Music post: Carlo Gesualdo (c.1561-1613) - The Book of Ramblings
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Tue, May. 11th, 2010 09:12 am
Music post: Carlo Gesualdo (c.1561-1613)

Carlo Gesualdo was a late Renaissance era composer. I was introduced to his music as an undergraduate during my first music history class. I love all Renaissance era music and I think most people know that. I still remember my first introduction my freshman year (a work by Palestrina called Stabat Mater -- maybe I'll post about that one later). But then in class, I got to hear Gesualdo's music and I was totally fascinated by it.

Gesualdo was the Prince of Venosa. He didn't want to be the Prince of Venosa, but was so named when his older brother died. Gesualdo's one true passion was music. He had what he called a music mania. He also suffered from depression, which got increasingly worse throughout his life.

Gesualdo is most famous, perhaps, for something non-musical however. He got married in 1586 to a woman who was, apparently, quite beautiful. Two years after they got married, she began an affair with a Duke. She managed to keep it secret from Gesualdo for two years (there were some rumors that he was uninterested in the sexual side of the marriage, but was more interested in young boys). But he did find out. And in true operatic fashion, he told her he was going away on a hunting trip, had the locks changed so he could enter from the outside, and returned at night with three of his men. They found his wife in bed with her lover. And they killed them both. Gesualdo himself killed his wife. After she was dead, he left briefly but returned and, according to the men, said he didn't believe she was dead. And then stabbed her 28 more times. He then dragged their bodies down the stairs and left them there.

Being Prince, he was immune to prosecution, but not revenge, so he got the hell out of there and headed to his castle. Where, over several months, he chopped down the forest. One tree at a time.

And you wonder why I find him so fascinating?

At any rate, because he was a nobleman and had no one to answer to, his music was incredibly experimental for his time. The chord progressions used and his heavy dose of text painting (musically depicting the words) were not seen again until quite late in the 19th century. He's a fascinating figure and I love his music.

I still remember my philosophy class in college. My professor insisted that composers were not creative, were not unique, that they were all imitating each other. While this is obviously wrong in so many ways (if this were true, we'd still be writing Gregorian chant), I cited Gesualdo as a case of a composer far out of his time (one could also cite Berlioz and Ives, but I chose someone radically different from those around him) and dared him to think he sounded like Palestrina. I saw the professor over at the music school taking out some recordings. And he never brought the issue up again.

The text of Gesualdo's madrigals were believed to have been written by him and show the torment he was living in. Many of the texts deal with death, pain, and the not so happy side of love.

A couple examples of his music:

Moro Lasso, al mio duolo I play this one for my class. The English translation of the text is as follows:

I die, alas, in my suffering,
And she who could give me life,
Alas, kills me and will not help me.

O sorrowful fate,
She who could give me life,
Alas, gives me death.


Io tacerò, ma nel silenzio mio This particular version is the one used in the great video about Gesualdo's life called Gesualdo: Death in Five Voices. Highly recommended video! I play it for my class whenever I talk about him. The English translation of the text is as follows:

I shall be silent, but in my silence
Tears and sighs,
Will tell of my tortures.
But if it should happen that I should die,
Death himself will cry out again for me.

Happy stuff, eh? I hope, despite its depressing subject matter, you'll enjoy it!

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(picnic, lightning)
Tue, May. 11th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)

Awww, good old Carlo. He's a favorite of mine too.

Tue, May. 11th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)

I just LOVE his music. Have you checked out the new book on him (The Gesualdo Hex)? I bought it a few months ago but haven't read it yet. I plan to soon. I love talking about him with my classes because they just sit and STARE at me like "omg wtf?"

I always feel like he gets shafted in music classes, so I always end up talking about him.

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