Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (Cremona, born probably May 9 and baptized May 15, 1567 – Venice, November 29, 1643) was an Italian composer, conductor, singer, and gambler.
He developed his career working as a court musician for Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga in Mantua, and then taking over the musical direction of the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice, standing out as a composer of madrigals and operas. He was one of those responsible for the transition from the polyphonic tradition of the Renaissance to a freer, more dramatic and dissonant style, based on monody and the conventions of continuous bass and vertical harmony, which became the central characteristics of the music of the following periods, Mannerism and Baroque.
Monteverdi is considered the last great madrigalist, certainly the greatest Italian composer of his generation, one of the great operists of all time, and one of the most influential personalities in the entire history of Western music. He did not invent anything new, but his high musical stature derives from having employed existing resources with a strength and efficiency unparalleled in his generation, and integrated different practices and styles into a rich, varied, and very expressive personal work that continues to have a direct appeal to the contemporary world even though he is not exactly a popular composer today.
Claudio Monteverdi was the son of Baldassare Monteverdi and Maddalena Zignani. His father was a barber-surgeon, a family tradition, and his mother was the daughter of a goldsmith. He had two sisters and three brothers. His family”s medical tradition, according to Ringer, may have been an influence on his inclination for the observation of human nature, reflected later in his operas, and his concomitant involvement with science the cause of his having been interested all his life in alchemy as a private hobby. When he was eight years old he lost his mother, and his father soon remarried Giovanna Gadio, with whom he had more children, but this second wife also died early, and in 1584 Monteverdi met another stepmother, Francesca Como. Monteverdi married Claudia Cattaneo in 1599, and had children Francesco Baldassare (b. 1601), who became a musician, Leonora Camilla (b. 1603), who died soon after birth, and Massimiliano Giacomo (b. 1604), who graduated in Medicine.
The early years of his career are difficult to reconstruct. On an unknown date he became a pupil of Marc”Antonio Ingegneri, chapel master of Cremona Cathedral and musician of international renown, but no records survive of this connection except in his summary citation on the frontispiece of the first works he published, but in all probability he followed the practices of his time, being educated in counterpoint, singing, instruments and composition, and possibly participating as a boy singer in the cathedral choir until his voice changed. Even without knowing the details of Ingegneri”s pedagogy and his progress, we know that it was rapid, for at only fifteen years of age he already published a collection of 23 motets, the Sacrae Cantiunculae tribus vocibus (Venice, 1582), which betrays a direct dependence on his master”s style but are already competent works. The following year he published another collection, Madrigali Spirituali a quattro voci (Brescia, 1583), and in 1584 another, Canzonette a tre voci. In 1587 came the Madrigali a cinque voci, Libro Primo.
The exact date of Monteverdi”s departure for Mantua is not known; he had sought employment elsewhere, without success, but by 1590 he was employed as gambitist at the glittering ducal court of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, and soon came into contact with the musical avant-garde of the time. In this period the more advanced madrigalists were developing a compositional style based on the doctrine of affections, which sought a musical illustration of all the nuances of the text. The most prestigious poets, Torquato Tasso and Giovanni Battista Guarini, were making a highly emotional, rhetorical and formalistic poetry, and the musicians were striving to capture these traits and describe them through a series of melody conventions and an original harmonic research. The early works that Monteverdi produced in Mantua evidence an adherence to these principles, although he did not immediately master them, and the result had angular, difficult-to-sing melodies and a harmony with many dissonances. The change in style seems to have impaired his inspiration, for he published very little in the following years.
In 1595 he accompanied his employer on a military expedition in Hungary, when the Mantuans played a role in the taking of Viszgrad. The trip besides being uncomfortable forced him to incur great unforeseen expenses. The following year the duke”s chapel master died, but the position was taken by another musician, Benedetto Pallavicino. Perhaps seeing his prospects for professional growth limited in Mantua, Monteverdi strengthened relations with the court of Ferrara, which he had held for some time, sending his compositions there more regularly, but the annexation of that duchy to the Papal States in 1597 thwarted any plans for change he may have nurtured. His fame, on the other hand, already extended beyond the borders of Italy. On May 20, 1599, he married a singer, Claudia Cattaneo, but only twenty days after the engagement the duke asked him to make another trip, this time to Flanders, where he must have come into contact with the last representatives of the Franco-Flemish polyphonic school, which had been very influential in Italy. But, just as on the other occasion, the trip caused him to spend much more than he received. Fifteen years later he would still complain in a letter to a friend about the lasting negative effects of this spending on his fragile domestic economy.
In 1602, he finally assumed the post of chapel master for the duke, which represented an increase in earnings and prestige, but also work and hassles, since his salary was paid irregularly and the treatment he received from the duke, from what he recorded in his correspondence, was not always the most respectful. He received mantuan citizenship and moved from his home in the suburbs to lodgings on the ducal palace grounds. In the following years he published two more books of madrigals, with some masterpieces that already show a perfect assimilation of the new style, solving the problems of musical illustration of the text without losing sight of the coherence of the structure and the fluency of the musical discourse, and without being attached to an exhaustive and meticulous description of the text, preferring instead to illustrate its essence and general meaning. By this time, a public controversy was already beginning to break out between supporters of traditional polyphony and advocates of the new monodic, expressive style. The first party declared that music was the mistress of the word (Harmonia orationis Domina est), and the second, the opposite, that the text should guide musical composition (Oratio harmoniae Domina absolutissima), and Monteverdi engaged in the debate at the instigation of a conservative theorist, Giovanni Maria Artusi, who condemned the use in his music of frequent dissonances, inadequate intervals, chromaticisms, modal ambiguity, and the presence of passages close to declamation. He said that “the music made by the ancients produced wonderful effects without these jokes, but this is just foolishness.
Monteverdi was forced to make a public defense of his works through a manifesto, which he included as an appendix to his fifth book of madrigals, where he defended the validity of alternative ways of understanding the rules of harmony, which relied on the resources of both reason and emotion, affirming his commitment to truth. He went on to say that he did not see himself as a revolutionary, but followed a tradition of experimentalism that was already more than 50 years old, that sought to create a union between music and words, and intended to move the listener. In this research, he added, in order for the emotional effect to be more powerful and faithful, some rigid conventions had to be sacrificed, but he believed that music had autonomy, as the ancient polyphonists such as Josquin des Prez and Giovanni da Palestrina believed. With this he established the validity of both currents, the traditional, the prima pratica, which favored music over words, and the avant-garde, called seconda pratica, which defended the primacy of the text. His opinion became enormously influential in the theoretical discussion of the time, and he continued to work with both aesthetics throughout his life.
