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Claudio Monteverdi or Monteverde

music, monteverdis, madrigals, modern, artusi, polyphony and art

MONTEVERDI or MONTEVERDE, CLAUDIO Italian composer, was born at Cremona in May 1567. His attention was early directed to the infant art of in strumental music, and the duke of Mantua gave him his first appointment as viola player, under Ingegneri, a good polyphonic church composer (his Responsoria were long ascribed to Pales trina), from whom he learnt composition. In 1602 he succeeded Ingegneri as maestro di capella to the duke; and in 1607 he made a decisive impression with his first opera, Arianna, in which was revealed the emotional and dramatic value of a new treatment of discords which, in his unaccompanied madrigals, had merely seemed to indicate the downfall of pure polyphony. This work at once elevated the lyric drama, feebly essayed by Peri's Eurid ice in 1600, to a level of art which musicians were henceforth compelled to take seriously. Still more successful was Orfeo, composed in 1608. In 11 Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, the description of a duel was accompanied by quickly repeated chords on the strings (not, as is usually alleged, a tremolo) which so scandalized the players that all Monteverdi's tact and determi nation was needed to induce them to play it. He had already written pizzicato passages (with the direction "here you put down the bow and pull the string with the finger"). The Amati family of violin makers at Cremona had begun their work in the nick of time for Monteverdi's purposes; for it is doubtful whether even his resourcefulness could have so effectively revolutionized music if the feeble flat-backed viols had been his only instru ments with string and bow. In 1613 Monteverdi became maestro di capella at St. Mark's, Venice, where he composed much sacred music, now lost. In 1632 he became a priest. He produced four more operas before his death, on Nov. 29, Monteverdi's conspicuous position in musical history gives rise to many misunderstandings as to his artistic merits. In the history of the fine arts it is much easier to write vividly about tendencies than about results. Mature works of art are things in themselves, and demand to be so understood without regard to what comes after them. Resisting interpretation in other terms than their own, they are not easy to describe. But tendencies are

always interesting. Accordingly the student finds that the his torian whom Palestrina and Bach paralyse into hagiology writes as if Monteverdi were the Wagner of a 17th century more glorious than the i9th. And this is difficult to reconcile with the fact that if all the music of the 17th century were destroyed, not a single concert-goer would miss it. A glance at the score of one of Monteverdi's operas, or at the quotations given in musical histories, produces a disillusion unnecessarily great ; we seem to be plunged into a more archaic period than that of the earliest efforts at polyphony. A modern stage performance restores the illusion. But an illusion it remains ; for Monteverdi lived in the hey-day of baroque stage-production, and on anything like a faithful reproduction of his stage, it matters little whether we hear his finest rhetoric, or poor Peri's efforts, or the experimental psalmody of modern amateurs who know nothing about music.

Meanwhile good service has been done in the rehabilitation of Monteverdi as an artist, by Malipiero's complete score of all his extant madrigals. In his preface, Malipiero holds up, as a warning to modern critics, the censure of Artusi, and points out that Artusi recanted afterwards. The warning is misplaced. Monteverdi was no Keats, neither was Artusi a Quarterly re viewer. Artusi saw, and said, that the treatment of discords in Monteverdi's madrigals was subversive of pure polyphony. This was true, and Monteverdi's reply was that the rules of Zacconi's Practica di Musica, which were in conflict with the details (alcune minime particelli) of modern music, did not concern him, since he was not writing by accident, but was establishing a Seconda Pratica which, at the instigation of Artusi's attack (Degli Imper fezioni, etc.) he would call La Perfettione della Musica Modern. In these six books of extant madrigals, it is fascinating to trace the conflicting elements : the decadence of an old style ; the too facile exploitation of new formulas; and, now and again, the achievement of something powerful and mature, which, if in troduced into a madrigal concert, would make it impossible to continue the programme with orthodox madrigals.

(D. F. T.)