the Duke of Andria, Gesualdo brutally stabbed the pair in the Palazzo San Severo in Naples and dragged the bodies into the street for public viewing. As a nobleman, he was safe from prosecution; he also managed to escape informal justice from the family of his wife and her lover. In 1594 Gesualdo moved to Ferrara, a cultural capital of Italy under the rule and patronage of the d'Este family. The six books of madrigals Gesualdo began composing in Ferrara are his most famous works, in which he experimented with new techniques of composition that are startling precursors of the impressionistic music of the early twentieth century. He moved back to his family estate in 1595 and assembled a company of musicians and performers, but his solitary nature prevented him from developing a musical school of his own. Gesualdo suffered from depression and remorse over the murders he committed in Naples; his troubled nature is expressed in the strange and jarring dissonances, chromatic melodies, and surprising chord combinations of his madrigals and other vocal works.