In 1607, already famous for his madrigals and as one of the leaders of the avant-garde, he had his reputation consolidated by the presentation of his first opera, L”Orfeo, favola in musica. In all probability he ventured into this genre after coming into contact with the production of the Florentines Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini, who were making an attempt to reconstruct the musical theater of ancient Greece, and whose result was the development of a style of dramatic composition with recitatives and arias that was the origin of opera. Monteverdi may also have made some earlier, undocumented experiments, but be that as it may with L”Orfeo he already appeared ahead of the Florentines with a much more integrated, flexible, and powerful scenic conception and musical style, combining the opulence of Renaissance theatrical performances with a great declamatory vein in the recitatives and arias, while his choruses take on an important function as commentators on the action of the protagonists. Using a large instrumental group, he was able to create a rich variety of atmospheres for musical illustration of the scenes and emphasizing their emotional content.
A few months after the premiere of L”Orfeo, he lost his wife and fell into depression, retiring to his father”s house in Cremona. Almost immediately, his employer requested his return, so that he would compose a new opera, Arianna, to celebrate the marriage of his heir, Francesco Gonzaga, to Margaret of Savoy. He also had to compose a ballet and incidental music for a play. And while the opera was being rehearsed, the principal soprano died, and he had to adapt his entire part. It was finally staged in May 1608, with immense success. Unfortunately the score was lost, except for one aria, the famous Lament, which was passed on from various sources. After finishing his duties, he returned to Cremona in a state of exhaustion, which lasted for quite some time. He was summoned to return to Mantua at the end of 1608, but refused, only appearing later, and from then on he began to show evident signs of discontent, considering himself underpaid and discredited. He did not stop composing, but his output the following year betrays his gloomy mood. In 1610 he published a collection of pieces for Vespers of the Virgin Mary, Vespro della Beata Vergine, including a mass in prima pratica, which represents the crowning of his work in the ancient style, with great aesthetic qualities and enormous counterpoint science. The other pieces, more modern, are likewise masterpieces, composing a wide panel of all possible treatments in his time for sacred music, with pieces for solo voice, choral and instrumental interludes, with a complete mastery of the sumptuous style of Venetian choral music, and whose effect is grand and impactful.
On February 12, 1612 his employer died, and his successor did not have the same interest in art, firing several musicians, including Monteverdi. During this year the composer lived with his father in Cremona, and earned his living giving concerts. He tried to offer his services to some nobles, but got no positive response. When a vacancy opened up in 1613 as chapel master of St. Mark”s Basilica in Venice, he applied and was admitted in August, with a substantial salary of 300 ducats a year. It was the most coveted official position in Italy at the time. Although he had no great experience in sacred music, he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his new position, and within a few years St. Mark”s, which at its admission was somewhat devitalized, had again become an important musical center. He was able to hire new musicians, especially singers and castrati, put the instrumentalists on the regular payroll and engaged them for fixed series of performances, and ordered the printing of much new music to supplement the repertoire. Among his duties were writing new pieces and conducting all the sacred music used in the Basilica”s worship, which followed a specific ceremonial, and also supervising all the profane music used in official city ceremonies. In parallel, he participated in many concerts and received private commissions from the nobility.
Even if overwhelmed by the volume of work, his correspondence from this phase shows that he had recovered from the loss of his wife and felt happy, being highly prestigious and well paid, but he did not break his ties with Mantua, because opera in Venice was not much cultivated, while in the other city it was a frequent attraction, and he visited it several times. His operistic conception also showed a change, taking on an unprecedented dramatism that had enormous influence on the evolution of the genre for years to come. To this end, he developed new musical resources, assimilated the achievements of the new generation of composers in the field of realistic music, and brought to the music ideas about emotions that he found in his readings of Plato, and whose first fruits appeared in his next book of madrigals, the seventh, published in 1619. In 1624 came a first dramatic attempt according to his new doctrine: Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, a musicalization of a passage from Tasso”s Gerusalemme liberata, and which brought the audience to tears at its premiere. He also experimented with comic music, such as La finta pazza Licori (“Licori, the pretended madwoman”) (1627). Unfortunately lost, it is very likely that this was an opera buffa, proposed to the court of Mantua, with libretto by Giulio Strozzi. As there is no record of it ever being performed, it is assumed that it was never completed, although it is referred to in Monteverdi”s correspondence as “an infinity of ridiculous little inventions”, with influences from commedia dell”arte.
By now the composer was feeling tired; he had frequent headaches, vision problems, and a tremor in his hands that made it difficult for him to write. Around 1630 he entered religious life, but in 1631 a plague epidemic struck the city. Musical activities were suspended for eighteen months and a third of the population lost their lives, including his firstborn son Francesco. As these afflictions were not enough, in the same year his surviving son, Massimiliano, was arrested by the Inquisition for reading forbidden works. With the end of the plague, he wrote a mass of thanksgiving, and in 1632 was ordained a priest. His sacred music of this period is much more majestic and tranquil than that of his earlier years, and a similar detachment from emotional turmoil is evident in his later madrigals and songs. Around 1633 he planned to publish an essay defining his musical conceptions entitled Melodia overo seconda pratica musicale, but the book was never printed. Letters survive attesting that the polemic against Artusi had never left his mind in the meantime, and that only after having debated it was he able to define for himself what principles determined his later evolution.
In 1637 the first opera houses opened in Venice, which gave him the chance to work once again in this genre, and in fact in a few years he produced four compositions, of which only two have survived: Il Ritorno d”Ulisse in Patria, and La Coronatione di Poppea, both masterpieces that are considered the first modern operas, already far removed from the spirit of Renaissance opera, exemplified in L”Orfeo. They make great exploration of the intricacies of human psychology and describe in depth a wide range of characters, from the heroic and pathetic to the more vile and comic, and incorporate many novelties in the form of the individual numbers, opening up to continuous structures that contribute to increasing the unity and dramatic force of the text on which they are based. With them, Monteverdi elevated himself to the position of one of the greatest operists of all time.
In 1643, already elderly and unable to fulfill all his duties, he gained the help of an assistant, sharing with him the duties of chapel master. In October he visited Mantua for the last time, and by November he was back in Venice. After a brief illness, diagnosed as a “malignant fever”, he died on November 29. He received a grand funeral in St. Mark”s Basilica, with great attendance, and his body was buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, where a monument was erected to him.
