Gesualdo, Madrigals, books v & vi

  These madrigals were written round about 1600. Gesualdo was a renaissance prince, a psychotic and a murderer. He was known as 'The Mad Prince of Venosa', and is famous for killing his wife and her lover, and leaving their bodies on the steps of his palace. Well, that is what I thought, but I have been informed by an authoritative source that he got his servants to do the deed!  

  People vary in the way they hear these madrigals. I had thought they were totally unlike anything written at the time, but I have since heard similar music by other composers writing at the same period. Hard as it is to believe, it seems that Gesualdo was part of a tradition. But Gesualdo's madrigals still strike us as being more like twentieth-century music than music belonging to the renaissance. They are highly chromatic, and it is probably this chromaticism which makes them sound, to some listeners, totally chaotic.  

  The texts are highly dramatic love poems, full of death and despair, unrequited love and extravagant language. The music reflects this, but, to me, there is an inner stillness to it all. This is music which I find totally transporting, and which takes me to a world of crystal, of ice, where time stands still, and now and again, a dissonance, or poignant suspension will gleam like a beam of white light.  

  This extract comes from the end of one of the 5th book of madrigals: Dolcissima mia vita, performed by the Collegium Vocale of Cologne. It is on a two-CD set, containing the whole of books v and vi, and also 12 madrigals by Monteverdi. It is on CBS 'Maestro', no. M2YK 46467.  

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