|About this Recording
8.555314-16 - MONTEVERDI, C.: Madrigals, Book 7, "Concerto" (Il Settimo Libro de Madrigali, 1619)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
The ‘Concerto’ (as Claudio Monteverdi entitled his Seventh Book of Madrigals) was published by printer Bartolomeo Magni in Venice in 1619, five years after the Sixth Book had appeared. At the beginning of the book, alongside a sonnet by an anonymous admirer (Sul MONTE, che da terra al cielo asceso — On the mountain that rose from earth to heaven) Monteverdi included a fascinating dedication to Catherine de’ Medici, a daughter of one of the most powerful Italian families, then rulers of Florence, and granddaughter of the far more famous and controversial Catherine de’ Medici, queen of France. By playing the part of devoted courtier and dedicating his work to the wife of Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (the city mentioned so often in my notes on Monteverdi’s earlier books of madrigals), the composer was attempting to maintain good relations with a man he had simultaneously loved and hated, for he had never been given the honours due to a musician by then famous throughout Europe. In 1614 Monteverdi had abandoned Mantua for Venice (where he would remain until his death): it was no coincidence, therefore, that in that same year he produced his Sixth Book (Naxos 8.555312-13), dedicated to the themes of parting and farewell. With its tales of abandonment (as told by the one abandoned) and songs of heartbreaking physical separations, the book was a final, definitive and sublime tribute to the mode of madrigal composition which had inspired so many of his works up till then. Monteverdi would never forget Mantua and the Gonzagas, just as he would never forget the madrigal in the form for five voices that assured it a unique place in the history of music. At that time Venice was the city of innovation, centre of a new concept of political power, the Republic: La Serenissima (as the city and its territories were known) was not ruled over by a duke or a prince, but enjoyed full political and religious autonomy. St Mark’s Basilica, for example, was liturgically independent of Rome, and the Patriarch (the city’s most senior religious figure) was appointed not by the Pope but by the Doge and the Grand Council. In embracing this city, Monteverdi was embracing a different concept of culture and setting out in an entirely new compositional direction, far from life at court and princely subjugation.
There is only a fleeting reference to Duke Ferdinando Gonzaga in the Seventh Book’s dedication: the focus is on Catherine. The Duke had presumably been angered by Monteverdi’s decision to leave Mantua (significantly, of course, the Sixth Book was the only one to have been published without a dedication: how was a farewell publication to be taken?), but the composer’s movements were certainly not a priority as far as he was concerned. Ferdinando had inherited a fragile financial situation which his own lifestyle and a number of errors of political judgement only made worse: this was why he found himself forced to sell off one of the world’s most magnificent art collections (the famous Celeste Galleria, which included works by Bruegel, Cranach, Dürer, Mantegna, Titian, Rubens, Giulio Romano, Tintoretto, Reni, Correggio and Veronese, now scattered around the world’s great galleries). Monteverdi hoped to maintain friendly relations with Mantua by means of the Seventh Book’s dedication: “these compositions of mine shall be a public and true testament of my devoted affection for the house of Gonzaga, whose faithful servant I was for some decades”. His decision to turn towards the new, and towards the Most Serene Republic of Venice was, however, irrevocable: when, in 1619, the Mantuan official court musician died (Monteverdi, of course, had never held this post), he was recalled to the Duke’s service, but eluded the invitation by making impossible financial demands. The consideration in which his work was held, the healthy stipend he was receiving (“I may not be rich, but neither am I poor”, he would write to Striggio in 1627), the fact that he was working for a stable institution and not subject to the whims and fancies of a duke, led him to turn his back on his courtbound past and keep the new “sweetest of servitudes” and the post of Maestro di Cappella della Serenissima Repubblica (as he is credited in the book’s frontispiece) at St Mark’s Basilica (which was not a cathedral answerable to Rome, but the Doges’ private church, the official chapel of the Republic).