Background and Overview
Monteverdi worked in a period of crisis of aesthetic values. Until shortly before he was born all serious music of the Renaissance was produced within the universe of polyphony, a technique that combines several more or less independent voices in an intricate and dense musical fabric, with a strong mathematical basis and with rigid rules for composition that were founded on ethical foundations. The most prestigious genre cultivated by his great predecessors – Josquin Desprez, Orlande de Lassus, Giovanni da Palestrina and others – was that of sacred music. In it, the form of the mass stood out, whose Latin text was presented through a floridly melismatic counterpoint work, where the various voices received a similar treatment, forming a quite homogeneous texture that reflected the ideals of clarity, order, rationality, balance, and harmony favored by the Renaissance, whose general view of the cosmos was governed by fixed, idealized, and immaculately proportioned hierarchies, where man occupied a central place. In this philosophical context, dissonances in music were allowed to appear, but provided they were carefully prepared and also carefully resolved, because they broke the harmony of the whole.
This idealistic system went into crisis right around the time Monteverdi was born, because of important changes in society. Among them was the conflict between the Catholic and the Protestant world, which by the middle of the 16th century was reaching the proportions of a religious war. To combat the Protestants the papacy launched the Counter-Reformation movement, where sacred music played an important role as an instrument of propaganda for the orthodox faith. However, during the Counter-Reformation, polyphony was also reformed, because until then the composers” main interest lay in the music and not in the text, and if on the one hand the polyphonic masses of previous generations produced a psychological effect of majesty and tranquility, on the other hand their words could not be understood, because they were immersed in such a tightly woven counterpoint, where several voices sang different words at the same time, that their meaning was lost to the listener. According to legend, polyphony came close to being banned from worship, were it not for Palestrina demonstrating, through her Missa papae Marcelli, composed in 1556, that it could survive and at the same time make the text intelligible.
The purpose of the Counter-Reformation with regard to music was to give it, as said, intelligibility, but also to arouse a more emotional response in the listener, since many then saw polyphony as excessively intellectual and cold. To meet these new needs, besides the simplification of polyphony, other musicians worked in an entirely different line, dedicating themselves to rescue the monody, that is, the singing or recitative solos accompanied by a bass with simple harmonic support, the so-called continuous bass, which was structured vertically in chords, and no longer in horizontal lines, as was the case with traditional polyphonic music. The continuous bass also allowed the main attention to be given to the illustration of the text, and to work with an improvisatory freedom that did not exist in polyphony, allowing the introduction of exotic rhythms and chromaticisms that had no place in the prima pratica.
According to Menezes, the distinction between the prima and seconda practices was based on what has perhaps been the main issue of musical aesthetics throughout the ages: its semanticity or assemanticity, that is, the definition of what music means. Baroque composers began to prioritize a specific problem: the musical illustration of the text. For this, it was important to apply a musical systematization of feelings known as the Theory of Affections, which was in vogue at the time, where each specific feeling, which in itself was a condition of defined and constant characteristics, was illustrated through an equally formalized, defined, and invariable sound stereotype. It was up to the composer to use these formal stereotypes – which were like the words available in a sound dictionary – in an organized and coherent way, so that a true musical discourse could be established, illustrating the emotional expression contained in the text, and making the audience, already aware of these conventions, enter into a deeper level of understanding of the music, making it easier to empathize with its meaning. The constitution of this repertoire of musical elements of descriptive character was derived from the principles of classical rhetoric, and could be expressed in various ways: through certain melodic or rhythmic motifs, the profile of the melodies, the instrumentation, the type of voices, and so on, each of these choices being associated with the sphere of a certain feeling or emotion. As Versolato & Kerr put it,
Monteverdi”s early style was firmly rooted in the polyphonic tradition, incorporating aesthetic elements that circulated among the scholars of Mantua, where he developed the first important part of his career. In this environment, a type of polyphonic madrigal was cultivated, dedicated to sophisticated listeners, who accepted deviations from the strict rules of counterpoint to achieve expressive effects and illustration of the text, and this was the basis on which he could later develop his own more complex resources, explore the possibilities of monody, penetrate the sphere of opera, and keep abreast of the innovations brought by new generations, often surpassing their creators. Monteverdi was not the inventor of the forms he used; madrigal and polyphony already had a centuries-old tradition, monody, opera and recitative were born with the Florentines, chromaticism had already been explored with important results by Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo and others, and his rich instrumentation was only an extension of Giovanni Gabrieli”s technique, but he brought these resources to a masterly consummation, unparalleled in his generation. For the depth of the transformations he introduced and the breadth of the new synthesis he created, it is not incorrect to call him a pioneer.
His well-known polemic with Artusi, which developed over about ten years, was the most notorious arena of the conflict between prima pratica and seconda pratica that ran in his time, a polarization of aesthetics that thanks to Monteverdi”s contribution were able to continue coexisting and showing their usefulness for obtaining different results. For Artusi the intellect was the supreme judge of art, and not the senses; art for him meant skill in the highest degree, governed by theoretical principles that made it fully transmissible and comprehensible, and was on the same level as science. For Monteverdi, the purpose of art was to reach the emotions and not to appeal to pure intellectual understanding, and to achieve this goal the artist had to use all the means at his disposal, even if this meant breaking some rules; art was thus a matter of personal interpretation and could not be completely grasped by reason; in the face of the representation of emotions it was not up to establish anything as “right” or “wrong”, but rather to check whether the art was being efficient and true. In the continuity of this tendency full of imprecision and individualism, the world that the Renaissance considered perfectly cognizable collapsed, with duality, expressed in powerful contrasts, subjectivity, and imbalance or asymmetry appearing on the scene as the dominant forces, traits typical of Mannerism, and later, much more markedly, of the Baroque. In the preface to his Fifth Book of Madrigals, Monteverdi wrote:
Your music theory
According to the letters he exchanged with Giovanni Battista Doni between 1633 and 1634, it is known that he was in these years involved with writing a theoretical treatise, which was to be entitled Melodia overo seconda pratica musicale (The Melody, or Second Musical Practice), where he was to expound at greater length the fundamentals of his technique and aesthetics, but the project never materialized. Nevertheless, his ideas are broadly known, for he left substantial opinions on musical theory at various points in his correspondence and in some prefaces to his madrigal collections.
