About this Recording
8.555312-13 - MONTEVERDI, C.: Madrigals, Book 6 (Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali, 1614) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)
English  German  Italian 

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)
Madrigals Book VI: the madrigale 'concertato' and the 'Lamento d'Arianna'


Monteverdi's Sixth Book of Madrigals was published by Ricciardo Amadino in Venice in 1614, nine years after Book Five. In it the composer continues his exploration of the main musical form of the day, once more making the most of all the musical resources at his disposal, whether traditional or innovative, in his quest to transform poetry into music. Over the previous nine years Monteverdi had composed, published and seen performed some of the most famous works in the history of music: L'Orfeo (1607), L'Arianna (1608), the Ballo delle Ingrate (1608) and the Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610).

It seems here as though he wanted to take one last look at the a cappella madrigal before turning his full attention to the new and rich seam of invention provided by the concertato madrigal, a style he had introduced with the last six pieces of the Fifth Book (Naxos 8.555311, Tracks [14]-[19]), and which would characterize all his remaining collections. Out goes the use of larger instrumental ensembles and groups of singers incorporating more than one choir – the focus of Book Six is the traditional five-voice madrigal (in which the different lines progress without many rests, and mutually support one another in polyphonic harmony). The two long cycles in this volume are a cappella (as are the two madrigals which follow each of these cycles: CD 1, [5] and [14]), and these two sweeping frescoes in sound are clearly the stars here. Central to this book is the theme of separation – not only must the characters in the poems endure partings or abandonment, Monteverdi himself also appears to be bidding a final farewell to the compositional method that had so inspired him in earlier works, and paying it one last, painful, sublime tribute. Though the madrigal itself would live on, in both name and form (continuing to be a "form without a form", music generated from the words alone), this book draws a line under what had gone before. From now on, the voices inhabit vast spaces of individual expression, taking solo lines sustained not by vocal harmony but by one or more instruments. Do not be misled by the words that form part of the title of Book Six, "with basso continuo to enable [the madrigals] to be accompanied by the harpsichord and other instruments", for, as we have already seen with the earlier collections, even a cappella madrigals could have instrumental accompaniment (either basso seguente or basso continuo ). We also know that the publication of the instrumental line was purely for the convenience of the players, to save them having to derive their line from the lowest vocal part – in the stile antico, the voices had the leading rôle, and the instrumentalists' job was to double their lines, but with the advent of the concertato style they would have increased autonomy and, consequently, more prominence.

The coexistence of and conflict between two worlds, symbolizing the transition between the old and the new (or, as some would have it, between Ancient and Modern Music), can also be seen in the Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610. Conceived, with great imagination and intelligence, in the new concertato style, the Vespers actually opens with a rigorously traditional Mass setting: the Missa da cappella fatta sopra il mottetto "In illo tempore".

The contrast between the old and new styles was not the only area of discussion in this period. A new art form, opera, had been born and was proving hugely popular. No longer were a character's joy or sorrow sung about chorally: emotions were now brought to life on stage by a single performer, giving a new immediacy to both the character's state of mind and the narrative. Because of the enhanced sensory experience of watching a favola in musica (tale told in music) such as L'Orfeo or L'Arianna, where the eye as well as the ear was stimulated by increasingly life-like settings, as well as lighting effects, costumes and make-up, audiences felt a new identification with the protagonists and everything they were undergoing on stage.

