About this Recording
8.555310 - MONTEVERDI, C.: Madrigals, Book 4 (Il Quarto Libro de' Madrigali, 1603) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)
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Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)
Madrigals Book IV

Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals was published in Venice by Ricciardo Amadino in 1603, a good eleven years after his last published work. This period has often been examined by Monteverdi scholars as it seems excessively long for a composer whose previous works had appeared at intervals of no more than two or three years. The originality of the Third Book of 1592 (Naxos 8.555309) had made it a great success, and by 1644 this Fourth Book had been reprinted seven times, in Italy and abroad. What then were the reasons for such an extended break?

Various events in Monteverdi’s life probably contributed to the delay. In 1594, the year in which both Palestrina and Lassus died, and Gesualdo’s First Book of Madrigals was published, four of his Canzonettas appeared in an anthology. The following year he left Mantua for Hungary with Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga’s court. Vincenzo was keen to join the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II’s crusade against the Turks, albeit with a view to financial gain rather than soldierly prowess. He took advantage of the crusade to visit such cities as Trent, Innsbruck, Linz, Prague and Vienna, where he and his entourage were received with every luxury. The documents pertaining to this chivalrous expedition provide us with some fascinating details about contemporary performance practice. Vincenzo required a Cappella Musicale comprising four singers, under Monteverdi’s direction. We know that one of these four was a famous castrato and two were basses (probably one bass and one baritone, the latter taking the tenor part), and we also know that Monteverdi himself was renowned for his singing ability (and was a tenor) as well as for being “a new Orpheus on the viol [viola da gamba]”. The duke’s cappella was therefore entirely male and was employed both to perform the Catholic liturgy and to entertain at Vincenzo’s frequent and sumptuous banquets, at which the noble guests “spent much of the day engaged in amorous pursuits”. The chronicler continues thus: “the singers and organist the Duke had brought with him performed Vespers during solemn ceremonies” and “it was also very common for his most serene highness the Duke to have the same singers perform for his own amusement”.

On his return to Mantua Monteverdi found himself betrayed by the city, which had offered the prestigious role of maestro di cappella, left vacant by the death of Giaches di Wert, to the composer Benedetto Pallavicino. He therefore turned his attention to Alfonso II of Este, Duke of Ferrara, a city in the vanguard of cultural and artistic activity. Unfortunately he was to have bad luck here, just as he had in Verona and Milan: Alfonso died in 1597 (as he had no heir, Ferrara was handed over to the Holy See, bringing to an end a rich and enlightened moment in history). Furthermore, performances of Monteverdi’s new madrigals led to a notorious dispute with the theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi, an aggressive and inflexible defender of the traditional rules of music and composition, who was violently opposed to any attempt to go against them. L’Artusi, overo Delle imperfettioni della moderna musica, published in 1600, inveighed against some of Monteverdi’s as yet unpublished madrigals (some would appear three years later in the Fourth Book, and others even later in the Fifth), which he had heard performed in Ferrara.

While this battle between the old and the new raged, as described in my notes for the Fifth Book (Naxos 8.555311), the Duke of Mantua was, in 1598, dedicating his efforts to a staging of Guarini’s Pastor fido which we know to have been visually magnificent (sadly no report survives on the music). A few months later, in 1599, he offered Monteverdi a bride in the shape of his favourite singer, Claudia Cattaneo, who may also have been his mistress. The composer then accompanied him on a journey to Flanders, during which he is thought to have met Rubens: the painter went on to work for the Gonzaga family in later years. 1601 and 1602 were happier years for Monteverdi: he became a father and, a few years later on Pallavicino’s death, “Maestro della musica del serenissimo signor duca di Mantova” (as he himself wrote on the frontispiece of the Fourth Book). This led to his being granted Mantuan citizenship and lodgings within the Ducal Palace. From that time onwards, therefore, he was responsible for all the court’s musical activities except for those of the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara which remained the responsibility of Giacomo Gastoldi. The dedication of the Fourth Book is a diplomatic masterpiece — by offering the work to the Accademia degli Intrepidi of Ferrara, founded in 1601, it pays tribute both to the cultural environment in which the madrigals had initially been commissioned and performed, and, indirectly, to Mantua and Vincenzo, one of the Accademia’s most eminent members.

The expressive innovation that had characterized the Third Book is also to be seen in the Fourth, considered one of Monteverdi’s most attractive collections. (The Fifth too continues along similar lines stylistically, being in a way both an appendix to the Fourth and its natural continuation.) Artusi quoted indiscriminately from the two books, and the setting of so many lyrics by Giovanni Battisti Guarini in both is clearly related to Vincenzo’s 1598 production of Il pastor fido. During those eleven years of publishing silence then, Monteverdi was busy both performing and composing, and indeed his discernment, commercial and otherwise, when it came to distributing his works was key to the success enjoyed by the Fourth and Fifth Books.

If we discount the wonderfully lighthearted and descriptive Quell’augellin 14, clearly reminiscent of O rossignuol from the Third Book, the other texts, as noted by Paol Fabbri (Monteverdi, 1985) deal with “experiences of the pain, or at least, the yearning caused by the vicissitudes of love, from the obvious sensual languors of Sì ch’io vorrei morire 16 ... to the more exhausting, from the skirmish in Non più guerra 15 to the the pathos of heartbreaking separations or farewells in, for example, Longe da te, cor mio 19”.

