Monteverdi, Claudio (1567–1642)

views updated Jun 11 2018


MONTEVERDI, CLAUDIO (15671642), Italian composer of madrigals, operas, and sacred music; one of the most pivotal figures in the history of music. Claudio Monteverdi's music was a primary force in the change in style and aesthetics that marked the transition from the Renaissance to the baroquethe shift from the stile antico (old style) or prima prattica (first practice), as represented by Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina (15251594) and Orlando di Lasso (15301594), to the stile moderno (modern style) or seconda prattica (second practice). Under the influence of humanistic discoveriesin particular notions about Greek dramaMonteverdi's contemporaries sought new ways to move the passions of the listener. The Renaissance ideal of complex vocal polyphony was abandoned in favor of a simple texture, often featuring one melodic line and a bass (monody) so that the music could respond spontaneously to the rhythms and meaning of the text. Rigid rules of counterpoint were discarded in favor of a freer treatment of dissonance and chromaticism. Monteverdi's adventurous tonal style and his use of irregular rhythms, dance patterns, and frequent shifts of texture not only enriched the newly invented genre of opera but transformed genres that had developed during the preceding century, including the madrigal, motet, and mass.

Monteverdi was born in Cremona and baptized on 15 May 1567. The young musician's genius was so precocious that his first collection of vocal compositions, the Sacrae cantiunculae, was published when he was fifteen, when he was still a student of Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di capella of Cremona Cathedral. While still in Cremona, he published his first book of madrigals in 1587 and a second on 1 January 1590. In 1590 or 1591, Monteverdi began a lengthy association with the city of Mantua and the Gonzaga family, entering the service of the Vincenzo I Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. His third book of madrigals, dedicated to the duke on 27 June 1592, featured texts by Tarquato Tasso (15441595) and Giambattista Guarini (15381612). Guarini's poetry would do much to shape what Gary Tomlinson had referred to as the "epigrammatic" style that characterized the fourth book of madrigals (1603). Monteverdi was appointed maestro della musica in Mantua in 1601, and went on to dedicate his fifth book of madrigals (1605) to Vincenzo Gonzaga. During this period, Monteverdi's unconventional style had attracted the attention of a conservative Bolognese theorist, Giovanni Artusi, who attacked Monteverdi (among others) for his rejection of tradition; the often vitriolic exchanges between the twowhich include Monteverdi's preface to the fifth book of madrigals and his brother Giulio Cesare's addendum to the Scherzi musicali (1607; Musical jokes)provide insight into this new aesthetic in which words might be understood as the mistress of the music.

Monteverdi's duties at court included the composition of a variety of dramatic entertainments. His Orfeo (1607), described as a favola in musica (fable in music), has long been considered the first great opera. The libretto by Alessandro Striggio was certainly influenced by that of Euridice (1600) by Ottavio Rinuccini (c. 15621621), one of the early Florentine operatic experiments. But Monteverdi's Orfeo was the first to truly transform the pastorale play with music into a compelling, through-composed entertainment. Expressive monody, juxtaposed with dancelike madrigals and brief arias, vividly depict Orpheus's joy, subsequentdespair, and musical virtuosity, as in the famous aria "Possente spirto" (Powerful spirit) addressed to Pluto; the highly dramatic use of a large instrumental ensemble (recorders, cornettos, trombones, and a basso continuo group of harps, harpsichords, and plucked instruments) captures the contrast between the pleasurable earthly existence and Pluto's underworld. In 1608, Monteverdi provided wedding entertainments for Prince Francesco Gonzaga and Margherita of Savoy, including the Ballo delle ingrate (Dance of the ingrates), and the opera Arianna, from which only the lament (which famously brought tears tothe eyes of the court ladies) has survived.

In 1613, Monteverdi was appointed maestro di cappella of San Marco in Venice, a declining institution that he revitalized by hiring new musicians, expanding the music library, and raising the standards of performance. He was responsible for directing and composing music for all major church ceremonies and activities, such as masses, vesper services, feast days, and weddings. While maintaining his connections with Mantua and Florence, Monteverdi continued to publish madrigals: books 6 and 7 were published in 1614 and 1619 respectively, and his earlier madrigals were reprinted in both Venice and Antwerp around this time. The eighth book of madrigals (1638), known as the Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi (Madrigals of love and war), is a compendium of works written earlier. Monteverdi's attention to poetic detail is apparent in this volume, which includes settings of poems not only by Guarini, Tasso, and the revered Petrarch (13041374), but also the infamous Giovanni Battista Marino (15691625), whose influence on Monteverdi's aesthetics has frequently been observed. In book 8, Monteverdi invents a number of novel musical strategies to illustrate the popular topoi of love and war. Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624/5; The battle of Tancredi and Clorinda), drawn from Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, is noteworthy for the use of the stile concitato (agitated style) as discussed in the preface to book 8, in particular the innovative string techniques used to represent the battle scenes, including the use of pizzicato (plucking the strings) and col legno (striking the strings with the wood of the bow). Love is well represented by the Lamento della ninfa, in which the hypnotic soprano's complaint, set over a repeated descending bass pattern, became the model for numerous such laments.

When he was in his seventies, Monteverdi published his most important collection of sacred music, Selva morale e spirituale (1640; Spiritual and moral forest), and also profoundly influenced Venice's emerging opera industry. His 16391640 revival of Arianna was followed by a trilogy of three-act operas in Venetian style: Il ritorno di Ulisse in Patria (16391640; The return of Ulysses to his homeland); the lost Le nozze di Enea con Lavinia (16401641; The wedding of Aeneas and Lavinia); and L'incoronazione di Poppea (16421643; The coronation of Poppea), which some music historians believe was probably finished by Francesco Sacrati and others. Unlike in Orfeo, much of the expressive power of these works is concentrated in the closed forms (arias and duets) rather than recitative, as would become the norm in baroque opera. All three were written to librettos by members of the Venetian Accademia degli Incogniti, a group of freethinking patricians involved in both opera and publishing whose staunch patriotism, interest in the erotic, and playful attitude toward the classics seem to have inspired the composer at the height of his creative powers. From the representation of chaste marital fidelity in the recasting of Homer (in Il ritorno ) to the seemingly immoral endorsement of physical love in imperial Rome (in Poppea ), the surviving Venetian operas provide an eloquent testimony to Monteverdi's understanding of complex human emotions and his incomparable genius.

See also Baroque ; Lasso, Orlando di ; Mantua ; Music ; Music Criticism ; Opera ; Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da ; Tasso, Tarquato ; Venice .


Primary Source

The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi. Translated by Denis Stevens. London, 1980; 2nd ed. Oxford, 1995.

Secondary Sources

Carter, Tim. Monteverdi's Musical Theatre. New Haven, 2002.

Chafe, Eric T. Monteverdi's Tonal Language. New York and Toronto, 1992.

