Carlo Gesualdo

About Carlo Gesualdo

Gesualdo’s fame, even during his lifetime, was due more to his private life than his music. In 1590 he murdered his first wife and her lover and gradually retreated from society, nursing his growing melancholia. Born in 1566, in an era when noblemen seldom stooped to the music profession, Gesualdo cut an unusual figure—he was both Prince of Venosa and a serious composer. He wrote almost exclusively for voices, publishing six volumes of madrigals between 1594 and 1611, and three volumes of sacred works (1603-11). He was driven by an obsessive desire to illustrate every powerful word, image, and sentiment in the texts he set—to excess. In his later works the results could be extreme: Mercè grido piangendo is full of sudden harmonic lurches, dissonances, and melodic eccentricities (chromaticism). His ecstatic Responsoria 1611 show similar tendencies. Gesualdo’s work was always harmonically audacious, but it was nevertheless conservative in outlook and, although he died in 1613, he showed little interest in the emerging Baroque style. Stravinsky was the first of many modern composers to show an interest in his music.

Venosa, Italy
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