Monteverdi explained the music of the seconda pratica as being in essence a sound transposition of the art of rhetoric as defined in antiquity by Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, Boethius and other philosophers and orators, in a set of precepts that in Monteverdi”s time were still valid and had been enriched with the Theory of the Affections. His interpretation of rhetoric applied to music came from direct observation of man and nature in general, as did the ancients, imitating them also in his expository method, where he systematically used the strategy of first establishing the fundamental elements of his topic, continuing with a justification, and ending with a description of its practical applications. His theory was organized in a series of tripartite and symmetrical categorizations: the first category concerned the affections of the soul (anger, temperance and humility), the second, the human voice (high, low and medium), and the third, the musical character (stile concitato, stile molle and stile temperato). On this foundation, and based on the premise that music should serve as an illustration and a stimulus to the passions, the composer defined the genre concitato as his own invention, an expressive mode described by Plato in his Republic that had not yet been explored by the composers of the prima pratica. The composer traced the origins of the genre, its history, and asserted its importance for the improvement of music”s expressive capabilities. This genre, according to him, was derived from three other principles, oratorio, harmony and rhythm, which also formed the basis of all good interpretation. Another tripartite categorization concerned the characteristics of music according to its function: dramatic or staged music, chamber music, and music for dance, tracing a correspondence between the genre concitato and warrior music, the genre molle and love music, and the genre temperato and representative music.
Each of the genres described by Monteverdi was associated with a specific set of affections, and their employment was intended to reproduce them in the listener. The concitato reflects excitement and generates expansive feelings, from unrestrained rage to exuberant joy. The molle is suitable for the portrayal of painful passions that result from the contraction of the soul, and is expressed by chromaticisms and dissonances. The temperato, the most ambiguous, was not intended to arouse intense passions; on the contrary, it was characterized by its neutrality and by seeking the evocation of delicate and tranquil feelings, and was, according to him, a typical feature of the music of the prima pratica. It should be noted that the same Doni wrote to Marin Mersenne accusing Monteverdi of having little ability to theorize about music, and some contemporary critics, such as Brauner and Tomlinson, are of the same opinion, saying that his ideas are often confused, that his explanations in particular of the stile concitato, his most important theoretical formulation, are neither profound nor as original as one might think, and that the application of his theoretical concepts in practical composition is often inconsistent with the rules he himself defined.
Form and technique
Placing great importance on the illustration of emotions and drama, Monteverdi made use of a number of resources to achieve the desired result. In terms of form, the structure of the poetic text of the composition, which was a central determinant in the Renaissance, particularly in the case of madrigals, lost much of its significance for musical composition. Previously the number of stanzas, of verses in each stanza, the meter, the patterns of rhythm and rhyme, all assisted in the construction of the musical structure that was to illustrate them, but in the case of Monteverdi and the Baroque the description of affections required a freer handling of form, for the center of interest was not the textual structure, but its affective and dramatic content and its intelligibility, having a large-scale terrain of exploration in the operas. According to Mihelcic the style of Monteverdi”s dramatic music can be briefly described through the following fundamental points:
In the field of technique, Monteverdi systematized the dominant seventh chord in cadences, giving harmony a tonal logic that had not yet been established, annulled the principles of triad by creating chords with four different notes and opening the way for more complex chords, made intensive use of thirds, conceived unprecedented effects through augmented fifths and diminished sevenths, and even employed seventh and ninth chords. He learned from his immediate predecessors, Ingegneri, Cipriano de Rore, and Orlande de Lassus in his final phase, among others, the use of striking chromaticisms, large melodic leaps, and modal contrasts to emphasize the dramatic aspects. At a time when great attention was being paid to the development of the rhetorical modalities of musical expression, the recitative naturally acquired great importance, being one of the central elements of the nascent opera and one of the agents of the passage from the Renaissance modal universe to the harmonic one that reigned in the Baroque. The recitative, as the name suggests, is an essentially narrative piece of music; it is a recitation of the text very close to spoken discourse, where rhetoric finds its most perfect expression. In the recitative there are no regular rhythmic patterns, nor a “finished” melody, swaddled in a preconceived form, rather it is a line of singing in a state of continuous and free flow, which accompanies each inflection of the textual discourse, supported by a discrete instrumental accompaniment, reduced to a harmonic instrument, as, in Monteverdi”s time, usually the harpsichord, organ, or lute, which provided the harmonic filling through chords, and with a melodic instrument such as the viola da gamba to reinforce the bass line. Florentine proto-operators such as Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini and Emilio de” Cavalieri were the first to develop the recitative, and Monteverdi, taking their example as a basis, took it to a higher level of refinement and efficiency, employing it in all his operas with great mastery, being able to imitate even the pauses of breath characteristic of speech.
An example of a description with emotional content can be found in the Lamento from his opera L”Arianna, a piece that became so famous that, according to an account from 1650, it was heard everywhere. The text recounts the heartbreak of the protagonist, Arianna (Ariadne) abandoned by her lover Theseus (Theseus) on the island of Naxos. Written in the basic key of D minor, the play transitions from desolation to supplication, then to a comparison between her former happy state and her present miserable condition, then to accusations, self-pity, rage, remorse, and again to self-pity. A fragment analyzed by Mihelcic gives an idea of his technique:
The opening introduces two key motifs in the piece, which will return in various contexts. The text states Lasciatemi morire (Let me die!), with a first motif in which Lasciatemi moves from the dominant there to lower submediant fá, which has a strong tendency to resolve in the dominant, and suggests that Arianna is in a tragic situation, that any attempt to evade is destined to fail. The design of the melody outlines a frustrated, weak and ineffectual gesture, rises one semitone, and decays five, then two more, where it speaks morire. The second motive is more impetuous, ascending, tries to establish a strong position on the upper tonic, but immediately fails, and falls again, ending the motive in a perfect cadence that implies resignation to fate.
As a transitional composer between two eras, his music reflects the state of continuous and rapid change in technique, aesthetics, and form. An analysis of the evolution of his style proves this, moving from strict counterpoint to the fully developed operatic monody. However, his evolution was not entirely linear, and in his great operas and sacred works of maturity one finds juxtaposed elements of both eras and all their intermediate stages, a mixture consciously used to produce contrasting effects and thus emphasize the drama, in response to the constantly changing state of human mental and emotional disposition. Likewise, instruments were employed according to the conventions of symbolism prevalent in his time, such as trombones and bass violas for hellish scenes; lutes, violas, cornets, and sweet flutes for scenes with gods and noble characters, and an additional suit of woods for pastoral evocations. His interest in musical description led him to develop a playing technique on the strings called stile concitato, an agitated style, similar to tremolo, with notes of equal pitch played in rapid succession, to illustrate angry or aggressive states, with several typical passages found in the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, to great effect. High tessituras, large ascending leaps, notes of small value, rapid tempos, agitated basses, and frequent tonal changes, are commonly used to express anguish, excitement, heroism, or anger; middle tessituras, together with barely moving basses, constant tonality, and neutral accompaniments, to indicate moderation, and low tessituras, descending melodic lines, minor tonalities, for occasion of supplication or suffering. Monteverdi had great interest in the vocal preparation of singers, instructing them in correct vocal emission, diction, power, articulation and phrasing. He was sensitive to vocal timbre and assigned roles according to the characteristics of the singer”s voice, as well as according to his capabilities as an actor.