Monteverdi’s new circumstances, together with his natural propensity for seeking out and experimenting with new ways of composing, led him to publish a book that represents a clear break with his earlier publications: here the madrigal is transformed or, perhaps, it would be better to say it has vanished, at least in the form that would have been recognised up to that point. Of thirty-two compositions (the very number was a novelty given that the earlier books contained eighteen to twenty-one pieces at the most), there is not a single five-voice madrigal, only pieces for one to four voices (a good fifteen are marked “a due” — for two voices), all with basso continuo, some with violins, along with works that might be called “experimental”, as they are not comparable to traditional madrigal form. It was the heterogeneous nature of this collection that led Monteverdi to use the title “CONCERTO”, “a term whose various meanings point to contrasts between on the one hand agreement and harmony between parts, and on the other, confrontations between voices and instruments; not yet the division between soloist and ensemble. And yet the way the pieces are arranged within the book is carefully calculated and finely balanced.” (Claudio Gallico: Monteverdi, 1979).
This arrangement has in fact been the source of many a disagreement among academics and performers, as it offers them a range of solutions: some performers disregard the order as printed (Cavina); some musicologists (including Malipiero and all those who worked on his edition) respect the basso continuo score which (for purely practical printing reasons) puts Non è di gentil core in second instead of third place (where it appears in all the vocal and other instrumental parts). For me, respecting Monteverdi’s chosen order is not simply a matter of academic precision, it is fundamental to understanding what he wanted when he established his “carefully calculated and finely balanced” arrangement. As is also true of the previous volumes, the works follow on, one from the next, in a precise rationale that needs to be observed: first, the vocal structure develops as the book goes on (ordered according to precise vocal ranges); secondly, the book is presented as a kind of opera, which gradually unfolds, from the initial prologue (a stroke of genius on Monteverdi’s part) and opening “chorus”, into scenes for two and three depicting different aspects of love, until we reach the joyous and “choral” final dance. Breaking this sequence (now re-established in the new and complete critical edition prepared specifically for this recording) would be akin to making arbitrary changes to the usual narrative structure of an opera; it was deliberately constructed by the composer and alternates moments of sonorous splendour with moments of solitary reflection, moving from joy to drama, from eroticism to prayerfulness.
The book opens with an instrumental Symphonia (comparable to an operatic overture) which incorporates a beautiful poem by Giambattista Marino, Tempro la cetra (CD 1, ), taken from his collection entitled La Lira (The Lyre), an anthology of a number of shorter collections published as the Rime (Poems) between 1602 and 1614. More than a mere introduction, this opening is similar to a seventeenth-century opera’s prologue, for solo voice, designed to set out for the audience the nature and plot of the book (think, for example, of the prologue sung by Music in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, 1607). As in a madrigal (and perhaps this in itself means it is still admissible to define the piece as a madrigal), the notes are subject to the meaning of the words, yielding to word-paintings that send the phrase “alzo talor lo stil” soaring, decorate the words “e pur tra’ fiori” with flowery semiquavers and ornaments, and slow down, as if to feign sleep, in the final line, “in grembo a Citerea dorma al tuo canto”. The awakening (before the conclusion that leads back to the varied sinfonia) is a joyful dance seemingly written for a talented group of dancers. Malipiero’s 1932 edition (the only version available till now) contains a few errors, which we have corrected for our own edition: as well as the omission of some of the original ornamentation, I would also mention the textual error “de la lira sublime” (the original being “de la tromba sublime”), a number of missing tied notes (the most noticeable, even to a distracted listener, being the second violin’s final note), and a number of notational errors in the inner instrumental parts. All the other pieces in the Seventh Book have also undergone a complete critical revision, which entailed a detailed comparison of the first edition of 1619 with its reprints (in 1622, 1623, 1628 and 1641), and of the texts with the original published versions of the poems. Many discrepancies were found, leading to alterations in either the music or the text. CD 1, , contains one such example. On examining the text, we noticed that there were different versions of the final few words: “de l’antiche dolcezze ancor gli honori”, or “… ancor gli humori”, whereas Marino’s original poem reads “… ancor gli odori”. The latter is probably the correct version (the others provide musical but not semantic assonance), given that one of the key themes of the Seventh Book is that of “profumo” — perfume. This theme also appears in Vaga su spina ascosa (which invokes the “Ninfe de gli odori”, (CD 2, ) and in Con che soavità (CD 2, ), in which Guarini cites his much-loved “labbra odorate”. This piece, along with the second madrigal in the book, merits particular consideration: in both pieces the instruments harmonize in dialogue with the voices. A quest’olmo (CD 1, ) is a madrigal for six voices, basso continuo, two violins and two obbligato flutes (that is, Monteverdi himself indicated on the parts that he wanted these instruments, something quite rare at a time when melodic lines were usually written and then assigned to the instruments available for a specific performance). Guessing that the composer must have had two talented flautists at his disposal, we have broadened the forces of this book to include these two instruments as well, alternating them with the violins (as in this second madrigal) in the first piece and in the final Ballo, obtaining the tonal variety desired by Monteverdi in A quest’olmo.
