Monteverdi Book 8- Songs of Love and War

Seattle, WA, United States

Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall

Friday, November 7, 2014
$40 General | $35 Seniors | $10 Students

Featuring Catherine Webster, soprano; mezzo Danielle Reuter-Harrah, countertenor Reggie Mobley, tenors Ross Hauck and Aaron Sheehan and baritone Douglas Williams with Stephen Stubbs leading PMW’s chamber ensemble including violinists Tekla Cunningham and Linda Melsted, gambist Elizabeth Reed and harpist Maxine Eilander.

Monteverdi had an extraordinarily long career, composing some of his most important and revolutionary works in his 70’s. His last book of madrigals became the repository of the most important secular works of his final decades. Love songs were of course nothing new, but setting them next to the stirring rhythms of his newly invented depiction of war in music gives this repertoire unparalleled contrasts.

In Claudio Monteverdi’s extraordinarily long composing career he led the way for the entire musical world from the Renaissance to the Baroque, from the a cappella madrigal to the fully realized “madrigali concertanti” replete with continuo accompaniment and obbligato strings, and from the early court opera to the world’s first public operas in Venice. He published his eighth book of “madrigals” (Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi…libro ottavo, Venice, 1638) when he was seventy-one years old, nineteen years after the seventh book of madrigals was printed. Book Eight holds a place of highest significance both for its contents and for its extensive preface. This preface serves as a kind of manifesto not only of his personal philosophy of composition, but for the aesthetic goals of modern music in his time.

Monteverdi’s explicit aim was for music to express the entire range of man’s passions. He came to believe that there was a particular element heretofore missing from the expressive range of music, and he determined to supply it. Earlier composers, he believed, had realized only two of man’s three major passions: the soft and the moderate. A third passion, agitation, was too important to be overlooked, and he now intended to rectify the omission:

I have reflected that the principal passions or affections of our mind are three, namely, anger, moderation, and humility or supplication; so the best philosophers declare, and the very nature of our voice indicates this in having high, low, and middle registers. The art of music also points clearly to these three in its terms “agitated,” “soft,” and “moderate” (concitato, molle, and temperato). In all the works of earlier composers I have indeed found examples of the “soft” and the “moderate” but not of the “agitated,” a genus described by Plato in these words: “Take that harmony that would fittingly imitate the utterances of a brave man who is engaged in warfare”. And since I was aware that it is contrasts which greatly move our minds, and that this is the purpose which all good music should have—for this reason I have applied myself with no small diligence and toil to rediscover this genus.

My development of this warlike genus has given me occasion to write certain madrigals that I have calledguerrieri. And since the music played before great princes at their courts to please their delicate taste is of three kinds according to the method of performance, I have indicated these in my present work with the titles guerriera, amorosa, and rappresentativo.

The phrase “contrasts which greatly move our minds” explains not only the title of the book, but also the organization of the collection and nearly each work within it. For this collection, Monteverdi chose poems with highly contrasted or conflicting emotions, often depicting the lover as warrior, or the internal state of war in the lover’s heart. The two contrasting emotions of the title—warlike and amorous—become the subheadings for the two halves of the book: Canti Guerrieri for the first, and Canti Amorosi for the second. The two large works that open and close our program are emblematic of each half in turn. Hor che’l ciel, the quintessential canto guerriero, sets a magnificent sonnet by Petrarch that presents the opportunity for vivid musical contrasts: the night is serene with all of nature at peace, yet in the lover’s heart, war rages. The introduction to the Canti Amorosi is the setting of Marino’s poem Altri canti di Marte, which announces the poetic agenda “let others sing of War, I sing of Love.”

Hor che’l ciel, e la terra
(Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi…libro ottavo, Venice, 1638)

With this deeply expressive setting of Petrarch’s sonnet, Monteverdi simultaneously declares his aesthetic allegiance to the venerated fourteenth-century poet and also to the newest musical credo of limpid declamation. The piece begins with a hushed, almost motionless, depiction of the stillness of night… then erupts with the full force of Monteverdi’s new invention of musical warfare to depict the inner life of the harried lover.

Chiome d’oro
(Monteverdi, Concerto. Settimo libro de madrigali, Venice, 1619)

One of Monteverdi’s most perennially popular pieces, this charming duet for a pair of sopranos, set against a pair of violins, dances along above a jaunty walking bass until the two moments depicting the lovers death (in this genre, likely to be the “little death” of sexual climax), which are given an expansive and sensuous treatment.