In this day and age it is hard to grasp just how novel this was. Today's audiences take television and the cinema for granted, but in Monteverdi's day the opera house provided true excitement. Marco da Gagliano, in the preface to his opera Dafne, compared Monteverdi's Arianna to Greek tragedy, writing that "It can truly be said that the worth of ancient music was renewed, for the whole audience was visibly moved to tears". Writer Aquilino Coppini recounted how during the performance Monteverdi "was able to wring thousands and thousands of pitying tears from the eyes of the famous theatre and anyone who was there", while the Venetian ambassador wrote about "the tale of Ariadne … whose musical lament … made many weep at her misfortune". (All reminiscent of a modern-day audience leaving a cinema visibly moved…) Although it may not be a perfect comparison, one way of understanding the two ways of composing and the significance of the advent of opera is to liken the a cappella madrigal to reading a book, and opera to watching the film adaptation on the big screen. Two such utterly distinct worlds of artistic expression, though both capable of stirring our emotions, cast their spells in very different ways – reading takes us on an emotional journey into our own creativity and subjectivity as readers (the written word giving us time to linger on details, or to spend in introspection), while watching a film makes us identify immediately with the actors and their emotions as events unfold on the screen in front of us.

Sadly, the complete score of Monteverdi's Arianna is lost without trace, but history has compensated us at least in part by preserving the extremely well-known Lamento d'Arianna. The composer set this text in both the ancient and the modern style, probably to prove that both the narrative and representational forms can be employed to express the heights of emotion (a third, sacred version was included in the Selva morale e spirituale (1640) as the Pianto della Madonna sopra il Lamento d'Arianna ).

It is not however pure chance that only the Lamento has survived: it was defined by Monteverdi himself as "the most essential part of the work" and it became so famous that "there was no home that possessed either harpsichords or lutes, that did not also possess a copy of that lament" (the words of Florentine writer and composer Severo Bonini around 1640), while Giovan Battista Doni in his Treatise (1635) speaks of the "Lament of Ariadne which is perhaps the most beautiful composition of its kind to have been written in our times". As soon as Arianna had first been staged in 1608, manuscript copies had begun to circulate around Italy in great quantities (some are now held by libraries in Florence and Modena ), featuring many musical and textual discrepancies: the opera's success and perhaps the desire to establish an official version spurred Monteverdi on to publish the solo version in 1623 (in fact there were two publications issued in that same year, but the continuo part is missing from one of them), nine years after having written the Sixth Book 's five-part adaptation in the a cappella style which, because of the advent of monody and opera, was not long for this world.

Our decision to include the solo version of the Lamento as part of this two-CD set gives listeners the opportunity to compare and contrast it with the polyphonic version or, to use the analogy made earlier, to "watch the film" or "read the book". Some may prefer the old-style madrigals (CD 1, [1]-[4]), with their greater wealth of harmonies and sophisticated details, others will appreciate the big-screen Ariadne (CD 2, [16]-[20]) as she plays out her scene of grief alone for us. According to Greek mythology (and the surviving libretto that Ottavio Rinuccini wrote for Monteverdi), Theseus of Athens arrives in Crete with the other young Athenians chosen as part of the yearly tribute demanded by King Minos as a human sacrifice to the Minotaur which he has imprisoned in a labyrinth. Minos's daughter, Ariadne, falls in love with Theseus and helps him to escape by giving him one end of a long thread so that he can find his way out of the labyrinth and back to her once he has killed the Minotaur. In return, Theseus promises to take her back to Athens with him and marry her. During the return voyage, however, he abandons her on the island of Naxos, setting sail while she sleeps. On waking, Ariadne realises she has been betrayed and decides to kill herself but, as with Monteverdi's Orfeo, this version of the story has a happy ending: Cupid sends Bacchus and his fleet to the island, where the god saves Ariadne and marries her himself. Given the clear similarities of setting and emotional content, it is worth comparing the Lamento d'Arianna with the Lamento d'Olimpia, the last piece in the complete collection of secular works taken from manuscript copies which forms an appendix to our recording of the First Book (Naxos 8.555307 [26]).