Fabbri, Paolo. Monteverdi. Translated by Tim Carter. Cambridge, U.K., 1994.

Heller, Wendy. Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice. Berkeley, 2003.

. "Tacitus Incognito: Opera as History in L'incoronazione di Poppea. " Journal of the American Musicological Society 52 (1999): 3996.

Pirrotta, Nino. Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. Cambridge, Mass., 1984.

Rosand, Ellen. Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre. Berkeley, 1991.

Schrade, Leo. Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music. New York, 1950; reprinted, 1979.

Tomlinson, Gary. Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance. Oxford and Berkeley, 1987.

Whenham, John, ed. Claudio Monteverdi: "Orfeo." Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1986.

Wendy Heller, Mark Kroll

Monteverdi, Claudio (Giovanni Antonio)

views updated May 21 2018

Monteverdi, Claudio (Giovanni Antonio)

Monteverdi, Claudio (Giovanni Antonio),great Italian composer, brother of Giulio Cesare Monteverdi; b. Cremona (baptized), May 15, 1567; d. Venice, Nov. 29, 1643. His surname is also rendered as Monte verde. He was the son of a chemist who practiced medicine as a barber- surgeon. He studied singing and theory with Marc’ Antonio Ingegneri, maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Cremona, and also learned to play the organ. He acquired the mastery of composition at a very early age. He was only 15 when a collection of his 3-part motets was publ. in Venice; there followed several sacred madrigals (1583) and canzonettas (1584). In 1589 he visited Milan, and made an appearance at the court of the Duke of Mantua; by 1592 he had obtained a position at the court in the service of Vincenzo I as “suonatore” on the viol (viola da gamba) and violin (viola da braccio). He came into contact with the Flemish composer Giaches de Wert, maestro di cappella at the Mantuan court, whose contrapuntal art greatly influenced Monteverdi. In 1592 Monteverdi publ. his third book of madrigals, a collection marked by a considerable extension of harmonic dissonance. In 1595 he accompanied the retinue of the Duke of Mantua on forays against the Turks in Austria and Hungary, and also went with him to Flanders in 1599. He married Claudia de Cattaneis, one of the Mantuan court singers, on May 20, 1599; they had 2 sons; a daughter died in infancy. In 1601 he was appointed maestro di cappella in Mantua following the death of Palla vicino. The publication of 2 books of madrigals in 1603 and 1605 further confirmed his mastery of the genre. Having already composed some music for the stage, he now turned to the new form of the opera. L’Orfeo, his first opera, was given before the Accademia degli Invaghiti in Mantua in Feb. 1607. In this pastoral, he effectively moved beyond the Florentine model of recitative-dominated drama by creating a more flexible means of expression; the score is an amalgam of monody, madrigal, and instrumental music of diverse kinds. In 1607 Monteverdi was made a member of the Accademia degli Animori of Cremona. He suffered a grievous loss in the death of his wife in Cremona on Sept. 10, 1607. Although greatly depressed, he accepted a commission to compose an opera to celebrate the marriage of the heirapparent to the court of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga, to Margaret of Savoy. The result was L’Arianna, to a text by Rinuccini, presented in Mantua on May 28, 1608. Although the complete MS has been lost, the extant versions of the Lamento d’Arianna from the score testify to Monteverdi’s genius in expressing human emotion in moving melodies. In 1614 he prepared a 5-part arrangement of his sixth book of madrigals, also publ. separately (Venice, 1623). He further wrote 2 more works for wedding celebrations, the prologue to the pastoral play L’Idropica (not extant) and the French-style ballet Il ballo delle ingrate. His patron, Duke Vincenzo of Mantua, died in 1612, and his successor, Francesco, did not retain Monteverdi’s services. However, Monteverdi had the good fortune of being called to Venice in 1613 to occupy the vacant post of maestro di cappella at San Marco, at a salary of 300 ducats, which was raised to 400 ducats in 1616. His post at San Marco proved to be the most auspicious of his career, and he retained it for the rest of his life. He composed mostly church music, but did not neglect the secular madrigal forms. He accepted important commissions from Duke Ferdinando of Mantua. His ballet Tirsi e Clori was given in Mantua in 1616. In 1619 he publ his 7th book of madrigals, significant in its bold harmonic innovations. In 1624 his dramatic cantata, Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, after Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, was performed at the home of Girolamo Mocenigo, a Venetian nobleman. The score is noteworthy for the effective role played by the string orch. Other works comprised intermedi for the Farnese court in Parma. A great inconvenience was caused to Monteverdi in 1627 when his son Massimiliano, a medical student, was arrested by the Inquisition for consulting books on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum; he was acquitted. In 1630 Monteverdi composed the opera Proserpina rapita for Venice; of it only 1 trio has survived. Following the plague of 1630–31, he wrote a mass of thanksgiving for performance at San Marco (the Gloria is extant); in 1632 he took Holy Orders. His Scherzi musicali for 1 and 2 Voices was publ. in 1632. Then followed his Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, an extensive retrospective collection covering some 30 years, which was publ. in 1638. In 1637 the first public opera houses were opened in Venice, and Monteverdi found a new outlet there for his productions. His operas II ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640), Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia(1641; not extant), and L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642) were all given in Venice. (Research by Alan Curtis suggests that the latter opera owes its final form to Francesco Sacrati.) The extant operas may be considered the first truly modern operas in terms of dramatic viability. Monteverdi died at the age of 76 and was accorded burial in the church of the Frari in Venice. A commemorative plaque was erected in his honor, and a copy remains in the church to this day.

Monteverdi’s place in the history of music is of great magnitude. He established the foundations of modern opera conceived as a drama in music. For greater dynamic expression, he enlarged the orch., in which he selected and skillfully combined the instruments accompanying the voices. He was one of the earliest, if not the first, to employ such coloristic effects as string tremolo and pizzicato; his recitative assumes dramatic power, at times approaching the dimensions of an arioso. In harmonic usage he introduced audacious innovations, such as the use of the dominant seventh-chord and other dissonant chords without preparation. He is widely regarded as having popularized the terms “prima prattica” and “secunda prattica” to demarcate the polyphonic style of the 16th century from the largely monodie style of the 17th century, corresponding also to the distinction between “stile antico” and “stile moderno.” For this he was severely criticized by the Bologna theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi, who publ. in 1600 a vitriolic pamphlet against Monteverdi, attacking the “musica moderna” which allowed chromatic usages in order to achieve a more adequate expression.

