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Monteverdi, Claudio (Giovanni Antonio)

Born: Cremona, 15 May 1567
Died: Venice, 29 Nov 1643
Nationality: Italian composer

He studied with Ingegneri, "maestro di cappella" at Cremona Cathedral, and published several books of motets and madrigals before going to Mantua in about 1591 to serve as a string player at the court of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga. There he came under the influence of Giaches de Wert, whom he failed to succeed as "maestro di cappella" in 1596. In 1599 he married Claudia de Cattaneis, a court singer, who bore him three children, and two years later he was appointed "maestro di cappella" on Pallavicino's death. Largely as the result of a prolonged controversy with the theorist G. M. Artusi, Monteverdi became known as a leading exponent of the modern approach to harmony and text expression. In1607 his first opera, "Orfeo," was produced in Mantua, followed in1608 by "Arianna." Disenchanted with Mantua, he then returned to Cremona, but failed to secure his release from the Gonzaga family until 1612, when Duke Vincenzo died. The dedication to Pope Paul V of a grand collection of church music known as the Vespers (1610) had already indicated an outward looking ambition, and in 1613 Monteverdi was appointed "maestro di cappella" at St. Mark's, Venice.

There Monteverdi was active in reorganizing and improving the "cappella" as well as writing music for it, but he was also able to accept commissions from elsewhere, including some from Mantua, for example the ballet "Tirsi e Clori" (1616) and an opera, "La finta pazza Licori" (1627, not performed, now lost). He seems to have been less active afterc. 1629, but he was again in demand as an opera composer on the opening of public opera houses in Venice from 1637. In1640 "Arianna" was revived, and in the following two years "Il ritorno dUlisse in patria," "Le nozze dEnea con Lavinia" (lost) and "Lincoronazione di Poppea" were given first performances. In 1643 he visited Cremona and died shortly after his return to Venice.

Monteverdi can be justly considered one of the most powerful figures in the history of music. Much of his development as a composer may be observed in the eight books of secular madrigals published between 1587 and 1638. The early books show his indebtedness to Marenzio in particular; the final one, "Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi," includes some pieces 'in genere rappresentativo' - "Il ballo delle ingrate," the "Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda" and the "Lamento della ninfa" - which draw on Monteverdi's experience as an opera composer. A ninth book was issued posthumously in 1651.

"Orfeo" was the first opera to reveal the potential of this then novel genre; "Arianna" (of which only the famous lament survives) may well have been responsible for its survival. Monteverdi's last opera "Lincoronazione di Poppea," though transmitted in not wholly reliable sources and including music by other men, is his greatest masterpiece and arguably the finest opera of the century. In the 1610 collection of sacred music Monteverdi displayed the multiplicity of styles that characterize this part of his output. The mass, written on themes from Gombert's motet "In illo tempore," is a monument of the "prima prattica" or old style. At the other extreme the motets, written for virtuoso singers, are the most thorough-going exhibition of the modern style and the "seconda prattica."

Dramatic music
  • LOrfeo (1607)
  • Il ritorno dUlisse in patria (1640)
  • Lincoronazione di Poppea (1642)
  • ballets: Il ballo delle ingrate (1608)
  • Tirsi e Clori (1616)
  • Volgendo il ciel (?1636)
  • Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, dramatic dialogue (1624)
Secular vocal music
  • c.220 works incl. 9 madrigal bks: Bk 1 (1587), Bk 2 (1590), Bk 3 (1592), Bk 4 (1603), Bk 5 (1605), Bk 6 (1614), Bk 7, incl. Chiome doro (1619), Bk 8, Madrigali guerreri et amorosi (1638), Bk 9 (1651)
  • Lamento dArianna, from lost opera (1608)
  • canzonettas (1584)
  • Scherzi musicali, 2 bks (1607, 1632)
Sacred vocal music
  • Vespers (1610)
  • 3 masses
  • 2 Magnificats
  • Madrigali spirituali (1583)
  • c.140 works, incl. motets, psalms etc, some in Selva morale e spirituale (1640)

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