Monteverdi began working on the genre of the madrigal at a young age, and presented his first results in his second collection of published works, Madrigali spirituali a quattro voci (1583), all in vernacular and with a profane text. Influenced by the religious environment of Cremona, he made a careful selection of poetry that contained a moralizing or devotional background, and were intended for the pious edification of the public. A more direct inclination toward the profane world only appeared in the collection Madrigali a cinco voci, published in 1587, which deals with a variety of subjects, from pastoral lyricism to erotic allusions, which were in vogue in the courtly environment where he worked. This trend was further accentuated by the popularization of Petrarch”s lyric in the early 17th century, which soon became a favorite among the illustrated courts of Italy, causing a tradition of courtly love praise to flourish that over the years allowed, assimilated by other authors the penetration of large doses of eroticism, pathos, and all the sentimental excesses that made the transition from the Renaissance to Mannerism and from Mannerism to the Baroque, and enabled his painting in music with a great variety of melodic, rhythmic, structural, and harmonic effects. This profane theme allowed the exploration of a range of affections unthinkable in sacred music, also giving room for stylistic research of a markedly individual character.
In his Secondo libro de madrigali a cinque voci (1590) there already appears a strong impulse for the dramatization of the text, with an original use of silences and repetitions that create a vivid sense of reality of the action, already showing his capabilities as a creator of suggestive atmospheres. In the Terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci (1592) the composer began to experiment with solo passages and with many repetitions of notes in sequence, accentuating the dramatic character of the text. The collection proved a success, so much so that it quickly gained a second edition in 1594 and a third in 1600, followed by others years later, and earned him an invitation to perform pieces for a compilation of works by several renowned musicians of the time. The next collection, appearing in 1603, was a further advance, for although counterpoint writing still dominates, the lower voices have a tendency to only supply the harmonic base, with the upper voice conducting the main melodic development. He also used bold chromaticism in some pieces. The Quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci (1605) already crosses the threshold of the Baroque: six of his pieces already expressly require a continuous bass backing, which can be used ad libitum in all the others, and its general character already points to opera.
In his Sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci, con uno dialogo a sette (1614) the form of the madrigal can barely be recognized, and they sound like real lyrical scenes. Included in the collection were two autonomous cycles, the Lamento d”Arianna and Lagrime d”amante al sepolcro dell”amata, both composed several years earlier, soon after the death of his wife in 1607 and that of a supposed lover, Caterina Martinelli, in 1608. The Lamento d”Arianna begins with a madrigalesque arrangement of an aria from his opera L”Arianna that had become extremely popular, Lasciatemi morire, and continues with the addition of three parts composed on texts by Ottavio Rinuccini. The cycle Lagrime… is composed of six madrigals illustrating a sestina, a poem in six verses which with each repetition has the word order of each verse changed, dealing with the weeping of a lover over the grave of his beloved.
In the Settimo libro de madrigali a 188.8.131.52. sei voci, con altri generi de canti (1619) the use of the continuous bass is omnipresent, the declamatory power of the voices reaches a new level of expressiveness, and there is an orientation of the form towards enhancing sections where a soloist is clearly featured. The Libro ottavo, also known as Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (1638) presents Monteverdi”s concertante vocal style fully mature, and shows consistent harmonic progressions and a systematic use of the stile concitato, realized through repetitions of notes as in the instrumental tremolo. This collection even includes an authentic dramatic scene, the well-known Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. In the preface to the collection there is a brief statement of principles by the author. Denis Stevens considers it the summation of Monteverdi”s work in this genre. Despite its importance, the eighth book of madrigals has never been reprinted, making it a rarity; to date only two complete copies have been found, one in York and one in Bologna. His ninth book was published only after his death in 1651, and seems to be a compilation of pieces composed in his early years; its writing is simple, in two or three voices.
Monteverdi”s operatic career developed gradually. He first conducted experiments in text dramatization with his books of madrigals, as has been described before. When he employed himself in Mantua he took this process a step further by studying the form of the intermezzo. In his day intermezzi were music and dance stagings that took place between the acts of conventional spoken theater. They worked on allegorical or mythological texts, and often also brought rhetorical laudations to the nobility that sponsored them. The genre became very popular and even supplanted theatrical performance in the public”s taste. Often performed against sumptuous and fanciful backdrops, the intermezzi were one of the precursors to the development of opera, stimulating a taste for the spectacular and the artificial, and forcing scenographers to create new forms of scenery and scenic machinery to obtain special effects. They also contributed by breaking the strict unity of time, plot and action that guided the classical drama, and, by addressing themes from antiquity, aroused the desire in many musicians, poets and intellectuals to recreate the original music and staging of the tragedies and comedies of ancient Greece. The immediate result of this desire were the first operatic experiments conducted in Florence by Ottavio Rinuccini, Jacopo Peri, Emilio de” Cavalieri, and Giulio Caccini, among others. Another formative element of his operatic work was the assimilation of the principles of monody supported by the continuous bass, which brought the soloist to the foreground and made possible a wide exploration of the singer”s virtuosic abilities, employed for a richer and more sensitive illustration of the text and human emotions. Finally, through knowledge of the first operatic experiments in Florence, he gathered the missing conceptual elements, among them the classical theory of mimesis and the division of the structure of drama into an allegorical or mythological prologue that presents the main motifs of the plot followed by an alternation of recitatives, arias, ariosos, interludes and choruses that develop the narrative proper, so that he produced his first stage work, L”Orfeo, in 1607,
His operas, like all those of his time, faced the challenge of establishing a coherent unity for a paradox of origin – the attempt to create a realistic representation in an artistic context that excelled in artificialism and conventionalism. For Ringer, Monteverdi”s operas were a brilliant response to this challenge; they are among the most purely and essentially theatrical of the entire repertoire without losing in any way their purely musical qualities, and were the first successful attempt at the illustration of human affections in music on a monumental scale, always tied to a sense of ethical responsibility. With this he revolutionized the practice of his time and became the founder of a whole new aesthetic that had an enormous influence on all subsequent generations of operatic performers, including the reformers of the genre like Gluck and Wagner. But for the researcher the greatness of Monteverdi”s operas can only be perceived in the direct experience of the stage performance. The dramatic intensity of his creations, though remote from the present in time, remains as poignant and modern as it was in his premieres. Stravinsky said that he was the earliest musician with whom moderns could identify, both because of his emotional conception and the power and breadth of his architecture, before which the experiments of his immediate predecessors are reduced to miniatures.