Con che soavità (CD 2, ), contrary to what might be thought, is not a madrigal for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment, but a ten-part piece, divided into three choruses, in which only one part is sung, the others being given to instruments rather than singers. This polychoral idea, a homage to a specifically Venetian way of composing (think of Gabrieli’s works, for example), is hinted at in a text that reveals a significant conceptual and musical turning point. Marini’s poem puts “words” before “kisses”, since the one must necessarily exclude the other (“s’ancidono fra lor”): the eternal conflict between reason and passion. In an ideal world these two parts of the human soul would unite and create harmony in our love affairs and in our daily lives; sadly, this cannot be. Monteverdi expresses this idea in music by putting the solo voice (not polyphony, but a single voice accompanied only by the basso continuo) in between the two concepts (reason and passion) that are represented by the two choruses of wordless instruments. These two groups are very different in nature, the composer decreeing that one must be made up of viols da gamba (with an organ for the bass line) and the other of viols da braccia (“on the arm”), that is, a “modern” string quartet (with harpsichord). The man dreams of harmony but in reality must make a choice between “kisses” and “words”, between instinct and rational thought, hoping to unite them but all the while fully aware that victory for one means death for the other (“Che soave armonia fareste, o dolci baci, o cari detti, se foste unitamente d’ambedue le dolcezze ambo capaci”). The underlying message to us from Monteverdi is that ideally the old world (the viol da gamba group, and everything connected with it) would live in harmony with the new (the string quartet), but the answer is a fateful one: from this madrigal onwards, “the old” would vanish to be irrevocably replaced by the “new”. From this point onwards, never again do we find viols da gamba (even though Monteverdi had first been employed by the Gonzaga court as a violist) — they are replaced by violins (and the cello, seen as a bass version of the violin); never again would Monteverdi return to the five-voice madrigal; never again would he return to Mantua. Ideally, everything would come together, but in reality as the path opened towards the modern age, the old world was swept away: this piece figuratively marks the precise moment at which this change took place.
The Lettera amorosa (CD 3,  - ) and the Partenza amorosa (CD 3,  - ) are two monologues written for tenor and baritone respectively; both are headed with the following inscription: “for solo voice, in theatrical style, to be sung without a regular beat”. As I wrote in my notes on the Sixth Book (Naxos 8.555312-13) with reference to the solo version of the Lamento d’Arianna, this means the singer is faced with the problem of having to “act” the piece, not by dressing up as the character concerned, but by “being” that character: for just a few minutes he must tangibly inhabit the rôle and convey this sufficiently well to convince the audience that what they are seeing is real. The second element, “without a regular beat”, “does not present any particular problem, since it clearly refers to the need for a declamatory style that avoids all rhythmic rigidity in favour of free recitative governed only by the flow of the oratione and of the emotion” (P. Fabbri: Monteverdi, 1985).
To encourage this fluency, part of the basso continuo is written out “in partitura” (for the first time in a Monteverdi publication), i.e. with the vocal line set out above the accompaniment, thereby enabling better coordination and greater interpretative freedom. Many musicologists and performers have justified Monteverdi’s choice of the high voice for the Lettera amorosa in the belief that the letter in question is being read by its female recipient. We think, however, that the title given by the poet, Claudio Achillini, leaves no room for doubt — A gentleman, impatient at his delayed nuptials, writes this letter to his most beautiful bride — and provides further evidence to support our considered decision to use male voices in the higher registers, as discussed in the notes for the earlier books.