In addition to various eds. of his works in separate format, G.F. Malipiero edited a complete ed. as Claudio Monteverdi: Tutte le opere (16 vols., Asolo, 1926–42; 2nded., rev., 1954; vol. 17, suppL, 1966). All of these are now being superseded by 2 new complete eds.: one, by the Fondazione Claudio Monteverdi, began publishing in 1970; the other, ed. by B.B. de Surcy, began issuing simultaneously critical and facsimile eds. in 1972.


dramatic:L’Orfeo, opera, designated “favola in musica” (Mantua, Feb. 1607; publ. in Venice, 1609); L’Arianna, opera (Mantua, May 28, 1608; not extant except for various versions of the Lament); In ballo delle ingrate, ballet (Mantua, 1608; publ. in Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, Venice, 1638); Prologue to L’Idropica, comedy with music (Mantua, June 2, 1608; not extant); Tirsi e Clori, ballet (Mantua, 1616; publ. in Concerto: Settimo libro, Venice, 1619); Le nozze di Tetide, favola marittima (begun 1616 but unfinished; not extant); Andromeda, opera (begun c. 1618 but unfinished; libretto extant); Apollo, dramatic cantata (unfinished; not extant); II combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Venice, 1624; publ. in Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, Venice, 1638); La finta pazza Licori (composed for Mantua, 1627; never perf.; not extant); Gli amori di Diana e di Endimione (Parma, 1628; not extant); Mercurio e Marte, torneo (Parma, 1628; not extant); Proserpina rapita, opera (Venice, 1630; only 1 trio extant); Volgendo il ciel, ballet (Vienna, e. 1636; publ. in Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, Venice, 1638); 11 ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, opera (Venice, 1640); Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia, opera (Venice, 1641; not extant); La vittoria d’Amore, ballet (Piacenza, 1641; not extant); L’incoronazione di Poppea, opera (Venice, 1642). vocal: secular:Canzonette for 3 Voices (Venice, 1584); J7 primo libro de madrigali for 5 Voices (Venice, 1587); Il secondo libro de madrigali for 5 Voices (Venice, 1590); Il terzo libro de madrigali for 5 Voices (Venice, 1592); II quarto libro de madrigali for 5 Voices (Venice, 1603); II quinto libro de madrigali for 5 Voices (Venice, 1605); Musica tolta da i madrigali di Claudio Monteverde e d’altri autori, e fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini for 5 and 6 Voices (Milan, 1607); Scherzi musicali di Claudio Monteverde, raccolti da Giulio Cesare Monteverde suo fratello for 3 Voices (Venice, 1607); Il secondo libro della musica di Claudio Monteverde e d’altri autori, fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini for 5 Voices (Milan, 1608); II terzo libro della musica di Claudio Monteverde e d’altri autori, fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini for 5 Voices (Milan, 1609); II sesto libro de madrigali for 5 Voices,”con uno dialogo,” and 7 Voices, with Basso Continuo (Venice, 1614); Concerto: Settimo libro de madrigali, con altri generi de canti for I to 4 and 6 Voices, with Basso Continuo (Venice, 1619); Scherzi musicali cioè arie, et madrigali in stil recitativo, con una ciaccona... raccolti da Bartholomeo Magni for 1 and 2 Voices, with Basso Continuo (Venice, 1632); Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo, che saranno per brevi episodiifrà i canti senza gesto: Libro ottavo for I to 8 Voices and Instruments, with Basso Continuo (Venice, 1638); Madrigali e canzonette...libro nono for 2 and 3 Voices, with Basso Continuo (Venice, 1651). sacred:Sacrae cantiunculae...liber primus for 3 Voices (Venice, 1582); Madrigali spirituali for 4 Voices (Brescia, 1583); Musica tolta da i madrigali di Claudio Monteverde e d’altri autori, e fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini for 5 and 6 Voices (Milan, 1607); Il secondo libro della musica di Claudio Monteverde e d’altri autori, fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini for 5 Voices (Milan, 1608); Il terzo libro della musica di Claudio Monteverdi e d’altri autori, fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini for 5 Voices (Milan, 1609); Sanctissimae virgini missa senis vocibus ad ecclesiarum choros ac Vespere pluribus decantandaecum nonnullis sacris concentibus ad sacella sive principum cubicula accommodata for 1 to 3, 6 to 8, and 10 Voices and Instruments, with Basso Continuo (Venice, 1610); Selva morale e spirituale for 1 to 8 Voices and Instruments (Venice, 1641); Messa for 4 Voices, et salmi for 1 to 8 Voices, and concertati, e parte da cappella, et con le letame della beata vergine for 6 Voices (Venice, 1650).


S. Davari, Notizie biografiche del distinto maestro di musica C. M. (Mantua, 1884); G. Sommi Picenardi, C. M. a Cremona (Milan, 1896); L. Schneider, Un Précurseur de la musique italienne aux XVIe et XVIle siècles: C. M.: L’Homme et son temps (Paris, 1921); H. Prunières, La Vie et l’oeuvre de C. M. (Paris, 1924; Eng. tr., 1926; 2nd French ed., 1931); G. Malipiero, C. M. (Milan, 1929); K. Müller, Die Technik der Ausdrucksdarstellung in M.s monodischen Frühwerken (Berlin, 1931); H. Redlich, C. M.: Ein formgeschichtlicher Versuch (Berlin, 1932); W. Kreidler, Heinrich Schütz und der Stile Concitato von C. M. (Stuttgart, 1934); O. Tiby, C. M. (Turin, 1944); D. de’ Paoli, C. M. (Milan, 1945); H. Redlich, C. M.: Leben und Werk (Ölten, 1949; Eng. tr. and rev., London, 1952); L. Schrade, M.: Creator of Modern Music (London, 1950); M. le Roux, C. M. (Paris, 1951); C. Sartori, M. (Brescia, 1953); A. Abert, C. M. und das musikalische Drama (Lippstadt, 1954); R. Roche, M. (Paris, 1959); W. Osthoff, Das dramatische Spätwerk C. M.s (Tutzing, 1960); D. Arnold, M. (London, 1963; rev. ed., 1990); D. Arnold, M. Madrigals (London, 1967); G. Barblan et al., C. M. nel quarto centenário della nascita (Turin, 1967); E. Santoro, La famiglia e la formazione di C. M.: Note biografiche con documenti inediti (Cremona, 1967); D. Arnold and N. Fortune, eds., The M. Companion (London, 1968; 2nd ed., rev, 1985, as The New M. Companion); N. Anfuso and A. Gianuario, Preparazione alla interpretazione della Poiésis M.ana (Florence, 1971); D. Stevens, M.:Sacred, Secular and Occasional Music (Rutherford, N.J., 1978); D. de’ Paoli, M. (Milan, 1979); D. Stevens, ed. and tr., The Letters of C. M. (London, 1980; rev. ed., 1995); S. Leopold, C. M. und seine Zeit (Laaber, 1982; Eng. tr., 1991, as M.: Music in Transition); J. Whenham, Duet and Dialogue in the Age of M. (Ann Arbor, 1982); P. Fabbri, M. (Turin, 1985; Eng. tr., 1994); G. Tomlinson, M. and the End of the Renaissance (Oxford, 1986); D. Kiel and K. Adams, C. M.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1989); E. Chafe, M.’s Tonal Language (N.Y., 1992); I. Fenlon and P. Miller, The Song of the Soul: Understanding Poppea (Chicago, 1992); A. Gianuario, L’estetica di C. M. attraverso quattro sue lettere (Sezze Romano, 1993); E. Lax, ed., C. M.:Lettere (Florence, 1994); R. Tellart, C. M. (Paris, 1997); J. Whenham, M.:Vespers (1610) (Cambridge, 1997); P. Besutti, T. Gialdroni, and R. Baroncini, eds., C. M.:Studi e prospettive: Atti del convegno, Mantova, 21–24 ottobre 1993 (Florence, 1998); S. Leopold and J. Steinheuer, eds., Internationales Symposium “C. M. und die Polgen” (Kassel, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi

