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8.570549 - GESUALDO, C.: Madrigals, Book 2 (Madrigali libro secondo, 1594) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)
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Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566–1613)
The Second Book of Madrigals, 1594


The Second Book of Madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, was published by Vittorio Baldini in Ferrara in 1594: in the same year and on the same presses as the First Book of Madrigals. Both volumes were edited by the musician Scipione Stella who, in the introductory dedication to this second work, asks the Prince’s forgiveness for his having been “so bold as to collect and have printed these Madrigals (a precious sample and offspring of Your Excellency) without having first asked permission”. It would have been entirely unfitting for a nobleman to concern himself with publishing books or music (his life would have been occupied with quite other matters in Renaissance high society); in order to avoid disapproval, therefore, Gesualdo turned to Stella to organise the publication of his works. Curiously enough, this intricate strategy unravels somewhat when it comes to the dates: the dedication of the Second Book (10 May 1594) predates, by just under a month, the publication date of the First Book (2 June 1594), confirming the hypothesis that these 1594 madrigals were split between the two books with no regard for chronological order. The compositions contained within the two volumes had been selected and collated on the occasion of Gesualdo’s journey to Ferrara to marry (on 21 February 1594) Leonora d’Este, daughter of Alfonso d’Este (Marquis of Montecchio and illegitimate son of Duke Alfonso I of Ferrara). More details about this sumptuous event, the world of the Este family and the publication of the first set of madrigals are given in the notes accompanying our previous album (Naxos 8.570548), but it is worth recalling here the words of Alfonso Fontanelli (Leonora’s father’s envoy, sent out to bring tidings of his future son-in-law), which tell us that the prince arrived in Ferrara “bringing with him two books of music in five parts, all his own work”—in all likelihood, these were the two books published just a few months later.

Like those in the first volume, the twenty madrigals of the Second Book are clearly works of a mature and thriving talent, and provide further evidence of the themes Gesualdo held dear, his fluent ability to draw musical inspiration from his chosen texts, and the restless brilliance of his music. This book is a continuation rather than a revolution, affirming his previous style rather than deviating from it, almost as if it were the second half of a single work. We have to wait for Book III of 1595 and Book IV of 1596 (Naxos 8.572136/7), both also published in Ferrara by Baldini, for the composer to break new ground and shatter the musical world of this and the previous book of madrigals. Eventually, that wonderful Mannerist conception of restless poetics, that “unstable equilibrium” (to use an oxymoron that Gesualdo would have approved of), as yet little touched on by later radical research and still closely connected to the polyphonic tradition, would be subverted in the madrigals of his Fifth and Sixth Books (1611), thereby creating something entirely new and innovative. For the time being, however, the “Prince” was content to prove himself a capable composer, one with a certain linguistic originality, sure that he would be understood and appreciated by the sophisticated world of Ferrara, his bride and Duke Alfonso II d’Este. Clearly then, Book Two is a tribute to the advanced and progressive Ferrarese culture (with which were associated such musicians as Cipriano de Rore, Jacques de Wert and Luzzasco Luzzaschi), its music fit to entertain that most refined and aristocratic of audiences at the court which, more than any other, prized and cultivated music, and in particular the madrigal, as a symbol of the synthesis of the various strands of Renaissance art. We have only to listen to Hai rotto e sciolto [3] and All’apparir di quelle luci [19] in this collection to recognise the composer’s mastery of the genre.

The authorship of the texts set by Gesualdo in this volume is not easily attributable. Few of the poets concerned have been officially identified and thus we can only be sure of three names: Torquato Tasso, Giovanni Battista Guarini and Alfonso d’Avalos. It is worth focussing for a moment on the last of these, and on the only text by him included here, Sento che nel partire [12], which lies at the heart of Book Two. This madrigal was extremely well known in Renaissance times (as was another of Alfonso’s texts, Il bianco e dolce cigno). It was written in 1547 (i.e. almost fifty years before Gesualdo’s Book II) and set to music by Cipriano de Rore in his Primo Libro a quattro voci, published in Ferrara in 1550. Highly popular throughout Europe, it was used in many “parody” or “imitation” Masses by composers such as Jacquet de Mantua, Philippe de Monte and Orlando di Lasso. Alfonso’s original text was slightly different:

“Anchor che col partire
io mi senta morire,
partir vorrei ogn’or ogni momento
tant’è ’l piacer ch’io sento
de la vita ch’acquisto nel ritorno.
Et così mill’e mille volt’il giorno
partir da voi vorrei
tanto son dolci gli ritorni miei.”

(Though when taking leave
I feel myself close to death,
fain would I take my leave at every moment,
such is the pleasure I take
in the life I acquire on my return.
And thus, thousands of times each day
would I take my leave of you
so sweet is the taste of returning.)

