Claudio Monteverdi did not invent the Baroque idiom, but he was arguably the brightest star of its first generation. The music heard tonight was published when Monteverdi was already a venerable artist in the final decade of his life.
April 25, 2009 8pm
at Boston University
$25 General Admission
Beatus Vir from Selva morale e spirituale
Ballo detto "Pollicio"
Ballo detto "Eccardo"
Ardo, avvampo, mi struggo from Eighth Book of Madrigals
Sonata sopra "Fuggi dolente"
Sonata sopra "La Monica"
Vago augelletto che cantando vai
Aria sopra "La Bergamesca"
Gloria à 7
Olav Chris Henriksen
Claudio Monteverdi did not invent the Baroque idiom, but he was arguably the brightest star of its first generation. The music heard tonight was published when Monteverdi was already a venerable artist in the final decade of his life. The works for which he is best known today — L'Orfeo and the Vespers of 1610 — were already decades old by the time the Eighth Book of Madrigals and the Selva Morale e Spirituale appeared in print.
Unlike the first seven of his madrigal collections, which appeared in publication at least twice a decade, there was a gap of nearly twenty years between the seventh book and the eighth. The delay of the Eighth Book does not imply a lull in creative activity, for the collection includes works written over a period of three decades. By the Eighth Book, we are already some three decades removed from the famous controversy over the merits of the seconda prattica. Though the madrigal itself is something of an anachronism by the late 1630s, having been superseded by lighter genres such as the canzonetta (reflected in Monteverdi's own Ninth Book), in the Eighth Book one observes a kind of grand culmination of what madrigal composition can convey. It is the only book with a programmatic title: "Guerreri ed Amorosi" ("of war and love"). The warlike themes of the first half of the collection, however, are really metaphors for love, as in Ardo, avvampo (cf. Pat Benitar's "Love is a Battlefield" three centuries later).
Three years later, Monteverdi published a large collection of sacred works, the Selva morale e spirituale, which shows strong stylistic connections with his own late madrigal compositions. While the more familiar the Vespers of 1610 offers a compendium of musical styles, both prima and seconda prattica, in the context of a single sacred work, the Selva morale e spirituale presents a massive collection of shorter, though very often substantial, individual works, drawing on the gamut of Monteverdi's compositional tools culled over the span of his career.
The texture of seven or eight voices, two violins and continuo is a frequent choice, and within that palette the alternation of duets of equal voices (including the two violins serving as "voices") and tutti declamation in relatively long note values is a common feature of both collections. Not surprisingly there is a certain restraint of affect, but this is only relative if one considers how very far removed such works are from the late prima prattica motets and masses of the late sixteenth century.
The focus of this evening's instrumental selections is on a "ground," i.e. a melody typically found in the bass, which occurs several times repeatedly with variations in the upper parts. This term was originally used in England from the sixteenth century through the Baroque period, but its actual origins come from the chord progressions found in Renaissance dance music. Dance styles such as monica, bergamesca and passacaglia were quite common outside of England and were mostly used for variations over a melodic bass line. Marini, Merula and Uccellini used this form to great effect and the highly improvisatory nature was innovative for its time.