There is a connection between the Sixth Book 's two extended cycles: the Sestina (CD 1, [8]-[13]) is also a lament, in this case that of "a shepherd whose nymph has died … [composed] on the death of the little Roman girl". The lament had an extra-textual significance too: shortly before the first performance of Arianna, the singer who was to have taken the title rôle, Caterina Martinelli (who came from Rome, hence her nickname, "la Romanina"), fell ill and died of smallpox. She was only eighteen. She had been a favourite of the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga, who had entrusted her five years earlier to Monteverdi's care (she lived with his family as well as studying with him), a fact that gives some insight into "the ethical ambiguity of the Duke's behaviour and the position of those who worked for him. The madrigal in general made reference to real-life episodes and incidents, it was allusive, celebrative, commemorative" (Claudio Gallico: Monteverdi, 1979). The Sestina is a sorrowful piece, full of intimate suffering and emotion and intensely moving without any need for staging and sets. Monteverdi's sublime a cappella writing and mastery of emotional expression reach a pinnacle here. It seems likely that he was not just writing for his employer, (Scipione Agnelli's text disguises the Duke as the shepherd Glaucus), but was also sending a last loving embrace to his own wife, who had died in 1607 after a year of painful illness: "that breast wherein Love nested" is now entombed in a "sad grave", beneath a "cold stone". In the final madrigal of the cycle (CD 1, [13]) the cantus and quintus imploringly sing " Ahi Corinna, ahi Corinna " in heartbreaking turns, while the three lower voices press on urgently, rising upwards only to fall into the desperation of " ahi morte, ahi tomba ", which is rendered with bold chromaticisms and descending leaps, until the voices and music are worn out. Never have grief and affliction been so powerfully expressed in music.

Ohimè il bel viso (CD 1, [14]) and Zefiro torna (CD 1, [5]) are two sonnets from the Canzioniere by Petrarch, the great fourteenth-century Italian poet. It seems strange that alongside so many contemporary poems Monteverdi chose to set two lyrics from around 1350. Ohimè il bel viso is similar thematically to the Sestina cycle that precedes it (it was Petrarch's first poem to his beloved Laura after hearing of her death) and its setting of " ohimè " in the two highest voices is reminiscent of both the last in the Sestina group and also Ohimè, se tanto amate of the Fourth Boo k (Naxos 8.555310, [12]). Zefiro torna, meanwhile, seems a world away from the Lament, with the well-deserved reputation of being one of Monteverdi's most light-hearted and cheerful compositions. It returns to a theme already broached in O primavera, gioventù de l'anno (Naxos 8.555309, [11]): the contrast between nature, joyfully blooming and fertile, and the protagonist, sorrowfully drooping and tormented, a victim of love's torture, as rendered by Monteverdi with the most audacious dissonances in the finale ( cf Rinuccini's similar text, also entitled Zefiro torna, in the Ninth Book (Naxos 8.570257, [3]).

The internal, symmetrical structure of Book Six was carefully planned by the composer. It divides into two clear halves, each headed by an extended cycle. Then come the Petrarch sonnets, and these in turn are followed by concertato madrigals. The latter are clearly unusual and quite different from what has come before, easily identifiable by the emergence of one voice from the polyphony for long solo sections. Both singer and instrumentalist are now freed from the ties that bound the choral ensemble so intimately and are instead encouraged to express their virtuosity. Thematically, however, we are still dealing with partings and farewells. A dio, Florida bella (CD 1, [7]) is a magnificent lovers' dialogue cut cruelly short by nature who, by awakening for a new day, condemns them to separation. This is the stage adaptation (not yet the big-screen version that would come with opera) of the narrated tale that opens the Second Book (Naxos 8.555308, tracks [1] and [2]): here, however, the two lovers are sung by solo voices – the cantus and the tenor – while the rest of the voices (like a Greek chorus) are left to pass comment, "like a narrator compensating for the lack of visual pointers that a hypothetical theatrical representation would supply" (P. Fabbri: Monteverdi, 1985). Misero Alceo (CD 2, [1]) gives the tenor an extended solo scena, while the chorus dazzles us with a brilliant example of word-painting on the phrase " un sol cor, diviso ". Book Six ends with Presso un fiume tranquillo which, exceptionally, is written in seven parts (CD 2, [3], the only piece that requires a third cantus), announcing Monteverdi's future linguistic innovations: its real dialogue, between Euryllus and Philena, anticipates the duets and the Ballo of Book Seven (Naxos 8.555314-15), while the polyphony anticipates the warlike idiom that characterises Book Eight (Naxos 8.555316-18).