views updated Jun 11 2018

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was an Italian composer who, in addition to being the first great operatic writer, reflected in his works, especially the madrigals, the change in style from late Renaissance to early baroque.

Claudio Monteverdi was undoubtedly one of the more progressive composers between 1590 and 1625. During these years he infused the rather dry stile rappresentativo of the early monodists with a lyricism that foreshadowed the later aria, and he introduced a more intensely expressive and dramatic element into music, notably through what he called the stile concitato (agitated style). As early as 1600 Giovanni Maria Artusi, a well-known theorist, criticized Monteverdi for some harsh "modernisms."

Monteverdi's influence, both before and after his death, was not commensurate with the high esteem in which he was held by the discerning few; thus he left no "school," and the only significant composer who can be called his pupil was Heinrich Schütz. The reason for this comparative lack of influence was probably Monteverdi's serious cast of mind and a strong tinge of conservatism that mitigated his continuing in the vanguard throughout a period which was, perhaps, the most dichotomous in the history of music and during which taste and fashion changed rapidly. Today he is regarded less as a revolutionary than as one of the outstanding composers of all time, who combined the old with the new and who forged a style that for dramatic range, emotional expression, and sensuous lyricism had never been equaled before.

Monteverdi was born in Cremona and baptized on May 15, 1567. His mother, Maddalena, and father, Baldassare, a doctor, were probably musical, for both Claudio and his brother Giulio Cesare became professional musicians. It is most likely that Monteverdi became a choirboy at the local Cathedral and received his first musical training there. He was certainly a pupil of the noted composer M. A. Ingegneri, the Cathedral's music director, for in 1582 Monteverdi claims as much on the title page of a collection of three-voiced motets, Sacrae cantiunculae, published in Venice.

We know little about the next 10 years, apart from Monteverdi's unsuccessful attempt to get a job in Milan in 1589, but they were certainly productive, for he published a book of Madrigali spirituali (1583), one of Canzonette (1584), and the first two books of madrigals (1587, 1590). Perhaps in 1590 or the year after, he became a string player at the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga I, Duke of Mantua; he definitely held this position in 1592, the same year that he published his third madrigal book.

Employment at the Court of Mantua

Monteverdi remained at Mantua for about 20 years. During this period he accompanied the duke on two visits to foreign countries, the first (1595) a military expedition to Hungary to fight the Turks (an experience that made a deep impression on him), the second (1599) a journey to Liège, Antwerp, and Brussels. Shortly before the second visit he married Claudia Cattaneo, who in their brief marriage (she died in 1607) bore him three children, Francesco in 1601, Leonora in 1603, and Massimiliano in 1604. In 1602 Monteverdi was promoted to maestro della musica; he published his fourth madrigal book a year later, his fifth in 1605, and the first set of Scherzi musicali in 1607.

The Scherzi were edited by Monteverdi's brother Giulio Cesare, who had been appointed to the Mantuan court sometime previously and who added an appendix to the volume in which he expounded Claudio's views on music, in particular the elucidation of what Claudio called the prima prattica, that is, the old polyphonic style of the late Renaissance, and the seconda prattica, that is, the new style in which the poetic text dictated the character and form of the music. This latter style is already apparent to some extent in a few of the pieces in the fourth madrigal book and more obviously so in the last six pieces of the fifth book, which, like the rest of his output in this genre, use a continuo accompaniment and are better described as vocal chamber music than as madrigals.

The Opera Orfeo

The year 1607 also saw the production, in Mantua, of Monteverdi's first opera, La favola d'Orfeo. This was followed a year later by L'Arianna; the Prologue, no longer extant, to a comedy by Giovanni Battista Guarini, L'idropica; and Il ballo dell'ingrate. Orfeo is perhaps the most remarkable first essay in any musical genre by any composer. The libretto (by Alessandro Striggio) keeps to the original story more closely than the two earlier operas on the same subject by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini (and most later ones), in that Orpheus loses Euridice on the journey back from Hades, though they are reunited in heaven.

The music represents a virtual cross section of contemporary practice, including choruses in imitative polyphony and chordal harmony, solo ensembles, da capo arias, dances and other independent instrumental pieces, and the new monodic recitativelike style, to which most of the text is set. The orchestra consists of over 40 instruments, including harpsichords, chamber organs, strings, woodwind, and brass; which of these played when was largely left to the music director, though in certain instances Monteverdi specifies the instrumentation. For example, the spirits of Hades are accompanied by regal (reed) and positive organs, five trombones, two bass gambas, and a violone, which produce a strikingly dark timbre; trombones, indeed, later became traditionally associated with anything "infernal."

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Orfeo is the clearly deliberate attempt at some kind of overall design. This is particularly evident in Act I, where the arrangement of solos, ensembles, choruses, and instrumental ritornelli form two ABA structures, the first large and complex, the second small and simple, and followed by a coda.

Orfeo was revived several times during Monteverdi's lifetime, as was Arianna, which if anything was even more popular, especially the celebrated lament Lasciatemi morire, the only fragment to have survived. Not only was this piece arranged for five voices and included in the sixth madrigal book, and adapted to sacred words in the Selva morale e spirituale, but it also set a fashion that affected virtually every opera for the next 150 years or so, a well-known example being Dido's lament, "When I am laid in earth," in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

The Vespers

In 1610 Monteverdi published one of his finest works, the Vespers, comprising a Mass, 2 Magnificats, 11 "motets," and an orchestral sonata. In it he combines solos, ensembles, choral writing for one and two choirs of up to five voices each, orchestral ritornelli (some in six real parts), in addition to a sonata, and obbligati for various instruments. The style ranges from the old to the new, from richly imitative seven-part polyphony to highly affective monody, from rhythmically clear-cut, ear-catching melodies to complex highly virtuosic melismas. As Denis Arnold (1963) said, "Passion and magnificence—these two are inseparable words when describing this volume."

