Spotlight on the Netherlands: Don Carlo Gesualdo (c.1561-1613)

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Program: #07-05   Air Date: Jan 22, 2006

Who isn't fascinated by the murderer prince? The fine Italian ensemble La Venexiana gives us highlights of the madrigal Books Four and Five.

We continue our long and fruitful association with our partners at Radio Netherlands in presenting a series of concerts from the 2006 Holland Festival of Early Music at Utrecht.

We will also direct listeners to their web site, which will provide more in-depth information about the music and performers we hear as well as more information about the festival (

For its 25th anniversary, the entire 2006 Festival was dedicated to the early Italian 17th century:

NOTE: All of the music on this program was performed by the ensemble La Venexiana, and is dedicated to the work of Don Carlo Gesualdo (c.1561-1613). As the program notes:

Carlo Gesualdo was (on more than one level) a remarkable composer; he still thrills us with his music, which is extremely modern (even to our ears) and yet exemplifies very conservative forms and genres. In his day, only a few people knew about his activities as a composer, famous as he was for killing his wife Maria d'Avalos and her lover. In his second marriage he fared better, and the celebrations marking this union in Ferrara prompted a rich musical display, with performances of works written by Gesulado's friend Luzzasco Luzzaschi. Thanks to this friendship, Gesulado stayed longer in Ferrara than planned--thus his Fourth madrigal book was published there.

The Fourth book is Gesualdo's most balanced. His typical use of dissonance and chromatism is completely balanced with the poetry and affect of the texts he chose for this volume. While straying far from harmonic conventions, Gesualdo never left the genre of the madrigal. In fact, without the tonal anomalies, his music was hardly ever innovative.

The dark and capricious music fits the poetry well. With Gesualdo, love never involves shepherdesses, fauns or nymphs, but only wild passion, death and fire. This, in fact, fits the composer's supposed somber and melancholic nature. In 1596, Gesualdo retreated to his castle, much to his wife's discontent, as she was used to the bustling court life in Ferrara. Here, he employed an accademia to sing his music, and one of the singers was Pomponio Nenna.

The Fifth and Sixth books were published in 1611, two years before Gesualdo's death. By this time, his chromaticism had become more and more extreme, and the composer must have slipped into a deep state of melancholy. Probably written after his retreat in 1596, he did not even try to find a publisher for this incomprehensible music.

CARLO GESUALDO (c.1561-1613):

--Luci serene e chiare (Book 4)
--T'amo mia vita (Book 4)
--Merce grido piangendo (Book 5)

--Moro, lasso (Book 4)
--Tal hor sano desio (Book 4)
--Itene o miei sospiri (Book 5)
--Occhi del mio cor (Book 5)

--Gioite voi col canto (Book 5)
--Se vi duol il mio duol (Book 5)
--Cor mio deh, non languire (Book 4)
--Sparge la morte (Book 4)

LUZZASCO LUZZASCHI (c.1545-1607): Itene mie querele (Il quarte libro de madrigali, Ferrara, 1594).

POMPONIO NENNA (1556-1613): Merce grido piangendo (Il quinto libro de madrigali, Naples, 1603).

LUZZASCO LUZZASCHI (c.1545-1607): Gioite voi col canto (Quinto libro de madrigali, Ferrara, 1595).

LUCA MARENZIO (1553/4-1599): Crudele, acerba (Il nono libro de madrigali, Venice, 1599)

GIOVANNI de MACQUE (1548/50-1614): La mia doglia s'avanza (Quarto libro de madrigali, Venice, 1599).

Composer Info

Don Carlo Gesualdo (c.1561-1613), POMPONIO NENNA (1556-1613), LUZZASCO LUZZASCHI (c.1545-1607), LUCA MARENZIO (1553/4-1599), GIOVANNI de MACQUE (1548/50-1614)

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