Numerous light-hearted versions of the text appeared, from Andrea Gabrieli’s Giustiniana (1570) to the most famous and entertaining parody of all, found in Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (1597) and Adriano Banchieri’s reworking of it, Il Studio Dilettevole (1600; a work we have recently recorded), where it becomes a serenade for the Bolognese Doctor Graziano [one of the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte, noted among other things for his malapropisms]. Attempting to appear more educated (given that his native city is home to the world’s first university), he instead completely mangles its lyrics:

“Il vecchio e Pedrolin stanno a sentire
Grazian che vuol cantar alla sua diva
quel madrigal “Ancor che col partire”.
Ancor ch’a parturire
l’huom si senta murire.
Padir vorrei ogn’or un molumento
tant’e’l piacer ch’a stento
l’acqua vita m’ha pist’e pur ai torno;
e così mille volpe al far del zorno,
padir ancor vorrei,
tanto son dolci i storni ai denti miei.”

(The old man and Pedrolin are listening to
Grazian who wishes to sing to his beloved
that madrigal “Ancor che col partire”.
Though when giving birth
man feels himself close to death,
fain would I take a powder at every moment
such is the pleasure I take
in water-of-life’s restorative powers;
and thus another thousand blows
would I suffer at daybreak,
so sweet is the taste of starlings.)

In the case of Gesualdo’s Second Book, the composer probably either updated what by then would have been considered an “out-of-date” text himself, or commissioned an adaptation (from some literary figure in his cultural circle) through which to express his own musical inspiration. While this choice of text could be seen as a tribute to Ferrarese culture, there is reason to suspect that in fact Gesualdo was paying homage to the love of his life. Working on the assumption that this madrigal (along with the rest of the pieces contained in the “two books of music in five parts”) was composed at some earlier date, we should point out that the author of the text, Alfonso d’Avalos, was the father of Carlo d’Avalos, who in turn was the father of Carlo Gesualdo’s first wife (and cousin): the famous Maria d’Avalos.

Gesualdo and Maria d’Avalos: marriage and murder…

Maria d’Avalos was said to be the most beautiful woman in Naples: fair-haired, blue-eyed, with a lovely figure. Gesualdo, though six years her junior, had been attracted to Maria d’Avalos since he was a child. At eighteen, however, she married Federico Carafa, a young diplomat and son of one of the city’s foremost families, with whom she had two children. After only three years of marriage, Federico died, followed soon afterwards by their son. Two years later Maria married again; her new husband was a wealthy twenty-year-old, Alfonso Gioeni, with whom she lived in Sicily for six years until, in 1586, he too died. Now twice widowed, Maria returned to Naples (to her family home, the Castello Aragonese, on the island of Ischia). Her youth (she was still only twenty-six), her extraordinary beauty (reports of which had reached every European court) and her noble birth made Maria d’Avalos a fascinating and desirable woman. Had this not been the case, she would have been destined to spend the rest of her life in a convent. Carlo Gesualdo, then twenty, saw her as the bride he had dreamed of since childhood but, as they were first cousins (Sveva Gesualdo, Maria’s mother, was his aunt), they needed papal dispensation to marry. Sixtus V at first refused but finally relented following the intervention of Cardinals d’Aragona and Alfonso Gesualdo, members of his circle. The wedding was held in Naples with all due ceremony and ostentation. This union between the city’s two richest and most influential families was clearly beneficial to both husband and wife; moreover, Maria was saved from life in a nunnery and Carlo had at last married the woman he had so long desired. They led a life of worldly pleasure (feasting, hunting, receptions) and cultural stimulation (welcoming poets and musicians to their Naples home). Carlo’s “melanconia” (that typical state of mind which we might now define as the product of an introverted and restless spirit) was tempered by his love for Maria and by music, an art in which the Avalos family too was well-versed (as we know from the works of Maria’s grandfather, Alfonso). While for Renaissance nobles writing madrigals (literary or musical) was an agreeable pastime, a way of displaying their cultural and artistic sensibilities, “Maria understood that for Carlo music was something quite different: it meant discipline, study, skill, passion, refuge, a reason for living, something that took over his entire being, Carlo’s absolute essence; it was what made him different, strange, fascinating” (Giovanni Iudica: Il principe dei musici, 1993). Sadly, this period of contentment was destroyed by another tragedy: Maria’s daughter, Beatrice, promised in marriage to one of the Carafa family (like Maria, and her grandmother before her), died on her wedding night when “a vein burst in her chest as she consummated her marriage with her husband”. She was barely twelve years old. There was one last happy event, however, as Maria and Gesualdo had a son together, Emanuele, a healthy male heir to assure the survival of the Gesualdo dynasty.

