Claudio Monteverdi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (Italian: [ˈklaudjo monteˈverdi]; 15 May 1567 (baptized) – 29 November 1643) was an Italian composer, string player and singer.

Monteverdi is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods of music history. While he worked extensively in the tradition of earlier Renaissance polyphony, such as in his madrigals, he also made great developments in form and melody and began employing the basso continuo technique, distinctive of the Baroque. Monteverdi wrote the earliest opera still regularly performed, L'Orfeo (1607).


Cremona 1567-1590/91[edit]

Monteverdi was baptized in the church of SS Nazaro e Celso, Cremona, on 15 May 1567, the register records his name as "Claudio Zuan Antonio" the son of "Messer Baldasar Mondeverdo."[1] He was the first child of the apothecary Baldassare Monteverdi and his first wife Maddalena (née Zignani); they had married early the previous year. Claudio's brother Giulio Cesare Monteverdi (b. 1573) was also to become a musician; there were two other brothers and two sisters from Baldassare's marriage to Maddalena and his subsequent marriage in 1576/7.[2] Cremona at this time was part of the administration of Milan, which was then controlled by the Spanish Habsburgs; thus technically Monteverdi was born a Spanish citizen.[3] Cremona was close to the border of the territory of the Venetian Republic, and not far from the lands controlled by Mantua; in both of which countries Monteverdi was later to establish his career.[1]

Cremona Cathedral, where Monteverdi's teacher Ingegneri was maestro di capella

There is no clear record of Monteverdi's early musical training, or evidence that he was (as is sometimes claimed) a member of the Cathedral choir or studied at Cremona University. Monteverdi's first published work, a set of motets Sacrae cantiunculae [Sacred Songs] for three voices, was issued in Venice in 1582, when he was only fifteen years old. In this, and his other initial publications, he describes himself as the pupil of Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, who was from 1581 (and possibly from 1576) to 1592 the maestro di cappella at Cremona Cathedral. Tim Carter deduces that Ingegneri "gave him a solid grounding in counterpoint and composition", and that Monteverdi would also have studied playing instruments of the viol family and singing.[2][4][5][6] Ingegneri was a master of the musica reservata vocal style, which involved the use of chromatic progressions and word-painting.[7] Monteverdi's early compositions were grounded in this style.[2]

Monteverdi's first publications also give evidence of his connections, even in his early years, beyond Cremona, his second published work, Madrigali spirituali (Spiritual Madrigals), (1583), was printed at Brescia. His next works (his first published secular compositions) were sets of five-part madrigals, according to his biographer Paolo Fabbri "the inevitable proving ground for any composer of the second half of the sixteenth century...the secular genre par excellence." The first book of madrigals (Venice,1587) was dedicated to Count Marco Verità of Verona; the second book of madrigals (Venice, 1590) was dedicated to the President of the Senate of Milan, Giacomo Ricardi, for whom he had played the viola da braccio in Milan in 1587.[5][8][2]

Mantua 1590/91-1613[edit]

Court musician[edit]

Duke Vincenzo in his coronation robes (1587)

In the dedication of his second book of madrigals, Monteverdi had described himself as a player of the vivuola (which could mean either viola da gamba or viola da braccio).[9][6]In 1590 or 1591 he entered the service of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga of Mantua; he recalled in his dedication to the Duke of his third book of madrigals (Venice, 1592) that "the most noble exercise of the vivuola opened to me the fortunate way into your service."[10] In the same dedication he compares his instrumental playing to "flowers" and his compositions as "fruit" which as it matures "can more worthily and more perfectly serve you", indicating his intentions to establish himself as a composer.[11]

Duke Vincenzo was keen to establish his court as a musical centre, and sought to recruit leading musicians. When Monteverdi arrived in Mantua, the maestro di capella at the court was the Flemish musician Giaches de Wert. Other notable musicians at the court during this period included the composer and violinist Salomone Rossi, Rossi's sister the singer Madama Europa, and the tenor Francesco Rasi.[12] Monteverdi married the court singer Claudia de Cattaneis in 1599; they were to have three children, two sons (Francesco, b. 1601 and Massimiliano, b. 1604), and a daughter who died soon after birth in 1603.[6] Monteverdi's brother Giulio Cesare was to join the court musicians in 1602,[13]