L”Orfeo (Orpheus) has been considered by critics to be the first masterpiece of the operatic genre, a portrait of human suffering, weakness, and daring that still speaks to modern audiences without the need for scholarly interpretation to be understood. The libretto, by Alessandro Striggio the Younger, tells the dramatic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The work begins with an abstract prologue where the personified Music describes its powers. Then the scene moves to the countryside, where, in an atmosphere of jubilation, preparations are made for the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice. But before the ceremony takes place, Eurydice dies, bitten by a serpent, and descends into the world of the dead, from which no one ever returns. Upset, Orpheus decides to rescue her through the power of his song, and he does indeed manage to move Persephone, the queen of the underworld, who appeals to her husband Hades to free Eurydice. The god grants her the grace, under the inviolable condition that on his return to the surface Orpheus leads Eurydice without looking at her, and without being able to reveal to her his motives for doing so. Confused, Eurydice begs Orpheus to grant her a glance, and he, overcome by passion, turns his face to her and their gazes meet. Once the vow is broken, immediately Eurydice is again enveloped by the shadows of death and disappears. Consumed by grief, Orpheus intones a somber lament, condemning himself for his weakness, the cause of their misfortune. The opera closes with Orpheus already on the surface, being consoled by his father, Apollo, who takes him to heaven, saying that there he can remember the traces of his beloved in the beauty of the sun and the stars. It is possible that the Apollo scene, which appears in the 1609 printed edition, was not presented at the premiere, and was included in the re-presentation that took place on March 1, to try to offer, according to the preferences of the time, a happy ending to the mournful outcome of Striggio”s original libretto, but in any case the brevity of the scene in practice, does not cancel out the weight of Orpheus” previous great lament, and rather than creating the sense of an apotheosis and an acceptable compensation for the misfortune, it appears as a desolate anticlimax that emphasizes the irreversibility of the lovers” eternal separation, as has been observed by several conductors who have staged the play in modern times.
It was premiered at the ducal palace in Mantua, probably on February 24, 1607. The premiere was eagerly awaited, and later commentaries were unanimous in praising its novelty and dramatic power, appearing as a clear advance over the operas that had been performed in Florence since a few years earlier in terms of structural conception and power of synthesis, employing not only the recitative style and arias that formed the early operas but also taking advantage of the stylistic features of the madrigal and the intermezzo, greatly enriching the form. L”Orfeo was written under the auspices of the Accademia degli Invaghiti, a society of noble music lovers, and performed by the musicians of the ducal court during the carnival celebrations of that year. In this sense, its purpose was only to provide the nobility with quality entertainment. The score was not printed until two years later, in 1609, and again in 1617, but both editions contain many errors and leave several aspects unclear, especially in the instrumentation. No extensive descriptions survive about the inaugural performance, nor about costumes and sets, other than a brief account in two letters, one from the duke himself, and one from Carlo Magno. It is also possible that the first performance was given in the form of a chamber opera in the duchess”s chambers, with a small group of instrumentalists and singers and a simplified setting. Although praised by all, the opera does not seem to have made an especially profound impact on its contemporaries, as did the next production, L”Arianna, performed for a much larger audience, and the composer himself does not seem to have regarded it as completely satisfactory.
Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The combat between Tancredi and Clorinda) is a short scenic work of hybrid character, that lies between opera, madrigal and cantata, being partly recited and partly staged and sung. It was composed in 1624 and was published along with his eighth book of madrigals, based on a text taken from Torquato Tasso”s Gerusalemme liberata, which narrates the tragic confrontation between two lovers, the Christian Tancredo and the Saracen Clorinda. This piece is important because in it Monteverdi pointed to the foundation of the profane cantata genre and introduced the stile concitato in the orchestra, perfectly suited to the portrayal of a battle scene, along with other technical features such as pizzicato, tremolo, and performance instructions like dying, dying, decreasing the volume, and slowing down. The work is full of timbristic, harmonic, rhythmic, and vocal finds, and the author himself did not consider it an easy listening piece: “It is music hardly accessible without the intuition of spirituality, but it reserves sovereign joys for open spirits.” In any case, the audience reaction at its premiere was emotional and understanding.
Il ritorno d”Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to the Fatherland) was composed around 1640 on a libretto by Giacomo Badoaro extensively adapted by Monteverdi himself, and premiered possibly at the Teatro di San Giovanni e San Paolo in Venice. Of the original five acts, the classical division, Monteverdi did three, following a practice of Venetian operettists and the Commedia dell”Arte. The orchestra required is summary: half a dozen strings and another small group of assorted instruments for the continuous bass, a choice intended to throw the listener”s attention on the drama.
For a long time his authorship was disputed, but today it is beyond doubt. Modern reconstitution of his music brings a number of technical problems. The only known score is a manuscript found in Vienna, possibly not autographed, as it contains a large number of obvious errors and even more dubious passages. In addition the twelve surviving copies of the libretto all disagree with each other and with the text in the score. The music the manuscript contains is sketchy, the arias almost all appear with voice and continuous bass only, and the instrumental interludes for several voices, though written in full, carry no indicated instrumentation, a problem which otherwise affects the entire score; thus their instrumentation in modern performances is almost entirely conjectural. The text is an adaptation of Homer”s Odyssey: after an allegorical prologue where Time, Fortune, and Love threaten Human frailty, it narrates the return of the hero Ulysses to his home after the Trojan War, regaining his kingdom and his wife Penelope, a would-be widow, threatened by several unworthy suitors. Il ritorno… is, in Ringer”s view, Monteverdi”s most tender and moving opera, without the irony, ambivalence and bitterness of Poppea, and without the tragedy of L”Orfeo. Its epic qualities inspired music of great sobriety, and the action is conducted most of the time by male characters, whose characterization is more human and truthful than that found in the Homeric text; the part of Ulysses is especially well worked out in this respect, but some female roles are also prominent, among them that of Penelope, whose interventions are highly expressive.