The Vespers may have resulted from Monteverdi's desire to write a large-scale, widely expressive sacred work that complemented, to some extent, his operatic output. It almost certainly was a result of his wish to find another post, a wish that arose from the growing dissatisfaction with conditions, particularly his salary, at the Mantuan court. His situation became aggravated in 1612, when Vincenzo I died, for shortly afterward he was dismissed by Vincenzo's successor, Ferdinand. For over a year Monteverdi sought employment that was commensurate with his now considerable reputation, and finally, in August 1613, he was appointed to one of the most prestigious musical positions in Italy, that of maestro di cappella at the famous basilica of St. Mark's in Venice.

Years in Venice

Monteverdi spent the rest of his life in Venice, dying there on Nov. 29, 1643. The only domestic events of note during this period were the arrest in 1627 of his son Massimiliano by the Inquisition and his acquittal the following year, and Monteverdi's entry into the priesthood about 1632. Musically his 30 years in the service of St. Mark's were richly productive. In addition to completely reorganizing the whole musical setup and raising to a new excellence the standards of the singers and instrumentalists, he composed a quantity of music, both sacred and secular. Most of the sacred music was published in Selva morale e spirituale (1640), which includes a Mass, two Magnificats, and over 30 other pieces, and in a collection published posthumously in 1650, which contains a Mass, a litany, and over a dozen psalm settings.

The secular music can be divided into chamber and dramatic. The chamber category includes the sixth, seventh, and eighth madrigal books (1614, 1619, 1638) and the second set of Scherzi musicali (1632). The dramatic category comprises nine operas, three ballets, incidental music, an intermezzo, a masque, and the dramatic cantata Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624). Il combattimento, notable for its demonstration of the stile concitatovia such unusual (at that time) instrumental effects as pizzicato and tremolando, has survived, as have the ballets Tirsi e Clori (1616) and Volgendo il ciel (1637) and Monteverdi's last two operas, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642). Poppea is the first opera on a historical subject (as opposed to mythological, biblical, or poetical subjects) and a masterpiece by any standard.

The Operas Ulisse and Poppea

Monteverdi's two last operas show profound differences compared with Orfeo. Both were first produced in Venice, but Ulisse is more typically Venetian than Poppea in the rapid succession of scenes—comic, serious, and spectacular—the quick patter of its recitative, often broken up by short songlike passages, the infrequency of instrumental numbers, the varied and heightened emotional range, and the reduction of the orchestra to a basic string group, which was first used in Il combattimento and has formed the foundation of the orchestra ever since.

In Poppea Monteverdi largely rejected the purely spectacular and the restless succession of scenic contrasts, relying more on the vivid and subtle characterization of the leading figures of the drama and maintaining a well-nigh perfect balance between music and drama, the music seeming to spring directly from the drama and not, as happened in most later baroque operas, being an end in itself. Not until Christoph Willibald Gluck, in fact, was such a conception of opera again realized. The music in Poppea is seldom less than attractive, and at times it reaches an emotional intensity and a melodic beauty that make an immediate impact today.

The works from Monteverdi's Venetian period that have not survived are the operas La favola di Peleo e di Tetide (1617), Andromeda (1617), La finta pazza Licori (1627), La Delia e l'Ulisse (1630), Proserpina rapita (1630), Adone (1639), and Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia (1641); the Prologue to a sacred play, La Maddalena (1617); a Prologue and five "Intermedia" (1627); the ballet La vittoria d'amore (1641); the intermezzo Gli amori di Diana e di Endimione (1628); and the masque Mercurio e Marte (1628). The disappearance of these works, and in particular of all but two of the last nine operas composed in Venice, must be counted the most tragic loss in the history of music, when one considers the exceptional significance of any opera written during the first half of the 17th century, Monteverdi's own stature as a composer, and the high quality of those examples that have come down to us.

Further Reading

Full-length studies of Monteverdi include Henri Prunières, Monteverdi: His Life and Work (trans. 1926); Leo Schrade, Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music (1950); Hans F. Redlich, Claudio Monteverdi: Life and Works (trans. 1952); and Denis Arnold, Monteverdi (1963). For background material see Donald J. Grout, A Short History of Opera (1947; 2d ed. 1965); Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, from Monteverdi to Bach (1947); and Simon T. Worsthorne, Venetian Opera in the Seventeenth Century (1954).

Additional Sources

Fabbri, Paolo, Monteverdi, Cambridge; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Horton, John, Monteverdi, Sevenoaks Eng.: Novello, 1975.

Schrade, Leo, Monteverdi: creator of modern music, New York: Da Capo Press, 1979, 1950. □

Monteverdi, Claudio

views updated May 14 2018

Claudio Monteverdi

May 15, 1567
Cremona, Italy
November 29, 1643
Venice, Italy


Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) was the foremost Italian composer of the seventeenth century. During his long career he mastered many forms of music, but he is best known for his operas. Monteverdi was one of the most experimental composers working between 1590 and 1625. During these years he introduced more expressiveness and drama into music, notably through what he called the stile concitato (agitated style). As early as 1600, Giovanni Maria Artusi (c. 1545–1613), a well-known music theorist, criticized Monteverdi for engaging in harsh "modernisms." His music represents the transition from the Renaissance into the baroque period (an era in music and the other arts that was characterized by heightened exuberance and drama). Monteverdi now ranks as one of the major European composers of all time.

Experiments with new music form

Monteverdi was born in Cremona, Italy, on May 15, 1567. Historians suggest that his mother, Maddalena, and father, Baldassare, a doctor, were probably musical, for both Claudio and his brother Giulio Cesare became professional musicians. It is most likely that Monteverdi was a choirboy at the local cathedral (district church) and studied composition (process of composing musical works) with the music director, Marc' Antonio Ingegneri (c. 1547–1592). Little is actually known about Monteverdi's life until 1589, when he tried unsuccessfully to secure a job in Milan. Nevertheless, this was a productive period for him. He published two books of songs, Madrigali spirituali (Sprititual madrigals; 1583) and Canzonette (Songs; 1584), and his first two books of madrigals, or short vocal pieces based on poems (1587, 1590).

Perhaps in 1590 or the year after, Monteverdi became a string player (one who plays stringed instruments) at the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga (1562–1612), duke of Mantua. He held this position in 1592, the same year he published his third madrigal book. He remained at Mantua for about twenty years. During this time Monteverdi accompanied the duke on two visits to foreign countries. The first, in 1595, was a military expedition to Hungary to fight the Muslim Turks (inhabitants of Turkey who followed the Islam religion), archenemies of European Christians. This experience made a deep impression on Monteverdi. On the second journey, in 1599, they went to Liège, Antwerp, and Brussels, cities in present-day Belgium. Shortly before the second trip Monteverdi married Claudia Cattaneo. They had three children before Claudia's death in 1607.

