Claudio Monteverdi

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This Italian composer, violinist and singer was born in Cremona (N-Italy) on May 15, 1567 and died in Venice on November 11, 1643. His work marks the turnover from Renaissance - to Baroque music. He was a real musical genius, who enjoyed his fame during his lifetime.

In 1590 Monteverdi got a job at the court in Mantua as a vocalist/violinist. In 1601 was promoted to be conductor at the same court. Until his 40th birthday he mainly worked on madrigals, and composed the total of 8 books. They clearly show the enourmous development from the Renaissance polyphonic* music to the monodic** style which is typical for Baroque music.

From monody, with its emphasis on clear melodic lines, intelligible text and placid accompanying music, it was only a logic step to opera. In 1609 he composed his first one, 'Orfeo'. In those days many composers composed works on request for special occasions, and this piece was meant to add some lustre to the annual carnaval of Mantua. Indeed it was a great succes, fitting so well in the spirit of the times. 'Orfeo' was remarkable and new for its dramatic power and lively orchestration. The meaning of the words was painted out in musical pictures and the melodies were linear and clear. With this opera Monteverdi had created an entirely new style of music, the 'drama per musica' as it was called, the musical drama. Monteverdi's opera's are usually labelled 'pre-baroque' or 'early-baroque'.

In 1613 Monteverdi was appointed as conductor at the San Marco in Venice, where he soon revived the poor withering choir. Here he also finished his 8th (last) book of madrigals. It contains the dramatic scene 'Tancredi e Clorinda' (1624), in which the orchestra and voices form two separate entities. They act as counterparts. Most likely Monteverdi was inspired to try this form out because of the two opposite balconies in the San Marco. Previously these had been used for polyfonic music performances. What made this composition also stand out is the first-time use of the 'tremolo' '(fast repetition of the same tone) and 'pizzicato' (playing strings with fingers) techniques to express dramatic scenes.

During the last years of his life Monteverdi became ill, but it did not keep him form composing his two last masterpieces: 'Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria' (1641), and the historic opera 'l' Incoronazione di Poppeia' (1642). Especially 'l'Incoronazione' is considered a culminating point of Monteverdi's work. It has tragic and also comical pictures (this was new), realistic coloring of the characters, and warmer melody. It needs a smaller orchestra, and a less prominent role for the choir. This work has also had considerable influence on the development of churchmusic (masses).

In total he composed at least 18 operas, from which only 'Orfeo', the famous aria 'Lamento' from his second opera 'l'Arianne', 'l'Incoronazione' and 'Il ritorno' have survived.

Other Links: polyphony monody melody