It was at this point that Fabrizio Carafa (a relative of Maria’s first husband) arrived on the scene. Said by many to be the handsomest man in Naples, he was married and had four sons by his very religious wife. Maria met him at a court dance and was immediately struck by his arrogance and self-assurance: their powerful mutual attraction was soon to overwhelm them. They met frequently wherever possible, in the country, at the homes of trusted friends, and then even in the palazzo Gesualdo, aided and abetted by complicit ladies-in-waiting. Their affair (with its echoes of the medieval tale of Tristan and Yseult) could not remain hidden for long from the gossiping tongues of courtly circles and the wider Naples. The viceroy himself and many other nobles attempted to reason with Carafa, while Maria’s mother urged caution, as did her cardinal uncle, writing to her from Rome (the scandal having clearly spread beyond the city limits). The lovers were aware of having broken the bounds permitted them: Fabrizio himself tried to talk to his lover, but Maria (who claimed she still held Gesualdo in the highest affection and esteem) was passionately in love with him, telling him she could not live without him and that she was attracted to him “as if possessed by the devil”. Maria would love him no matter what the consequences, and told him that if he did not feel the same, “he should do as he pleased, for nature had erred in producing a gentleman, since he had the heart of a woman”!

Carlo undoubtedly knew what was going on. He withdrew into his melancholia, feeling himself betrayed, hoping that his love might overcome any adversity (as expressed in his madrigals). Unfortunately the rumours about this passionate and increasingly indiscreet affair could neither be taken lightly nor covered up. Gesualdo tried to minimise, avoid or at least delay the extreme sanctions demanded of him by society: he loved his wife more than ever and could not think of destroying her, despite the betrayal and humiliation he had suffered. But, as time passed, the situation worsened and even his uncle, Giulio Gesualdo, made it clear to Carlo that the honour of the family name was at stake and it was his duty to take action. Friends and family had failed in their attempts to help and Carlo now had no option: all of Naples society was expecting him to act.

On 26 October 1590 he pretended to set out with a group of faithful companions for a few days’ hunting, far from his Naples home. Instead, he returned that very night and, unobserved, went to the room below the bedchamber he shared with his wife. Carafa appeared beneath the balcony and at an arranged signal unlocked the door (as if it were his own home), making his way up to where Maria was waiting. Half an hour later, two of Gesualdo’s companions went into the room and fired shots at the lovers, followed by Carlo and two other men who were met by a dreadful scene: the two lovers in a pool of blood, she lying on the bed, he staggering, trying to draw his sword before falling to the floor. Carlo cried out, “Shall a Gesualdo be cuckolded!” before approaching Maria who implored him to allow her to confess and begged for forgiveness, covering her face with a sheet in shame. Only then did Carlo stab her repeatedly, through the sheet, before leaving the bloodfilled room. Then, with a cry of, “I do not believe she is dead”, he went back and wounded her from groin to throat.

The blow-by-blow account of the double murder was given by witnesses at Carlo’s trial, whose papers have survived to the present day. He was acquitted on the grounds that he had been avenging his injured family honour, but society’s pardon was not the end of the matter. New demons were to torment Gesualdo, who was, after all, still only twenty-four years old (his trial and its consequences will be looked at in greater detail in the notes for the next album of his music, Naxos 8.572136).

Appendix: Gesualdo’s instrumental works

Alongside our recordings of the Book II madrigals I wanted to include the only two surviving instrumental works by Gesualdo da Venosa. These are the Canzon francese del Principe (The Prince’s French Canzone) and Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa (The Prince of Venosa’s Galliard), which are held in manuscript form by the British Museum and the Conservatorio San Pietro Maiella (Naples) respectively. There are no indications as to their instrumentation: while there are many possibilities when it comes to the Gagliarda (both in regard to choice of instruments and to the ritornelli that can be repeated at will to suit the choreography), Gesualdo almost certainly conceived the Canzon francese for keyboard (or harp), given its chromatic and virtuosic writing. For our performance, we have chosen a clavichord (which we hope will conjure up a magical sound-world), specifically a copy of a seventeenth-century instrument by an anonymous maker held in the Geemente Museum, The Hague. Despite the instrument’s limited sonorities, suited to chamber music rather than the concert hall, one can achieve a range of dynamics (“il piano e il forte”) depending on the way one depresses the keys. We felt that this kind of instrument (which we know from contemporary sources was played at the Este courts of Ferrara and Modena) was best suited to expressing the searching nature of Gesualdo’s music. The date of composition is unknown, but the style of writing suggests that this is a work of the composer’s maturity. The Gagliarda (whose manuscript is dated 1629), here played by four violas da gamba, is a dance in ternary rhythm very popular during this period. Its familiar elegance is subverted in this case, however, by an increasingly chromatic, irrational and irreverent development (three centuries later, and in an entirely different cultural context of course, Ravel employed the same procedure in La Valse). Both of these instrumental works therefore have an expressive purpose: by choosing to depart from the norm and demonstrate that music without words can also be a rich source of inspiration, Gesualdo once again takes his place in the vanguard.

Marco Longhini
English translation by Susannah Howe

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