Are the madrigals the best music of Monteverdi?

by on March 3, 2017 at 12:47 am in History, Music | Permalink

But if Book IV fires a warning shot across the bow, Books V and VIII launch an all-out musical assault on convention. For the first time an instrumental basso continuo part appears, providing continuity that allows voices to falter, stop altogether or even sing alone. Suddenly, musical emotion is less a matter of symbolism than of imitation; sighs, moans and shouts of joy can all be rendered truthfully, with each voice unshackled from its fellows. Harmonically, too, things are very different. The knife-twisting dissonances that famously angered the theorist Artusi in ‘Cruda Amarilli’ (‘A tumult of sounds, a confusion of absurdities, an assemblage of imperfections’) turn the poem’s cardboard lover into something of flesh and blood, someone whose thoughts alternately gallop and linger, whose emotions ebb and flow naturally, if unpredictably.

Book VIII is the greatest and widest-ranging volume of secular music of its age — perhaps of any. Composed over a 30-year span, the madrigals tackle not only the erotic charge of love and sexuality, but also for the first time its warring conflicts — the restlessness, agitation and rage that go hand in hand with its pleasures. No single work can represent such a collection, but perhaps the ‘Lamento della Ninfa’ comes closest; if you listen to just one work, make it this one.

That is from Alexandra Coghlan, via Ted Gioia.

1 Thanatos Savehn March 3, 2017 at 1:08 am

I too remember well my first beer.

2 prior_test2 March 3, 2017 at 1:17 am

Probably not – at least if the GMU student I knew who sang in the GMU Choir (or whatever it may have been called in the mid-80s – no reason to check at this point, assuming any information is online anyways) is a decent judge of the music she sang. She preferred the English madrigals, and really, some choir singers tend to prefer no instrumentation to interfere with the music they are creating. In other words, in the judgment of at least one GMU American madrigal singer in the recent past, Monteverdi did not do his best work regarding madrigals (meaning she has already failed the sort of test that critics – or economists – use to make judgments).

And here is the obligatory wiki link –

3 prior_test2 March 3, 2017 at 1:19 am

First post, then remember – I think there was the GMU Choic, and then there was a separate group which also gave public performances, that was specifically devoted to madrigals.

4 Barkley Rosser March 3, 2017 at 9:20 am

Hmmm. You do not seem to be able to read very well, prior_test2. What was said in the post is that Monteverdi’s madrigals are his best music, not that they are the best madrigals ever. Thus the claim is that they are better than his operas, some of which are great, him being essentially the inventor of the “modern” opera. I have not heard his madrigals, but I like his operas. However, I suspect that you are right in your misdirected point that the best of the English madrigals are better than Monteverdi’s, just as some later opera composers composed better operas than Monteverdi as well.

5 prior_test2 March 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

‘You do not seem to be able to read very well, prior_test2.’

And it took you this long to figure it out?

Admittedly, I just zoomed in because of that GMU madrigal singer connection, as a Monteverdi 101 Strings Orchestra joke seemed to be even a bigger stretch.

6 UncleMartyPants March 3, 2017 at 4:11 am

Posted a while back asking for recommendations to pieces similar to Lamento. It’s straight fire.

7 dearieme March 3, 2017 at 6:29 am

I’ve never listened to much Monteverdi until recently when a blogger started to carry youtubes of Baroque music.

I am taken with it. Here’s one that delighted me, proof – as if proof were required – that them pesky Rooshuns are undermining the world.

8 prior_test2 March 3, 2017 at 6:47 am

I am so disappointed – Shakespeare set to music is inferior to an Italian composer. As noted both by the memory of an American madrigal singer at GMU, and in cited style from wikipedia – ‘ Morley is the only composer of the time who set verse by Shakespeare for which the music has survived. His style is melodic, easily singable, and remains popular with a cappella singing groups.’

Of course, it is quite possible that a British citizen prefers their own opinion to that of American who merely sang madrigals for several years while at university (I think that is the British phrasing, right?)..

9 ricardo March 3, 2017 at 7:37 am

Peak prior test.

10 msgkings March 3, 2017 at 3:05 pm

More like nadir prior_test

11 dearieme March 3, 2017 at 11:24 am

“prefers their own opinion” …..I think that is the British phrasing, right?

Until we were nobbled with the curse of American PC taboos we would always have said ‘prefers his own opinion’.

12 copans March 3, 2017 at 9:15 am

Let me recommend the Kozena version of Lamento della Ninfa beginning at the 8:35 mark:

It is somewhat over the top (it is too much for my wife, for example), but wow! Total commitment.

13 Turkey Vulture March 3, 2017 at 9:38 am

I don’t know, but I still believe Metallica’s black album and Modest Mouse’s “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” are quite good, despite some hardcore fans’ protestations to the contrary.

14 Thelonious_Nick March 3, 2017 at 11:55 am

Tyler, for future reference, this is the sort of post that I find most useful on your blog. Sure the econ stuff if good to know, but I’m not sure it really makes much difference in my day to day life.

But the music you’ve recommended that I had never before heard of is something that affects my listening habits on a regular basis: Amadou and Miriam, the Louvin Brothers, Jason Vieaux, and many others.

Who knew Monteverdi did something besides operas? An album of his madrigals is highly likely to arrive at my house from Amazon in the near future.

To return the favor, let me recommend this, on the off chance you don’t already know of them: Tinariwen, any album.

15 mkt42 March 7, 2017 at 12:02 am

I came here belatedly to say much the same thing, I was unfamiliar with these various Monteverdi works and they are wonderful.

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