When Wiert died in 1596, his post was given to Benedetto Pallavicino; but Monteverdi was clearly highly regarded by Vincenzo and accompanied him on his military campaigns in Hungary (1595) and also on a visit to Flanders in 1599.[6] Here at the town of Spa he became acquainted with contemporary music of the French school,[14] he may possibly have been a member of Vincenzo's entourage at Florence in 1600 for the marriage of Maria de' Medici and Henry IV of France, at which celebrations Jacopo Peri's opera Euridice (the earliest surviving opera) was premiered. On the death of Pallavicino in 1601 Monteverdi was confirmed as the new maestro di capella.[15]

Maestro di capella[edit]

Portrait of Claudio Monteverdi, from the title page of Fiori poetici, a 1644 book of commemorative poems for his funeral

Around this time, Monteverdi found himself the target of musical controversy, the influential Bolognese theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi, attacked Monterverdi's music (without naming the composer) in his work L'Artusi, overo Delle imperfettioni della moderna musica (Artusi, or On the imperfections of modern music) of 1600, followed by a sequel in 1603. Artusi cited extracts from Monteverdi's works not yet published (they later formed parts of his Fourth and Fifth Books of Madrigals of 1603 and 1605), condemning their use of harmony and their innovations in use of musical modes, compared to orthodox polyphonic practice of the sixteenth century.[15] Artusi attempted to correspond with Monteverdi on these issues; the composer refused to respond, but found a champion in an pseudonymous supporter, "L'Ottuso Academico" ("The Tedious Academic").[16] Eventually Monteverdi replied in the preface to the Fifth Book of Madrigals that his duties at court prevented him from a detailed reply; but in a note to "the studious reader", he claimed that he would shortly publish a response, Seconda Pratica, overo Perfettione della Moderna Musica (The Second Style, or Perfection of Modern Music).[17] This work never appeared, but a later publication by Claudio's brother Giulio Cesare made it clear that the seconda pratica which Monteverdi defended was not seen by him as radical change or his own invention, but was an evolution from previous styles (prima pratica) which was complementary to them.[18] This debate confirmed Monteverdi's position as a leading musical stylist of the period,[19] some of his madrigals were published in Copenhagen in 1605 and 1606, and the poet Tommaso Stigliani published a eulogy of him in his 1605 poem O sirene de' fiumi.[15]

In 1606 Vincenzo's heir Francesco commissioned from Monteverdi the opera Orfeo, to a libretto by Alessandro Striggio, for the Carnival season of 1607. It was given two performances February and March 1607; the singers included, in the title role, Rasi, who had sung in the first performance of Euridice witnessed by Vincenzo in 1600. This was followed in 1608 by the opera L'Arianna (libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini), intended for the celebration of the marriage of Francesco to Margherita of Savoy. All the music for this opera is lost save for Ariadne's Lament, which became extremely popular.[n 1] To this period also belongs the ballet entertainment Il ballo delle ingrate.[15][21][22]

The strain of the hard work Monteverdi had been putting into these and other compositions was exacerbated by personal tragedies, his wife died in September 1607 and the young singer Caterina Martinelli, intended for the title role of Arianna, died of smallpox in March 1608. Monteverdi also resented his increasingly poor financial treatment by the Gonzagas, he retired to Cremona in 1608 to convalesce, and wrote a bitter letter to Vincenzo's minister Annibale Chieppio in November of that year seeking (unsuccessfully) "an honourable dismissal".[23] Although the Duke increased Monteverdi's salary and pension, and Monteverdi returned to continue his work at the court, he began to seek patronage elsewhere, after publishing his Vespers in 1610, which were dedicated to Pope Paul V, he visited Rome, ostensibly hoping to place his son Francesco at a seminary, but apparently also seeking alternative employment. In the same year he may also have visited Venice, where a large collection of his church music was being printed, with a similar intention.[15][24]

Duke Vincenzo died on 18 February 1612. When Francesco suceeded him, court intrigues and cost-cutting let to the dismissal of Monteverdi and his brother, who both returned, almost penniless, to Cremona, despite Francesco's own death from smallpox in December 1612, Monteverdi was unable to return to favour with his successor, his brother Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga. in 1613, following the death of Giulio Cesare Martinengo Monteverdi auditioned for his post as maestro at San Marco in Venice, for which he submitted music for a Mass. He was appointed in August 1613, and given 50 ducats for his expenses; he immediately purchased a new coat, of which he was robbed (with his other belongings) by highwaymen at Sanguinetto on his return to Cremona.[15][25]

Venice 1613-1643[edit]

By 1613, he had moved to San Marco in Venice where he quickly restored the musical standard of both the choir and the instrumentalists, the musical standard had declined due to the financial mismanagement of his predecessor, Giulio Cesare Martinengo. The managers of the basilica were relieved to have such a distinguished musician in charge, as the music had been declining since the death of Giovanni Croce in 1609.[26][page needed]

In 1631, he was admitted to the tonsure, and was ordained deacon in 1632,[27] during the last years of his life, when he was often ill, he composed his two last masterpieces: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641), and the historic opera L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on the life of the Roman emperor Nero.[28]

Monteverdi tombstone in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice

Monteverdi died, aged 76, in Venice on 29 November 1643 and was buried at the church of the Frari.[29]


See also Stattkus-Verzeichnis (catalogue of Monteverdi's compositions)


Monteverdi produced nine books of secular madrigals, (the last being published posthumously), as a whole, the first eight books of madrigals display the development from Renaissance polyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.