According to Michael Ewans with Il ritorno… Monteverdi and his librettist laid the foundations for all subsequent theatrical adaptations of classical texts, and managed to recreate some of the tensions and dualisms present in Greek tragedy through a wise balance between the drama implicit in the situation and the restraint required by its formalization, since according to the conventions of the time extreme violence should not appear on a stage. A tendency towards a veiled “Christianization” of the tone of the narrative is also perceived, and several characters and scenes had their characterization altered in relation to that exposed by Homer, in order to satisfy the needs of an updating of the text.
Monteverdi”s last operatic production, L”Incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppaea), was premiered in early 1643 at the Teatro di San Giovanni e San Paolo in Venice. Its libretto, written by Giovanni Francesco Busenello based on Suetonius and Tacitus, was the first to address a historical theme, narrating the rise of the seductive courtesan Popeia, from her status as the Roman emperor Nero”s mistress to her triumph, when she is crowned empress. According to Charles Osborne, even if parts of the music were possibly written by assistants, including the famous final duet between Pompeii and Nero, this is Monteverdi”s greatest work in the operatic genre, having taken the art of psychological characterization of the characters, especially the protagonist couple, to an even higher level of perfection. However, Monteverdi conducted his music not in the sense of exaltation of a thoroughly unworthy social escalation based on intrigue and murder, but in the sense of offering a moralizing spectacle. According to Grout & Williams, no 17th century opera deserves to be studied and revived more than this one, and they say that the staging it has received in modern times shows its efficiency on stage and a perfect integration between text and music, and is also important for its historical position as the true founder of the modern operatic tradition of focusing attention on the personality and emotional world of the characters.
Being born in Cremona, which in his time was one of the strongholds of the Counter-Reformation, it was natural that his first production, the 23 Sacrae Cantiunculae tribus vocibus (Sacred Songs in three voices, 1582), should be sacred, and his Latin texts, taken from the Scriptures, should be a public profession of Catholic orthodoxy. They are correct but not brilliant works, and his style is largely dependent on that of his master Ingegneri. A second collection of sacred music appeared in 1583, entitled Madrigali spirituali a quattro voci (Spiritual madrigals for four voices), already briefly mentioned before. With this collection Monteverdi opened a new field of work in the context of Counter-Reformation music, with profane but piously inspired and moralizing texts, conceived within the lyrical tradition of Petrarch, which introduced into the genre of the madrigal an unprecedented devotional tone.
In 1610 appeared his next collection of sacred works, which includes a version of Vespers of the Virgin Mary (Vespro della Beata Vergine), a mass a capella (Missa In illo tempore), and some sacred concertos. Like similar collections of his time, these works were intended to serve multiple functions, and could be performed at the discretion of the performers in a variety of vocal and instrumental combinations, using the pieces singly or grouping as many as necessary for the worship of the occasion. However, the group of pieces that form Vespers has generated much debate among experts, for despite its title it does not follow the sequence of excerpts from any known official Marian liturgy. In fact, it is possible to use pieces from the collection for other feasts of martyred virgins and other holy women. As for its musical substance, it is an extremely heterogeneous collection, using every style and formal structure known in its time, from the harmonic fabordan to virtuoso vocal solos, from simple performances of extracts from Gregorian chant accompanied by organ to varied orchestral and choral groups, and moving from recitative to complex polyphonic sections, and in this sense the Vespers was the richest, most advanced and sumptuous collection of sacred music ever published. The only element that unites the individual pieces is that they were all composed from a Gregorian chant line. The five accompanying “sacred concertos” remain somewhat separate; they consist of four motets and a sonata structured around a litany of the Virgin Mary, assigned to different combinations of voices. It is possible that these five pieces formed a set by themselves, but the first edition printed them in an illogical order. Like the Vespers, their instrumentation leaves great freedom to the performers, and also how they stand above and ahead of anything that had already been done in the genre by other composers in terms of breadth and structural cohesion, virtuosic embellishment, and rhetorical treatment of the text. As for the Missa in illo tempore, it was composed for six voices, using as its basic motif a motet by Nicolas Gombert entitled In illo tempore loquante Jesu. Its style is that of prima pratica, and may have been a tribute by the composer to a venerable tradition from which he himself had drunk. Although reprinted two years later in Antwerp and quoted in Father Giovanni Battista Martini”s treatise on counterpoint 166 years later, it made no impact in its time, for by now the style was outdated.
This was Monteverdi”s last great collection of sacred music, published in 1640 in Venice. Its content, as the title Selva morale e spirituale (Moral and spiritual anthology) indicates, is a compilation of moralizing and sacred texts set to music, and its composition must have been begun not long after the publication of the 1610 collection, with which it resembles in many respects, although its general atmosphere is more jubilant and triumphant. It is also a polymorphous gathering of loose pieces for use ad libitum in the liturgy, employing a wide variety of instrumental and vocal resources and forms – choral psalms, hymns, motets, three Salve Regina, two Magnificat and two Masses, one of them fragmentary. Apparently his composition was linked to the specific customs of St. Mark”s Basilica, where he was the chapel master at the time, and therefore justifies the presence of a mass in prima pratica, the use of the concertante style, and the division of the choirs in the manner of the cori spezzati, which were an ancient and typical feature of Venetian sacred music, making use of a special distribution within the space of the Basilica in order to obtain striking antiphonal effects. The collection closes with the Pianto della Madonna, another version, with moralizing text, of his famous aria Lasciatemi morire, from the opera L”Arianna. The Selva morale e spirituale contains some of Monteverdi”s most powerful and brilliant pieces of sacred music, but when modern performers want to perform this music they encounter multiple problems: instrumental lines are missing in some passages; printed scores have numerous errors; certain sections are of disputed authorship, seem to have been composed by assistants, and manuscripts carry scant and often dubiously interpreted indications about instrumentation and distribution of voices.
There survive of Monteverdi 126 letters, autographed or in copies, probably only a small fraction of what he wrote, which provide rich insight into his ideas and private life, as well as his general culture and literary talent. In Stevens” analysis, Monteverdi”s prose is as fluent and exquisite as the best of his music, and many of them are little literary gems:
His language reveals a solid background in classical Latin, with its balance in the formation of clear structures. His sentences, however, are long and convoluted, following an impetuous flow, with frequent use of popular expressions interspersed, along with a taste for ingenious grammatical constructions that are a challenge to translators.