Gira il nemico

(Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi…libro ottavo, Venice, 1638)

Although this piece has in common with Hor che’l ciel and Ogni amante

è guerrier the use of Monteverdi’s concitato (warlike) style, it is here put to use in a jocular context that harkens back to the sixteenth-century Neapolitan canzone villanesca, which was a musical emanation of the large phenomenon of street theater known as commedia dell’arte.

Ego flos campi
(Monteverdi, Seconda raccolta de sacri canti, Calvi, Venice, 1624)

This lovely setting of a text from the Song of Songs belongs to the same lineage as Nigra sum andPulchra es from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

Sonata terza
(Dario Castello, Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro II, Venice, 1629)

Dario Castello, whose biography is almost a perfect blank, was known to have worked at San Marco during Monteverdi’s regime as maestro di cappella there. His plastic and expressive music is the closest instrumental idiom we have to Monteverdi’s exclusively vocal output.

Et e pur dunque vero
(Monteverdi, Scherzi musicali, Venice, 1632)

This piece is unique in its form, not only within Monteverdi’s works, but altogether. There are many pieces for solo voice with continuo which partake of the formal device here of strophic variation, where each succeeding strophe uses a given harmonic ground on which to build various melodic structures, but these are usually divided by a recurring “ritornello,” either for the continuo alone or with violins. The departure here is to vary the interludes for solo violin as much as the vocal strophes themselves—in a sense, the violin takes on its own narrative. It seems that Monteverdi’s thought was to have the violin assume the emotional state at the end of each strophe, and lead the way to the emotional state at the beginning of the next.

(Monteverdi, Concerto. Settimo libro de madrigali, Venice, 1619)

Like Chiome d’oro, Augellin begins with the foundation of an energetic walking bass line to support the delightful figurations for the two tenors and bass that together paint a picture of the delicate bird; then, to express the first-person message of the tortured lover, the music changes abruptly to an adagio outpouring of emotion.

Lamento della Ninfa
(Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi…libro ottavo, Venice, 1638)

Amongst the various “staged” and “unstaged” compositions of Book Eight, the Lamento della Ninfaoccupies a unique position. Although Monteverdi places it explicitly in the category of “genera rappresentativa,” its poetic origin is a modest canzonetta by Rinuccini, which had previously been set by other composers as a simple strophic song. Monteverdi, however, saw the potential to create a voice of the narrator for three men’s voices, and to organize the scena as a scene-setting prologue for the narrator, followed by the nymph’s hyper-expressive (one could easily say operatic) lament of lost love and abandonment, and ending with a summation from the trio.

Sonata Undecima
(Dario Castello, Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro II, Venice, 1629)

Just as in Monteverdi’s duets for two sopranos or two tenors, Castello’s sonatas featuring two violins use the gamut of techniques from playful counterpoint to homophonic rhetoric to solo flights of fancy. Here, as in Monteverdi’s trios for two tenors and bass which feature so prominently in this program, there is the addition of a third independent part for the bowed bass instrument.

Ogni amante è guerrier
(Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi…libro ottavo, Venice, 1638)

The title “Every Lover is a Warrior” expresses succinctly the atmosphere not only of this piece, but of the whole collection. Beginning with a tenor duet like those that had dominated the seventh book in 1619, the centerpiece of this work is an extended monologue for bass. It is during this section that Monteverdi pays explicit homage to the dedicatee of Book Eight—the new Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III.


L’eroica à 3
(Andrea Falconieri, Il primo libro di canzone, sinfonie, fantasie…, Naples, 1650)

Born in Naples, Falconieri received his musical training in Parma and worked at the courts of Mantua (where he may have known Monteverdi) and Florence. After travels in Spain and France he ended up in Genoa, until he was censured for “distracting the nuns with music.” He eventually returned to his hometown, where he became maestro di cappella. His L’eroica, from his one published volume of instrumental music, includes a wonderfully wayward ciaccona as its middle section.

 Altri canti di Marte
(Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi…libro ottavo, Venice, 1638)

This large-scale piece, designed by Monteverdi to introduce his Canti Amorosi, will serve for us as the farewell to this rich repertoire of striking contrasts, sensuous beauties, and stirring emotions. Next to the final operas, L’incoronazione di Poppea and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, this is Monteverdi’s final musical will and testament.

Venue Details

Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall
200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101
United States