Alluring women

Concerto di dame

Thoughts on Gesualdo and his music: part five

Robert Hollingworth

Despite being employed at the nearby musically conservative court of Mantua, Giaches de Wert directed his eighth book of madrigals to the Ferraran court, asking ‘in what part of the world could these be better sung than in Your Highness’ court, where I do not know how to resolve which is the greater – the mastery of [those] who sing or the judgment of [those] who listen? …. [T]o whom today are not notable the marvels of art and of nature, the voice, the grace, the disposition, the memory and the other comparable and so rare qualities of the three most noble young ladies of the most serene Lady Duchess of Ferrara? – in respect of which on its own would be enough to induce all the composers of the world to direct their works to Your Highness, because from such divine voices, and such a noble ensemble they would receive the true and natural spirit of Music.’ (tr.Laurie Stras).

It was into this environment that Gesualdo, even then famous through poetic and tabloid-like descriptions of his double-murder of his wife and her lover, came in 1594. His passion for music had initially been (officially at least) a private affair, the first two of his eventual six books of madrigals having been published (as was normal for someone of such exalted status) under a pseudonym. But his first visit to Ferrara, ostensibly to re-marry, but also to immerse himself in that court’s musical world, already famous in Naples, soon put paid to such anonymity. Gesualdo greatly admired the music of court maestro Luzzaschi, famous as a keyboard player but also a creator of music for the concerto di donne and madrigalist. The harmonic experimentation in Luzzaschi’s madrigals is in fact occasional and was quickly surpassed by Gesualdo.

Other posts on this subject from Robert can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6

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This blog accompanies Betrayal: a polyphonic crime drama, a music and dance-theatre project inspired by the life and works of Carlo Gesualdo with shows in London, Cambridge and Salisbury May/June 2015. More information here and via the links on the left.