Their content is extremely varied, but many are addressed to his patrons or other members of the nobility, and carry a suitably polished, servile, and far-fetched language, as was the custom. In letters to friends his tone is very diverse, and he does not hesitate to reveal his political and artistic ideas, as well as his daily life. He recounted bluntly and in sometimes frightening detail the rivalries, corruption, and intrigues that corroded the life of the ecclesiastical institutions and the courts; he lamented how he was deceived and insulted by noblemen and other musicians, he deplored the constant shadow of the Inquisition over everyone”s lives; on other occasions he rejoiced over small successes such as the help received from a son, a concert that went well, an honorable invitation to perform in an elegant house. On several occasions he commented on works he was composing, giving precious information about them, including works that were later lost. In several moments he talked about friends and family members in a cryptic way, without mentioning their names or giving oblique references about their identities.
The following are transcriptions of excerpts from two letters, the first to Duke Vincenzo, dated November 28, 1601, where he excuses himself for not having promptly requested the post of chapel master after Benedetto Pallavicino”s death, and the other to the lawyer Ercole Marigliani, dated November 22, 1625, requesting help in a lawsuit in which he had property seized, including his house, after having moved from Mantua to Venice:
Monteverdi, called “the oracle of music” and “the new Orpheus” by his contemporaries, remained prestigious for about a decade after his death. New editions of his works appeared, publishers brought to light several others still unpublished, both in anthologies and volumes dedicated especially to him, and some of his operas continued to be performed. Several important musicians wrote eulogistic memoirs, such as Thomas Gobert, chapel master of the King of France, praising his harmonic research; Heinrich Schütz, who declared himself his debtor, and the treatise writer Christoph Bernhard, who included him among the masters of what he called “luxuriant style”. In Italy the expressiveness of his vocal composition for the theater continued to be appreciated, but after this brief survival, with the rise of a more fluid and light style in opera, with the constant public demand for novelty, and with the rapid decline of the madrigal, his contribution in profane music fell into oblivion. His sacred works managed to remain in vogue a little longer, due to the prevailing conservatism in music for the Church, but these too eventually gave way. His name was only mentioned again at the turn of the 17th to the 18th century, when the madrigal was revived by learned circles in Rome.
In 1741 a biographical essay written by Francesco Arisi appeared, the treatise Father Martini quoted him in his Storia della Musica and then gave him a good deal of space in his treatise on counterpoint, and reprinted two of his madrigals and the Agnus Dei from his Missa In Illo Tempore, plus extensive commentary and a further appreciation of his general work. In the late 18th century John Hawkins and Charles Burney wrote new biographical essays, and the latter illustrated his with several commented musical examples. In 1783 Esteban de Arteaga wrote a history of opera in Italy where he praiseworthily cited Monteverdi and pointed out his influence on Pergolesi”s work, especially through Arianna. In 1790 Ernst Gerber included him in his Historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler, whose entry in the 1815 edition appeared greatly expanded, calling him “the Mozart of his time.” In the mid-nineteenth century he was the object of attention of historians such as Angelo Solerti and Francesco Caffi, and benefited from a renewed interest in the music of the sixteenth century. In 1887 the first extensive biography was published by Emil Vogel, which appeared at a time when several other authors were already writing about him and his compositions were being reprinted in increasing numbers – L”Orfeo (three editions between 1904 and 1910), La Coronatione di Poppea (1904, 1908, and 1914), Ballo delle Ingrate and Il Combattimento (1908), twelve madrigals in five parts (1909 and 1911), Sacrae Cantiunculae (1910), and the Mass of the Selva Morale e Spirituale (1914).
His fame was beginning to be reborn, being praised in high terms by Karl Nef, who compared him to Shakespeare, and by Gabriele d”Annunzio, who called him divine, a heroic soul, a precursor of a typically Italian lyricism. His talent was recognized by a number of other prominent musicians and musicologists, such as Hugo Riemann, Nadia Boulanger, Vincent d”Indy, Ottorino Respighi, Igor Stravinsky, and Romain Rolland, and his work was already reaching a wider public, although most often receiving his pieces in heavily rearranged versions to satisfy late-Romantic taste. On the other hand, influential critics like Donald Tovey, one of the contributors to the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, still said that his music was hopelessly outdated, although they were already in the minority.
Between 1926 and 1942 appeared the first edition of his complete works in sixteen volumes, edited by Gian Francesco Malipiero. In the preface, the editor declared that his aim was not to resurrect a dead man, but to do justice to a genius, and to show that the great manifestations of ancient art still have an appeal to the modern world. Despite the value of this pioneering publication, according to Tim Carter in today”s academic view it suffers from several editorial problems. Malipiero seems to have employed a superficial approach in choosing which early edition to take as the standard text from among the multiple reissues and reprints that received his works in his lifetime or soon after his death – all of which vary in various details, and sometimes the differences are important. The editor also offered no satisfactory explanation for these differences, and apparently did not even notice them or give them any importance, when the most recent scholarly practice is to compare all available early texts and come to a conclusion as to which is the most authentic source. In any case Malipiero”s work was a milestone in Monteverdian studies.
He was the composer chosen for the first edition of the BBC Promenade Concerts in 1967, and since then studies of his life and work have multiplied. Part of this renewed interest derived from the fact that he had the well-known polemic with Artusi, which stands modernly as a symbol of the eternal clashes between reactionary and progressive forces, which made him, as Pryer said, a kind of “soul-mate” for the heirs of Modernism. Today he is perhaps the best-known musician of the period before Bach, although his popularity among the general public does not compare with other major opera players such as Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner, and he is still, as Linderberger said, more of a distant icon than a beloved familiar. For Mark Ringer, this is partly because his greatest qualities are as an operist; they cannot be appreciated at all through hearing them on disc, and only in live performances can the essentially theatrical nature of his greatest compositions shine through. The sales of his discs also express this reality. While between 1987 and 2007 the best-selling recording of one of his works, L”Orfeo, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, reached seventy thousand copies, in the same period Vivaldi, with his Four Seasons, in Nigel Kennedy”s version, achieved the mark of more than two million records sold worldwide.
Nevertheless, several composers throughout the 20th century took material from his compositions for arrangements or re-creations in modern language, and the composer appeared as a character in fictional literature or as a pretext for philosophical and aesthetic debates. This ability of his to be part of the current language of intellectual communication, without the need for self-referential explanations, constitutes, for Anthony Pryer, a clear sign that Monteverdi is a living element in Western culture and that he belongs not only to his own time, but also to the present. Leo Schrade said that Monteverdi was the first and greatest musician to merge art with life, and in the words of Raymond Leppard
The following listing appears in the complete edition of Monteverdi”s works, Tutte le Opere di Claudio Monteverdi, by Gian Francesco Malipiero.