The Fifth Madrigal Book[edit]

The Fifth Book of Madrigals shows the shift from the late Renaissance style of music to the early Baroque,[30] the Quinto Libro (Fifth Book), published in 1605, was at the heart of the controversy between Monteverdi and Giovanni Artusi. Artusi attacked the "crudities" and "license" of the modern style of composing, centering his attacks on madrigals (including Cruda Amarilli, composed around 1600)[31] from the fourth book.[32] Monteverdi made his reply in the introduction to the fifth book, with a proposal of the division of musical practice into two streams, which he called prima pratica, and seconda pratica. Prima pratica was described as the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing strict counterpoint, prepared dissonance, and equality of voices. Seconda pratica used much freer counterpoint with an increasing hierarchy of voices, emphasizing soprano and bass. In Prima pratica the harmony controls the words.[32][page needed] In seconda pratica the words should be in control of the harmonies.[32][page needed] This represented a move towards the new style of monody, the introduction of continuo in many of the madrigals was a further self-consciously modern feature.[30][page needed] In addition, the fifth book showed the beginnings of conscious functional tonality.

The Eighth Madrigal Book[edit]

While in Venice, Monteverdi also finished his sixth (1614), seventh (1619), and eighth (1638) books of madrigals, the eighth is the largest, containing works written over a thirty-year period. Originally the work was to be dedicated to Ferdinand II, but because of his ill health, his son was made king in December 1636. When the work was first published in 1638 Monteverdi rededicated it to the new King Ferdinand III.[33]

The important preface of Monteverdi’s eighth madrigal book seems to be connected with his seconda pratica. He claims to have invented a new "agitated" style (genere concitato, later called stile concitato).[34]

The book is divided into sections of War and Love each containing madrigals, a piece in dramatic form (genere rappresentativo), and a ballet; in the Madrigals of War, Monteverdi has organized poetry that describes the pursuits of love through the allegory of war; the hunt for love, and the battle to find love. In the second half of the book, the Madrigals of Love, Monteverdi organized poetry that describes the unhappiness of being in love, unfaithfulness, and ungrateful lovers who feel no shame; in his previous madrigal collections, Monteverdi usually set poetry from one or two poets he was in contact with through the court where he was employed. The Madrigals of War and Love represent an overview of the poets he has dealt with throughout his life; the classical poetry of Petrarch, poetry by his contemporaries (Tasso, Guarini, Marino, Rinuccini, Testi and Strozzi), or anonymous poets who Monteverdi found and adapted to his needs.

Bronze bust of Monteverdi in the Public Gardens John Paul II, Cremona

The Ninth Madrigal Book[edit]

The ninth book of madrigals, published posthumously in 1651,[32][page needed] contains lighter pieces such as canzonettas which were probably composed throughout Monteverdi's lifetime representing both styles.



Frontispiece of Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, Venice edition, 1609.

Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas, but only L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, L'incoronazione di Poppea, and the famous aria, Lamento, from his second opera L'Arianna have survived. From monody (with melodic lines, intelligible text and placid accompanying music), it was a logical step for Monteverdi to begin composing opera; in 1607, his first opera, L'Orfeo, premiered in Mantua.[32] L'Orfeo was not the first opera, but it was the first mature opera, or one that realized all of its potential.[35][page needed] It was normal at that time for composers to create works on demand for special occasions, and this piece was part of the ducal celebrations of carnival.[35][page needed] (Monteverdi was later to write for the first opera houses supported by ticket sales which opened in Venice). L'Orfeo has dramatic power and lively orchestration. L'Orfeo is arguably the first example of a composer assigning specific instruments to parts in operas. It is also one of the first large compositions for which the exact instrumentation of the premiere is still known.[35][page needed] The plot is described in vivid musical pictures and the melodies are linear and clear, with this opera, Monteverdi created an entirely new style of music, the dramma per la musica or musical drama.


