Monteverdi's 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: the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque and the heritage of Renaissance polyphony. Enjoying fame in his lifetime, he wrote one of the earliest operas, L'Orfeo, which is still regularly performed.
Claudio Monteverdi, circa 1597, by an anonymous artist, (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). Thought to be the earliest known image of Monteverdi, at about age 30, painted when he was still at the Gonzaga Court in Mantua.
Claudio Monteverdi was born in 1567 in Cremona, a town in Northern Italy. His father was Baldassare Monteverdi, a doctor, apothecary and surgeon. He was the oldest of five children. During his childhood, he was taught by Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di cappella (The Maestro di capella’s job was to conduct important worship services in accordance with the liturgy books of the Roman Catholic Church). at the Cathedral of Cremona. Monteverdi learned about music by being part of the cathedral choir. He also studied at the University of Cremona. His first music was written for publication, including some motets and sacred madrigals, in 1582 and 1583. His first five compositions were: Cantiunculae Sacrae, 1582; Madrigal Spirituali, 1583; the three-part canzonets, 1584; and the five-part madrigals– Book I, 1587, and Book II, 1590. By 1587, he had produced his first book of secular madrigals. Monteverdi worked for the court of Mantua first as a singer and violist, then as music director. He worked at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga in Mantua as a vocalist and viol player. In 1602, he was working as the court conductor.
In 1599 Monteverdi married the court singer Claudia Cattaneo, who died in September 1607. He and his wife had two boys (Francesco and Massimilino) and one girl (Leonora - another daughter died shortly after birth).
By 1613, he had moved to the San Marco in Venice where, as conductor, he quickly restored the musical standard of both the choir and the instrumentalists. The musical standard had declined due to the financial mismanagement of his predecessor, Giulio Cesare Martinengo. The managers of the basilica were relieved to have such a distinguished musician in charge, as the music had been declining since the death of Giovanni Croce in 1609.
In 1632, he became a priest. During the last years of his life, when he was often ill, he composed his two last masterpieces: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641), and the historic opera L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on the life of the RomanemperorNero.L'incoronazione especially is considered a culminating point of Monteverdi's work. It contains tragic, romantic, and comedic scenes (a new development in opera), a more realistic portrayal of the characters, and warmer melodies than previously heard. It requires a smaller orchestra, and has a less prominent role for the choir. For a long period of time, Monteverdi's operas were merely regarded as a historical or musical interest. Since the 1960s, The Coronation of Poppea has re-entered the repertoire of major opera companies worldwide.
Monteverdi died in Venice on 29 November 1643 and was buried at the church of the Frari.
Monteverdi's works are split into three categories: madrigals, operas, and church-music.
Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked primarily on madrigals, composing a total of nine books. It took Monteverdi 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 Renaissancepolyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.
Book 2, 1590: Il secondo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 3, 1592: Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 4, 1603: Il quarto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 5, 1605: Il quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 6, 1614: Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 7, 1619: Concerto. Settimo libro di madrigali
Book 8, 1638: Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo, che saranno per brevi episodi fra i canti senza gesto.
Book 9, 1651: Madrigali e canzonette a due e tre voci
The Fifth Madrigal Book
The Fifth Book of Madrigals shows the shift from the late Renaissance style of music to the early Baroque. The Quinto Libro (Fifth Book), published in 1605, was at the heart of the controversy between Monteverdi and Giovanni Artusi. Giovanni Artusi attacked the "crudities" and "license" of the modern style of composing, centering his attacks on madrigals (including Cruda Amarilli, composed around 1600) (See Fabbri, Monteverdi, p. 60) from the fourth book. Monteverdi made his reply in the introduction to the fifth book, with a proposal of the division of musical practice into two streams, which he called prima prattica, and seconda prattica. Prima prattica was described as the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing strict counterpoint, prepared dissonance, and equality of voices. Seconda prattica used much freer counterpoint with an increasing hierarchy of voices, emphasising soprano and bass. In Prima Prattica the harmony controls the words. In Seconda Prattica the words should be in control of the harmonies. This represented a move towards the new style of monody. The introduction of continuo in many of the madrigals was a further self-consciously modern feature. In addition, the fifth book showed the beginnings of conscious functional tonality.
The Eighth Madrigal Book
Posthumous portrait medallion of Monteverdi, etching by Barberis, (Associazione Amici della Raccolta Bertarelli, Milan).
The Ottavo Libro, published in 1638, includes the so-called Madrigali dei guerrieri ed amorosi which many consider to be the perfection of the madrigal form. The Eighth Book of Madrigals is subtitled Madrigals of War and Love. While in Venice, Monteverdi also finished his sixth, seventh and eighth books of madrigals. The eighth is the largest, containing works written over a thirty-year period. Originally the work was to be dedicated to Ferdinand II, but because of his ill health in 1635 his son was made king in December 1636. When the work was first published in 1638 Monteverdi rededicated it to the new King Ferdinand III.
The book is divided into sections of War and Love each containing madrigals, a piece in dramatic form (genere rappresentativo), and a ballet. In the Madrigals of War, Monteverdi has organized poetry that describes the pursuits of love through the allegory of war; the hunt for love, and the battle to find love. In the second half of the book, the Madrigals of Love, Monteverdi organized poetry that describes the unhappiness of being in love, unfaithfulness, and ungrateful lovers that feel no shame. In his previous madrigal collections, Monteverdi usually sets poetry from one or two poets that he is in contact through the court he is employed. The Book 8 Madrigals of War and Love, represents an overview of the poets the poets he has dealt with throughout his life; the classical poetry of Petrarch, poetry by his contemporaries (Tasso, Guarini, Marino, Rinuccini, Testi and Strozzi), or anonymous poets that Monteverdi found and adapted for his needs.