In 1602 Monteverdi was promoted to maestro della cappella (chorus master) at the Gonzaga court. Within the next five years he published two more madrigal books and the first set of compositions called Scherzi musicali, a form of vocal chamber music. (Vocal chamber music is composed for singers who perform in a private room or small auditorium, usually with one singer for each part. A part is a separate melody sung along with other, interrelated melodies.) The Scherzi were edited by Monteverdi's brother Giulio Cesare, who had previously been appointed to the court of Mantua. In this volume Giulio Cesare explained Monteverdi's views on such musical forms as prima prattica and seconda prattica. Prima prattica, consisting mainly of madrigals for five voices, was the style that dominated music until the late sixteenth century. Seconda prattica was a new style in which the text of a poem dictated the character and form of the music. Until 1605 Monteverdi's musical compositions were in the prima prattica tradition. Thereafter he experimented with seconda practtica, composing pieces for various combinations of voices and instruments.


The term "opera" originated after the Renaissance period to refer to a full-length musical drama with costumes and staging. It is sung entirely throughout with no dialogue (spoken parts). The earliest operas had plots that mixed singing with speaking.

La Dafne is generally considered to be the earliest known opera. The music was composed by Jacopo Peri (1562–1633), and the text was written by Ottavio Rinuccini (1562–1602). It was performed in 1598 Florence, Italy, during Carnival. (Carnival is a festival held before Lent, the Christian observance of forty week days of fasting and prayer between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.) La Dafne was originally planned and sponsored by the Florentine silk merchant Jacopo Corsi (1561–1602). Only six short fragments of music have survived from this work. Peri and Rinuccini collaborated on a second opera, L'Euridice, which was first performed in Florence in 1600. This is thought to be the first surviving opera.

The plots and characters of La Dafne, L'Euridice, and several other early operas revolve around heroes of ancient mythology (stories about gods, goddesses, and legendary figures). These heroes find their salvation through prowess in or support of the arts. This theme reflected the determination of the nobility in Florence to transform their city into a cultural center like ancient Athens, Greece. Moreover, they wanted to show that their own patronage was crucial to the return of the arts and learning of antiquity, which was considered the golden age of human achievement. The musical style and dramatic form of operas also paralleled or imitated those of antiquity.

Composes first operas

In 1607 Monteverdi published his first opera, La favola d'Orfeo, which was performed in Mantua. Opera was not a new musical form (see accompanying box), but this work was notable for combining many popular elements and introducing new concepts. Orfeo tells the story of the Greek god Orpheus who makes a journey to Hades (the underworld) to rescue his wife Euridyce. Orpheus plays his lyre (an early form of the harp) and charms Pluto, the Greek god of the underworld, who had abducted Euridyce. The opera represented a cross section of musical forms of the early seventeenth century—including choruses in complex harmony (several interrelated melodies sung at the same time), solo ensembles (small groups of singers), arias (elaborate melodies performed by one singer), dances, and independent instrumental pieces. The orchestra consisted of more than forty kinds of instruments, including harpsichords (type of piano), organs, strings, woodwinds (reed instruments), and brass (horns such as trumpets and trombones). The music director mainly decided which instruments played when, though in certain instances Monteverdi specified the instrumentation. For example, the spirits of Hades are accompanied by two organs, five trombones, two bass gambas, and a violone. The combination of these instruments produces a strikingly dark sound. In fact, as a result of Orfeo trombones have traditionally been associated with anything "infernal" (pertaining to the underworld or hell).

Orfeo was revived frequently during Monteverdi's lifetime. One of his other operas, Arianna, was even more popular. The celebrated lament (song of sorrow), Lasciatemi morire, is the only fragment to have survived from Arianna. Arranged for five voices and included in Monteverdi's sixth madrigal book, it set a fashion for nearly every opera for the next one hundred fifty years or so. In 1610 Monteverdi published another of his finest sacred works, the highly complex Vespers, which combined old and new musical forms for choirs, soloists, and several instruments.

Moves to Venice

Vincenzo Gonzaga died in 1612, and Monteverdi was dismissed from his position by the duke's successor, Ferdinand. For more than a year Monteverdi tried to find employment that would match his fame as a composer. Finally, in 1613, he was appointed to one of the most prestigious musical positions in Italy, that of maestro di cappella at the famous basilica (church) of Saint Mark's in Venice. Monteverdi spent the rest of his life in Venice. In 1627 his son Massimiliano was arrested by the Inquisition (a church court set up to find and punish heretics, or those who violate the laws of the church) and found not guilty the following year. Around 1632 Monteverdi entered the priesthood.

Monteverdi had a productive career during his thirty years at Saint Mark's. In addition to completely reorganizing the whole musical setup and raising the standards of the singers and instrumentalists, he composed a quantity of sacred and secular (nonreligious) music. Most of the sacred music consisted of masses (music performed during the Catholic communion service), although he composed songs, litanies (repetitive chants), and Magnificats (musical settings of the canticle, or song, of Mary in the biblical book of Luke). Monteverdi's secular music can be divided into chamber and dramatic. The chamber category included madrigals and the second set of Scherzi musicali (1632). The dramatic category included nine operas, three ballets (dances with poses and steps combined with leaps and turns), and the dramatic cantata (compositions for one or more voices and instruments) Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624). This work is still performed today, as are the ballets Tirisi e Clori (1616) and Volgendo il ciel (1637). Monteverdi's last two operas, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The return of Ulysses to his native country; 1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (The coronation of Poppea; 1642), have also survived. Poppea is now considered one of the masterpieces of European music.

Music showcases drama

Poppea was the first opera on an historical subject (as opposed to mythological, biblical, or poetical subjects). It is based on the true story of the Roman emperor Nero (a.d. 37–68) and his love affair with Poppea Sabina (died a.d. 65), a beautiful court prostitute (a woman whose official function was to be available for sexual relations with noblemen at court). Nero's obsession led him to repudiate, or reject, the rightful empress of Rome, his wife Ottavia, and to crown Poppea as the true empress. This ill-fated union ended in Poppea's murder at the hands of Nero. (According to one account, Nero kicked or stomped Poppea to death.) Monteverdi's opera, however, deals only with Nero's early obsession, his repudiation of Ottavia, and the coronation of Poppea. In composing The Coronation of Poppea Monteverdi largely rejected spectacular effects and relied more on characterization of the leading figures. He balanced music and drama, making the music seem to spring directly from the actions of the characters.

Monteverdi's influence, both before and after his death, was not equal to his achievement. He had no real followers who would have promoted his musical style. One reason was that musical taste and fashion were changing rapidly during the last phase of the Renaissance and the beginning of the baroque period. Nevertheless, today Monteverdi is regarded as one of the outstanding composers of all time. He used music as a vehicle for drama, portraying a wide range of human emotions and personalities.

For More Information


Kiel, Dyke, and Gary K. Adams. Claudio Monteverdi: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989.