L'Arianna was the second opera written by Monteverdi. It is one of the most influential and famous specimens of early Baroque opera, it was first performed in Mantua in 1608.[30][page needed] Its subject matter was the ancient Greek legend of Ariadne and Theseus. Italian composer Ottorino Respighi famously orchestrated the "Lamento di Arianna" in 1908, and the work was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic the same year under conductor Arthur Nikisch.[citation needed] The manuscript was restored and published as a critical edition in 2013 by Italian composer/conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio under publisher Edizioni Panastudio. A later completion of the "Lamento" from L'Arianna by Scottish composer Gareth Wilson (b. 1976) was performed at King's College, London University on 29 November 2013, the 370th anniversary of Monteverdi's death.[citation needed]

Late Operas[edit]

Monteverdi was often ill during the last years of his life, during this time, he composed the operas Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1640), and L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642),[26] based on an episode in the life of the Roman emperor Nero. The libretto for Il ritorno d'Ulisse was written by Giacomo Badoaro and for L'incoronazione di Poppea by Giovanni Busenello.[36]

Sacred music[edit]

Vespro della Beata Vergine[edit]

Monteverdi's first church music publication was the archaic Mass In illo tempore to which the Vesper Psalms of 1610 were added.[37] The Vesper Psalms of 1610 are also one of the best examples of early repetition and contrast, with many of the parts having a clear ritornello, the published work is on a very grand scale and there has been some controversy as to whether all the movements were intended to be performed in a single service. However, there are various indications of internal unity; in its scope, it foreshadows such summits of Baroque music as Handel's Messiah, and J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion. Each part (there are twenty-five in total) is fully developed in both a musical and dramatic sense – the instrumental textures are used to precise dramatic and emotional effect, in a way that had not been seen before.

Other sacred works[edit]

  • Messa in illo tempore (1610)
  • Mass of Thanksgiving (1631)
  • Messa a 4 da cappella (1641) (also: Missa in F), part of Selva morale e spirituale
  • Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. (Mass for four voices, and Psalms ...) (published posthumously, 1650)

Other works[edit]

Sacred contrafacta[edit]

In the years 1607-9, Aquilino Coppini published in Milan three volumes, in which many of Monteverdi's madrigals (together with secular works of other composers) are presented with the original secular texts replaced with sacred Latin contrafacta carefully prepared by Coppini in order to fit the music in every aspect.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As late as 1932, the composer Francesco Malipiero commented that of all Monteverdi's works, "only Ariadne's Lament has prevented us from completely forgetting the most famous composer of the seventeenth century."[20]



  1. ^ a b Fabbri (2007), p. 6.
  2. ^ a b c d Carter (n.d.), §1 "Cremona."
  3. ^ Pryer (2007), pp. 4-6.
  4. ^ Carter (2002), p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Whenham (2007) p. xv.
  6. ^ a b c d Arnold (1980a), p. 515.
  7. ^ Fabbri (2007) p.8.
  8. ^ Fabbri (2007) p. 15.
  9. ^ Bates (2002). p. 53
  10. ^ Holman (1993), p. 577.
  11. ^ Fabbri (1994), pp. 27-28.
  12. ^ Stevens (1995), p. 20.
  13. ^ Arnold (1980b), pp. 534-535.
  14. ^ Ossi (2007), p. 101.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Carter, §2 "Mantua."
  16. ^ Bowers (2007), p. 59.
  17. ^ Bowers (2007), p. 63.
  18. ^ Bowers (2007), p. 66.
  19. ^ Ossi (2007), p. 100.
  20. ^ Malipiero (1932), p. 383.
  21. ^ Whenham (2007), p. xvii
  22. ^ Pryer (2007), p. 12.
  23. ^ Stevens (1995), pp. 46-54.
  24. ^ Arnold (1980a), p. 516.
  25. ^ Stevens (1995), pp. 83-85
  26. ^ a b Redlich (1952)
  27. ^ Whenham (2007), p. xx.
  28. ^ Arnold (1980a), p. 517.
  29. ^ Carter (n.d.), §3 "Venice."
  30. ^ a b c Ringer 2006.
  31. ^ Fabbri 1994, p. 60.
  32. ^ a b c d e Schrade 1950.
  33. ^ Arnold & Fortune 1985, p. 233.
  34. ^ Arnold (1980a), p. 522.
  35. ^ a b c Whenham & Wistreich 2007.
  36. ^ Whenham (2007), p. 235.
  37. ^ Whenham (2007), p. 145.
  38. ^ Kurzmanm (2007), p, 141, p. 144.


External links[edit]