20061006: Carlo Gesualdo

 

One of the most fascinating personalities in music history is the enigmatic Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa. I first encountered him 15 years ago at a lesson in classical compostition theory, and my teacher recommended the 5th book of Madrigals. I do not really know why because I have not found that one yet. But everything else I have come across by this italian prince is marvelous and a bit unexpected from a composer of that time.

A musical outsider he develops a branch of his own in musical history. In the middle of the breakthrough of vertical harmony he is still involved in horizontal thinking with intertwisting melodic lines reaching further and further into the chromatical world. Listening to Gesualdo is a journey through a never before visited land, and no one has made his way there again since. A dead end.

The 16th October, the year he turned 29, Carlo Gesualdo, the passionate prince of Venosa, found his wife Maria dĀ“Avalos in bed with the Duke of Andria and assassinated them both. He was not technically breaking the law, but the threat of revenge from the families of the victims made him stay in his castle – for the rest of his life. This life-story made Gesualdo well known both in his lifetime and later. I have always imagined him locked up in a tower, writing music without connection to the outer world. This imaginative picture is most probably not correct, but is a good illustration of his music.

Today, the some people living at Gesualdos former estates, still call him the devil. This Faustian approach to his personality springs to mind every time I listen to his music. 500 years after his death, Carlo Gesualdo still appears to me as more modern than most composers today.

 

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