Web Sites

"Monteverdi, Claudio." Essentials of Music. [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

Monteverdi, Claudio—Innovator and Madrigalist. [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

"Monteverdi, Claudio." Unitel—"L'Orfeo. [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

National Public Radio. "Monteverdi, Claudio." Milestones of the Millenium. [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

Monteverdi, Claudio (Giovanni Antonio)

views updated May 18 2018

Monteverdi, Claudio (Giovanni Antonio) (b Cremona, 1567; d Venice, 1643). It. composer. Chorister, Cremona Cath. At 16, when he was already a fine organist and viol player, he pubd. some sacred madrigals. Entered service of Duke of Mantua as viol player and singer of madrigals. Went with Duke on military expeditions to Danube and Flanders, 1595 and 1599. Heard and was influenced by Florentine operas of the Camerata, notably Peri's Euridice, 1600. His own first opera, La favola d'Orfeo was prod. in 1607, notable in history of mus. because for the first time the acc. was for a full (by the standards of the time) orch. The following year his Arianna was perf. at a ducal wedding celebration in Mantua; only the Lamento, which was immediately popular, survives. He left Cremona after the death of the Duke in 1612 and in 1613 became Master of Mus. of the Venetian Republic. For St Mark's, Venice, he composed a superb stream of sacred works which spread his fame throughout Europe. He received a visit from Schütz and his works were studied by M. Praetorius in Ger., Mersenne in Fr., and Tomkins in Eng. 12 of the operas he had written in Mantua were destroyed there in 1630 when it was sacked by Austrian troops. In the same year the plague ravaged Venice; the combination of these catastrophes probably accounts for Monteverdi's admission to holy orders in 1632. When the first opera house, San Cassiano, was opened in Venice in 1637, Monteverdi's interest in opera was re-kindled and for the remaining 6 years of his life he comp. a series of works of which only 2 survive.

Monteverdi's place in the history of Renaissance mus. can be justly compared to Shakespeare's in literature. Working from traditional beginnings, he transformed every genre in which he worked by imaginative use of available styles rather than by revolutionary means. His madrigals cover a period of 40 years, from publication of the 1st book in 1589 to the 8th in 1638 (the 9th was pubd. posthumously in 1651). He soon introduced instr. accs., and chromatic modulations, and the dramatic nature of the mus. foreshadows the solo cantata and operatic recit., culminating in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624) which is a miniature opera in style, acc. by str. and employing descriptive effects.

His sacred mus. veered between elaborate traditional polyphony and an advanced concerted style in which elements from his secular madrigals and operas lend colour and drama to the text, as in the famous Vespers comp. for Mantua in 1610. The operas take the Florentine melodramatic and monodic form and embellish it with all that he learned from It. madrigalists and Fr. composers. They are, in effect, the first mus. dramas, making use of what came to be known as leitmotiv and deploying many startling dramatic devices. They are also the first operas in which the characters are recognizably human rather than symbolic figures. Above all, the melodic genius and fertility of his mus. and its harmonic adventurousness are what make it so attractive and ‘contemporary’ in the 20th cent. Naturally, the scores present many musicological problems; their solution by various eds. has caused considerable disagreement among students of the period. Prin. works:OPERAS & BALLETS: La favola d'Orfeo (1607); Arianna (1608, lost); Il ballo delle Ingrate (1608); Tirsi e Clori (1616); Favola di Peleo e di Theti (1617, lost); Il matrimonio d'Alceste con Admeto (1618, lost); Andromeda (1619, lost); Commento d'Apollo (1620, lost); La finta Pazza Licori (1627, lost); Mercurio e Marte (1628, lost); Adone (1639, lost); Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia (1641, lost); Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640); L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642).SACRED: Madrigali spirituali, 4 vv. (1583); Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610); Mass, In illo tempore, 6 vv. (1610); Masses, 4 vv., and psalms (1650); Selva morale e spirituale (1641) for varying numbers of vv. with varied instr. acc. in most cases; and a large number of motets, etc.SECULAR VOCAL: Canzonette for 3 vv. (1584); Madrigali: Book I for 5 vv. (1587), II for 5 vv. (1590), III for 5 vv. (1592), IV for 5 vv. (1603), V for 5 vv., some with instr. acc. (1605), VI for 5 vv., some with instr. acc.; includes Lamento d'Arianna of 1608 (1614), VII for vv. from 1 to 6, with instr. acc., incl. Lettera amorosa (1619), VIII Madrigali guerrieri e amorosi (Madrigals of Love and War) for vv. from 1 to 8 with instr. acc., incl. Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda of 1624 (1638), IX Madrigali e Canzonette for 2 to 3 vv., 4 with basso continuo (1651); 10 Scherzi musicali for 1 or 2 vv., all with basso continuo (1632); 15 Scherzi musicali for 3 vv., unacc. (1607).

Monteverdi, Claudio

views updated Jun 08 2018


Illustrious composer whose sacred and secular works spanned the old Renaissance and new baroque styles; b. Cremona, 1567 (baptized Claudio Giovanni Antonio on May 15); d. Venice, Nov. 29, 1643. After study with M.A. Ingegneri at Cremona, he spent 21 years in the service of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, where he composed his earliest madrigals, church music, and operas, the first of which, Orfeo (1607), did much to fix the modern opera form. From 1613 until the end of his life he was

maestro di cappella of St. Mark's, Venice, a post affording both stimulus and opportunity for his mature compositions in the new baroque concertato style. Long after his wife's early death he became a priest (c. 1632). Although the madrigal was declining when he was a young man, his nine books display a wealth of invention covering a far wider field than the classic term "madrigal" might suggest. Even more dramatic and picturesque effects are found in his ballets and operas, many of which are now lost. In church music he was supreme in his mastery of massive choral and instrumental groups, though he could also express the quieter mood of smaller-scale motets and monodies developed in Mantua by his colleague viadana.

Monteverdi issued his first anthology of church music when only 15the three-voiced Sacrae cantiunculae of 1582. Apart from a book of Madrigali spirituali in 1583 (lost, except for the basso part), he ventured no further into the already overcrowded field of church music until 1610, when the Venetian publisher Amadino brought out a vast collection of music in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This consisted of a six-voiced Mass based on themes from gombert's motet In illo tempore, five motets (or cantatas), and a complete setting of Vespers, with two Magnificats. The Vespers make considerable use of divided choirs (cori spezzati ), instrumental accompaniment and interludes, and extensive sections for solo voices. From 1615 until well after his death, Venetian publishers included his motets in various collections. The Selva morale e spirituale of 1640 includes a handful of spiritual madrigals and a "Pianto della Madonna" based on the popular "Lamento d'Arianna" (from 1608), but the main content is liturgical: a four-voiced Mass, a seven-voiced Gloria, with brilliant instrumental obbligato parts, and another extensive collection of music for Vespers of solemn feasts. Seven psalms are set for extremely varied combinations of voices and instruments, and some are provided with two or even three different settings. The four hymns appear as monodies, duets, and a trio, all with two violins and continuo. Of the two Magnificats, one is conceived as chamber music, the other as a grandiose canticle. Also noteworthy are three versions of Salve Regina, one of which features an echo tenor singing a trope.

