Haupz Blog

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Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa

2022-05-14 — Michael Haupt

What about Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa? He lived in Italy during the Renaissance, and composed vocal music. Just another 16th / early 17th century composer, right?

Well. He was a bit extreme, in life and works. For instance, he murdered both his wife and her lover upon catching them in flagranti, and I'll spare you the details.

His music, harmonically, is of a kind that was unheard-of at the time, and wasn't heard again until centuries later. He used extreme chromatic modulations to circumscribe the meanings of the words he set to music. While his secular compositions - several books of madrigals - are highly expressive, I have a special fondness for the Tenebrae, a vast cycle of some twenty settings of texts on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The chilling effect of Gesualdo's style is audible in one of my favourite pieces from the cycle: Tristis est anima mea (go here for an excellent example of the extravagant "modern" harmonics).

Tags: music