The duets in the Seventh Book are extremely innovative: theatrical love scenes, both tender and comic (Io son pur vezzosetta or Dice la mia bellissima Licori, CD 1,  and ), contrast with moments of desperate expressiveness and intensity. Of these, S’el vostro cor, madonna and Interrotte speranze (CD 2,  and ) show the intensity that can be achieved with just two voices. Intimate dramas, and the tortured heart of the book, these two madrigals demonstrate Monteverdi’s genius (fruit of the Seconda prattica) for creating pathos, emotion and turbulence. The initial unison of Interrotte speranze (CD 2, ) which breaks down into dissonance is a development of the experiments heard in the Fourth Book madrigal Ah, dolente partita (the first track on Naxos 8.555310); the chromaticism of S’el vostro cor, madonna (CD 2, ) creates unexpected musical results.
A key element of the ‘Concerto’ are the poems from Giambattista Marino’s Rime amorose dedicated to the erotic theme of the “kiss”: Vorrei baciarti, o Filli (with its original literary title: Bacio in dubbio, CD 1, ), Perchè fuggi (Bacio involato, CD 2, ), Tornate, o cari baci (Baci cari, CD 2, ) and the wonderful and mischievous trio Eccomi pronta ai baci (Bacio mordace, CD 2, ). Meanwhile, Parlo, misero, o taccio? (CD 2, ), for three voices, is a real test of the singers’ abilities, with the vocal range extended in both the upper and lower registers (a range of more than two octaves is necessary for the bass: perhaps a tribute to the renowned Giulio Cesare Brancaccio), the music reflecting the conceptual extremes and contrasts expressed in the poem.
The book ends with the Ballo: Tirsi e Clori (CD 3,  - ) which, fittingly for a book made up largely of two-voice madrigals, begins with the sweetest of duets for the shepherd and his shepherdess. They take turns to sing, their different natures clearly portrayed, and then join together: in a dance-like triple metre, Thyrsis tries to convince his beloved Chloris of the joy and pleasures to be found in dance, but his advances are held back by her feminine reticence and shyness (musically represented by a declamatory freedom allowed by the duple metre). The final duet symbolizes the lovers’ union, all reticence overcome; this then leads into the choral celebration of the dance, bringing in other voices and instruments in a profusion of different rhythms and atmospheres. There is much documentary evidence to show that the Ballo was composed by Monteverdi and Striggio (the author of the text) for the coronation of Duke Ferdinando Gonzaga in February 1616. An autograph letter gives us a good idea of what Monteverdi himself wanted on that occasion: “I should judge it proper that it be performed in a semi-circle, with at the ends a theorbo and a harpsichord, one playing the bass for Chloris, the other for Thyrsis, and each of them should also have a theorbo to play as they sing to their own and to the other instruments. Were Chloris to have a harp in place of a theorbo, that would be even better. For the dance, after they have sung their dialogue, another six voices should join in, to make eight in all, eight viols da braccio, one contrabass, one spinet. If there were also two small lutes, that would be fine.” The desire to distinguish between the two protagonists is very clear both in the staging (the two to stand on opposite sides) and in the tonal nature of the different accompanying instruments. It is noticeable that this piece as described requires larger forces (eight voices accompanied by eight stringed instruments and double bass and basso continuo for the final dance, as compared to the five voices in the rest of the Seventh Book), but we know how Monteverdi adapted his own works to the occasion in question and to the instrumental forces available. To record the instrumental opulence he wished for, in our version we double the five vocal lines of the finale with violins, viols (both “da gamba” and “da braccio”), cello, double bass, flutes, percussion and all the continuo instruments used in the preceding madrigals: this makes for a wonderful contrast with the solo harp that accompanies Chloris and the harpsichord, viol da gamba and a Baroque guitar which we can imagine that Thyrsis himself is playing.
Close the window