This collection represents Monteverdi at the very height of his career, and though some secular elements are present (contrafacta of madrigals) the general impression is one of tremendous competence and a sincere desire to project the meaning of the texts. In his posthumous Messa a quattro voci e salmi (1650), one of the last great collections reflecting the baroque apogee of the Veneto, there are 13 settings of eight different psalms, perhaps the remains of several complete sets of Vesper psalms written for St. Mark's. Monteverdi's contribution to the church music of his day was a distinguished one, and if its occasional excess of ornament is seen against the background of his life and work, his taste is generally vindicated.

Bibliography: Tutte le opere, ed. g. f. malipiero, 14 v. (Asolo 192642). d. arnold, Claudio Monteverdi (New York 1963). l. schrade, Monteverdi (New York 1950). m. f. bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era (New York 1947). h. f. redlich, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 9:511531. n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (5th ed. New York 1958) 110709. e. t. chafe, Monteverdi's Tonal Language (New York 1992). g. chew, "The Platonic Agenda of Monteverdi's Seconda pratica: A Case Study from the Eighth Book of Madrigals," Music Analysis 12 (1993) 147168. s. g. cusick, "There Was Not One Lady Who Failed to Shed a Tear: Arianna's Lament and the Construction of Modern Womanhood," Early Music 22 (1994) 2141. j. g. kurtzman, "Monteverdi's 'Mass of Thanksgiving' Revisited," Early Music 22 (1994) 6384; The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance (Oxford 1999). s. saunders, "New Light on the Genesis of Monteverdi's Eighth Book of Madrigals," Music and Letters 77 (1996) 183193. s. stubbs, "L'armonia sonora: Continuo Orchestration in Monteverdi's Orfeo, " Early Music 22 (1994) 8698. r. wistreich, "La voce è grata assai, ma : Monteverdi on Singing," Early Music 22 (1994) 719.

[d. stevens]

Monteverdi, Claudio

views updated May 23 2018

Claudio Monteverdi




In a long and illustrious career Claudio Monteverdi established himself as one of the great musical geniuses of the Western tradition. His music gave expression to late Renaissance tastes while eventually helping to establish the characteristics of early Baroque style. Monteverdi's career occurred at a pivotal point in the history of Western music, as a melodic line supported against an instrumental background replaced the relatively equal polyphonic lines and harmonies of the sixteenth-century madrigal. Monteverdi helped to establish this style in a career that lasted more than sixty years.


Until the early seventeenth century Monteverdi's most important compositional work was in the madrigal form, then popular as a kind of vocal chamber music in elite societies throughout Italy. These were written for five voices, with complex interwoven lines, as was the popular custom of the day. In the years following 1600, though, Monteverdi also experimented with some of the most innovative forms to develop in the later Renaissance. One of these was the opera, and Monteverdi's earliest contributions to this genre are performed to this day. These include his Orfeo written in 1607, which gave expression to the then contemporary desire to recreate the music of ancient Greece. The early opera had grown out of the discussions and experiments of the Florentine camerata, which under the influence of such theorists as Girolamo Mei and Vincenzo Galilei, had begun to piece together scattered evidence of the kinds of music that had been used in Greek tragedy. The most fervent supporters of this revival argued that ancient Greek tragedy had been completely sung in monodic or single-toned expressive lines. The first attempts to recreate this form of drama had occurred in the city of Florence in the final years of the sixteenth century, and had been supported by the wealthy merchant and patrician families of the city as well as members of the Medici dynasty. These early entries had relied almost solely on recitative, a new form of monody that imitated, yet heightened the patterns of human speech. Monteverdi patterned his Orfeo along the lines of what had been developed in Florence, but beyond making use of the new recitative, he also introduced solo airs, duets, and madrigal-like portions into the action of the opera. In this way he joined many of the contrapuntal techniques that had flourished in the late Renaissance to the emerging fashion for a monodic line.


Even in his own day Monteverdi was credited with founding a "modern" style in music, a position within the history of the Western repertory that he has retained even to the present day. Besides his important innovations in opera and the madrigal, he served from 1613 until his death as choirmaster at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. From this, the most important musical position in Italy, he also influenced contemporary tastes in sacred music. At the same time, late Renaissance musical theorists attacked his work for its disregard of the craftsman-like techniques and traditions of counterpoint. They criticized his new experiments with melodies that were supported against a backdrop of choral and instrumental harmonies. Certainly, Monteverdi rebelled against many of the traditions that governed Renaissance music, but at the same time he never completely abandoned the style of his youth. While long judged one of the founders of the early Baroque style, he continues to be classified by most scholars as a "late Renaissance" composer. In a long and distinguished career the experiments he made in madrigal form, opera, and sacred music continued to inspire subsequent generations.


M. Ossi, "Monteverdi, Claudio," in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (New York: Scribner, 1999).

G. Tomlinson, Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1987).

Monteverdi, Claudio (1567–1643)

views updated May 14 2018

Monteverdi, Claudio (15671643)

Composer who pioneered the art of opera, born in Cremona, Italy. Monteverdi's first works were motets and madrigals, completed when he was still a teenager. He joined the court of Vincenzo I of Mantua as a singer and musician, and later was appointed conductor of the court orchestra. He pioneered many innovations in the writing of music, including the use of instrumental accompaniment known as continuo and the use of monody, a simpler and clearer melody that would be taken up by composers of the Baroque period that followed the Renaissance. Monteverdi combined vocal music with drama, and invented opera with the premier of L 'Orfeo in 1607. This work was the first to assign musical parts to specific instruments and to convey a dramatic plot with the use of musical devices and the singing voice. He wrote The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin in 1610, a work that began the practice of repeating melodies for dramatic effect and to unify the composition. Monteverdi became the conductor of San Marco Cathedral in Venice in 1613. There he wrote more books of madrigals and invented new techniques of playing string instruments, including the tremolo, in which a note is rapidly repeated or shaken, and pizzicato, in which the musician plucks the string with his finger. Late in his life he completed The Return of Ulysses and The Coronation of Poppea, a work based on the life of the Roman emperor Nero.

Monteverdi, Claudio

views updated May 14 2018

Monteverdi, Claudio (1567–1643) Italian composer, the first great opera composer. Many of Monteverdi's operas are lost; the surviving ones include L'Orfeo (1607) and L'Incoronazione di Poppea (1642). He wrote much religious music and was the last and greatest master of the madrigal.

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