Once again, Monteverdi chose to open (and close) the book with an especially distinctive work: the first madrigal here is a remarkable innovative composition, while the final piece, on a text by Torquato Tasso, is one of the most charming madrigals ever written. Ah, dolente partita 1 had already been published in a German collection of 1597, and its prominent position here suggests that Monteverdi wanted to pay tribute to the memory of Giaches de Wert who had set this text to music and included it in his own Eleventh Book (1597) alongside Cruda Amarilli, which Monteverdi went on to use as the opening piece of his Fifth Book. This of course is another link between the Fourth and Fifth Books as well as a further reference to the relationship between Mantua and Ferrara. The slow opening notes call to mind the solo introductions of the previous book. Monteverdi surpasses himself here, however: two voices sing the first few notes in unison, then divide into separate melodic lines, generating a string of haunting discords, subsequently taken up and developed by the other voices which follow their example of dissonant division. Listeners will be captivated by the sorrowful effect of bewilderment, so similar to that produced by a real separation. Here madrigalismo, or word-painting, is used not to create aesthetically sophisticated plays on words, but to express pure human emotion: two voices united in a single melody, travelling the same road in life, are then forcibly separated. All they (and the listeners) are offered are alienation, dissonance and grief.

The compositional device of unison voices, representing harmony of purpose, dividing from one another into two stunning, dissonant sounds is used again at the end of A un giro sol de’ belli occhi lucenti 11, a madrigal which evokes the beauty of the natural world, recalling Ecco mormorar l’onde from the Second Book (Naxos 8.555308, track 13), and anticipating Or che ’l ciel e la terra in the Eighth. After some wonderful depictions of the sea and the wind, dissonance strikes on the words “certo quando nasceste, / così crudel e ria”, representing the pain of birth and the suffering caused by being torn from a mother’s womb, as well as the future pain of the man who will love this new being.

While the first madrigal portrays the separation of Amarilli and Mirtillo, the two protagonists of Guarini’s Pastor fido, the last in this book, Piagn’e e sospira 20, depicts Erminia’s delirious love for Tancredi. In Fabbri’s words, “once again Monteverdi is inspired by the poetry of Tasso to explore the world of raging passions, as he was in the Third Book’s Armida and Tancredi cycles … His desire to express these emotions leads him to use musical imagery whose relative conventionality makes it all the more effective and communicative: e.g. the chromatic ascent on “Piagn’e”, which is broken by the “sospiro” (sigh) of a rest, or the vocalise on “fuggon” ... The exquisitely artful polyphonic treatment is further complicated by the “chaotic” superimposing of melodies, adding to the tortuous and disjointed intonation.”

Another highly original madrigal is Sfogava con le stelle 4, which aroused and continues to arouse interest for its novel use of the declamatary style: to set more words to music Monteverdi used the falso bordone technique (faburden, or false bass, the notation system used for psalmodic chanting) which enabled several words to be declaimed on a single long note. While in the sacred context the declamation would have been on a monotone, here an explosion of sounds and words assails the listener, alternating at times with lively counterpoint in which the voices take delight in imitating and following one another in turn.

We also find fugal counterpoint in Io mi son giovinetta 13, a lovely portrait of the game played by two young lovers at dawn in early spring. Its conceit is that of a singing contest (the virtuosic writing on “a quel canto” and “fuggi” was still rare at that time) between the upper and lower voices, mirroring the dialogue between the daring and lovelorn shepherd and the disdainful shepherdess. Here too, as for all such moments of drama of that time, “it is a given that these characters (Mirtillo rejected by Amarilli, Amarilli who cannot return Mirtillo’s love) are never portrayed by a single voice, but always by the polyphonic texture” (Fabbri).

The sensuality of Sì ch’io vorrei morire 16 will not escape the listener. As with some earlier pieces, most notably Baci soavi e cari 5 from the First Book (Naxos 8.555307), we are led into a scene whose eroticism is more overt than it might have been earlier, a scene whose counterparts are to be found in some of the paintings commissioned by Duke Vincenzo for the Palazzo Te. There is an erotic charge throughout the madrigal, with all its sighs and gasps — we are party to an explicit act of love-making — and any ambiguity is dispelled when we recall the medieval courtly metaphor of death for orgasm.

In making this recording we have tried to avoid both textual and musical errors by consulting the latest musicological research and making use of recently published and more accurate editions of the madrigals. Such errors, while taking nothing from the beauty of the works, arose in the past from problematic areas which have now been resolved: for example the line in track 4 which for many years was sung as “Sfogava con le stelle / un inferno d’amore”, but which we now know ought to be “un infermo d’amore”.

As far as instrumentation is concerned, we have again chosen a basso seguente accompaniment (as in Books One to Three), which gradually evolves towards the improvisatory freedom and individuality that would characterise basso continuo (heard for the first time in the Fifth Book). Although we have also remained faithful to the strict doubling of vocal lines typical of basso seguente, there are a few improvised exceptions to this rule, be it to link two madrigals, where a text is divided into two parts, to achieve a greater sense of unity, or, on certain cadences or long repeated notes (e.g. Sfogava con le stelle), in order to increase the impact of the declamatory style so characteristic of this book.

Marco Longhini
English translation: Susannah Howe


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