As with the first CD in this madrigal series (Naxos 8.555307), here too we offer fans a mini "complete works", this time all those pieces by Monteverdi that were printed in published anthologies of works by a number of different composers, some of which have never before been recorded (CD 2, [4]-[8]). These madrigals were composed at various different times; some were commissioned from Monteverdi by a friend in 1593, before he had achieved fame, others were ordered by a nobleman and amateur poet from Treviso who was keen to achieve fame himself, while others again were collected by the Venetian publisher Alessandro Vincenti, who would later issue the weighty Eighth Book and the posthumous Ninth Book (in which, indeed, we find one of the same texts, Perché se m'odiavi (CD 2, [14]), in a new three-part version (Naxos 8.570257, [10]). These varied pieces provide fascinating documentary evidence of the innovative journey undertaken by Monteverdi over the course of a period of substantial development.

Book Six is a volume dedicated to expression, the power of music to touch us, to arouse our feelings and passions. Its madrigals are considerably longer than those of the earlier five volumes and (by way of compensation) there are fewer of them. In our view the current trend of favouring speed and agility of performance over expression is regrettable and here, therefore, we are going against the flow and persisting in our choice of "slow" tempi, which we feel better enable the numerous harmonic subtleties of these works to unfold. We do, however, use agogic accents as part of our primary goal – to make the words and their meaning shine through as clearly as possible – as early as 1609 Coppini pointed to this as the key to Monteverdi's idiom: " qui sunt a Monteverdio, longiora intervalla et quasi percussiones inter canendum requirunt. Insistendo tantisper, indulgendo tarditati, aliquando etiam festinandum. Ipse moderator eris. In iis mira sane vis commovendorum affectuum " (The madrigals of Monteverdi require for their performance longer breaths and a beat which is not always regular, sometimes urging onwards or indulging in rallentandi, then hurrying forward again. You yourself will establish the tempo. These madrigals truly possess an admirable ability to move the emotions.).

Monteverdi himself wrote, in 1617, that "speed and quality do not go well together", and as far as possible our aim is to recreate a time when the pace of life was slower in all respects, and when attention to detail was considered a fundamental element of any work of art. Our response, therefore, to high speeds and rigid tempo observation is to bring all the passion, impulsiveness and emotion we can to these Monteverdian images. Coppini again, in 1608, defining the composer's expressive abilities, wrote that his music "is regulated by the natural expression of the human voice in moving the emotions, influencing the ear in the most gentle of ways and thereby becoming the most benevolent tyrant of the heart". From the recent research carried out by Paola Besutti ("A catalogue of the musical instruments at the Mantuan Court", Gonzaga, 2002), we know that the Duke acquired an organ in 1605, and that Monteverdi himself mentioned in a letter the fact that madrigals were accompanied "on the wooden organ which is as smooth as can be" (alone or with the lute), and so the instrument makes its first appearance in our madrigal recordings.

As we did on the previous CDs in this series, we have once again elected to record these madrigals using male voices only, thereby achieving a historically authentic sound and providing an alternative to other recordings made by mixed-voice ensembles. Though Ariadne was originally sung by Virginia Ramponi, we also know that the Duke of Mantua himself had asked the Medicis, the ruling family of Florence, if he could "borrow" the countertenor Antonio Brandi, and the castrato Gualberto Magli, who in the first performance of Orfeo had played Music, Proserpine and Hope, alongside Father Girolamo Bacchini, "the little priest who played Eurydice".

Marco Longhini
English version: Susannah Howe

Sung texts in Italian with English translations are available online at www.naxos.com/libretti/555312.htm

Close the window