Madrigals of War
Altri canti d’Amor tenero ariero (Let others sing about the archers love, Anonymous Sonnet)
is preceded by a sinfonia introduction that is written for four violins and viola da gamba. The madrigal that follows, serves as an introduction to the piece and a dedication to Ferdinand III.
Hor che’l ciel e la terre ‘l vento tace (Now that the sky, earth and wind are silent) Sonnet by Petrarch,
is the first significant poetic work of the collection in which Monteverdi splits into two sections. In the first section, his poetry introduces the idea of the wars of love, in which he yearns for someone to love him.
"War is my condition full of anger and grief, and only when thinking of her do I find some peace."
In the second section, "Thus from a single bright and living fountain" (Cosi sol duna chiara fonte viva) the symbolism of war continues:
"One hand alone cures me and stabs me. And, so that my torture may never end, a thousand times daily I die, a thousand I am born,so distant am I from my salvation."
Gira il nemico insidioso Amore (The enemy insidious in love is encircling the citadel of my heart) Canzonetta by Giulio Strozzi
Se vittorie si belle han le guerre d’amore (If love’s wars have such beautiful victories) madrigal by Fulvio Testi
Armato il cor d’adamanina fede (My heart armed with adamantine faith) madrigal by Ottavio Rinuccini
Ogni amante e guerrier: nel suo gran regno (Every lover is a warrior: in his great kingdom) madrigal by Ottavio Rinuccini
Ardo, avvampo, mi struggo, ardo: accorrete (I burn, I blaze, I am consumed, I burn; come running) Anonymous Sonnet
was originally composed and performed at the home of Girolamo Mocenigo (1624) and includes the dramatic scene in which the orchestra and voices form two separate entities, acting as counterparts. Most likely Monteverdi was inspired to try this arrangement because of the two opposite balconies in San Marco. What made this composition also stand out is the first-time use of string tremolo (fast repetition of the same tone) and pizzicato (plucking strings with fingers) for special effect in dramatic scenes.
Introduzione al ballo e ballo (Introduction of the ballet, and the ballet) Sonnet by Ottavio Rinuccini
Madrigals of Love
Altri canti di Marte- Due sua schiera (Let others sing of the bold assaults) Sonnet by Marino
Vago augelletto che cantando vai (Lovely little bird, who are you singing about) Sonnet by Petrarch
Mentre vaga angioletta (While a charming, angelic girl attracts every wellborn soul with her singing) madrigal by Guarini
Ardo e scoprir, ahi lasso, io non ardisco (I burn and, alas, I do not have the courage to reveal that burning which I bear hidden in my breast) Anonymous, madrigal
O sia tranquillo il mare o pien d’orgoglio (Whether the sea be still or swelled with pride) Anonymous, Sonnet
Ninfa che, scalza il piede e sciolto il crine (Nymph, who with bare feet and hair undone) Anonymous madrigal
Dolcissimo uscignolo (Sweetest nightingale) madrigal by Guarini
Chi vol haver felice e lieto il core (Whoever wishes to have a happy joyful heart) madrigal by Guarini
Non Havea Febo ancora: Lamento della ninfa (Phoebus had not yet: The Lament of the Nymph) Canzonetta by Rinuccini
Perche te n fuggi, o Fillide? (Why do you run away, Phyllis?) Anonymous madrigal
Non partir, ritrosetta (Do not depart, maiden averse to love) Anonymous canzonetta
Su, Su, Su, pastorelli vezzosi (Come, come, come, charming shepherd lads) Anonymous Canzonetta
Frontispiece of Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, Venice edition, 1609.
Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas, 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. From monody (with melodic lines, intelligible text and placid accompanying music), it was a logical step for Monteverdi to begin composing opera. In 1607, the premiere of his first opera, L'Orfeo, took place in Mantua.L'Orfeo was not the first opera, but the first mature opera, or one that realized all of its potential. It was normal at that time for composers to create works on demand for special occasions, and this piece was part of the ducal celebrations of carnival. (Monteverdi was later to write for the first opera houses supported by ticket sales which opened in Venice). L'Orfeo has dramatic power and lively orchestration. L'Orfeo is arguably the first example of a composer assigning specific instruments to parts in operas. It is also one of the first large compositions in which the exact instrumentation of the premiere has come down to us. The plot is described in vivid musical pictures and the melodies are linear and clear. With this opera, Monteverdi created an entirely new style of music, the dramma per la musica or musical drama.
L'Arianna was the second opera written by Claudio Monteverdi. It is one of the most influential and famous specimens of early baroque opera. It was first performed in Mantua in 1608. Its subject matter was the ancient Greek legend of Ariadne and Theseus. 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 RomanemperorNero. The libretto for Il ritorno d'Ulisse was by Giacomo Badoarro and for L'incoronazione di Poppea by Giovanni Busenello.
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.
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
Selva Morale e Spirituale (1640)
In 1607, Aquilino Coppini published in Milan his "Musica tolta da i Madrigali di Claudio Monteverde, e d'altri autori … e fatta spirituale" for 5 and 6 voices, in which many of Monteverdi's madrigals (especially from the third, fourth and fifth books) are presented with the original secular texts replaced with sacred Latincontrafacta carefully prepared by Coppini in order to fit the music in every aspect.
Whenham, John, and Richard Wistreich (eds.) (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521875250 (cloth) ISBN 0521697980 (pbk)