Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi

[mon-tuh-vair-dee; It. mawn-te-ver-dee]
Monteverdi, Claudio, 1567-1643, Italian composer; first great figure in the history of opera. His earliest published works, a set of three motifs, appeared when he was only 15. In 1590 he entered the service of the duke of Mantua, becoming choir master in the ducal court in 1601. Monteverdi's first opera, Orfeo, performed at Mantua in 1607, was revolutionary in its combination of dramatic power and expressive orchestral accompaniment. Of his next opera, Arianna (1608), only the celebrated lament, which Monteverdi himself arranged as a five-part madrigal, is extant. In 1613, Monteverdi was appointed choirmaster of St. Mark's, Venice, where he remained until his death. He took holy orders in 1632. Although he wrote mostly church music after settling in Venice, he continued to develop his dramatic gifts in many secular madrigals and dramatic cantatas such as Il combattimento di Tancredi e di Clorinda (1624). After the first public opera house opened in Venice in 1637, the aged Monteverdi produced his last operas, including Il ritorno di Ulisse in Patria (1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642), which show marked development in characterization and emotional power. They set the style of later Venetian opera. Of his 21 dramatic works, only six, including three operas, are extant. He was among the first composers to use the tremolo and pizzicato effects with strings, and his music shows a strong sense of modern tonality. In his operas he used large orchestras, whose members he grouped into specific combinations to portray characters on stage. His brother Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, 1573-?, was a composer, organist, and critic, and Claudio's assistant at the court of Mantua.

See studies by D. Arnold (1963 and 1968) and L. Schrade (1950, repr. 1969).

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (May 15, 1567 (baptized) – November 29, 1643), was an Italian composer, gambist, and singer.

Monteverdi's work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the music of the Renaissance to that of the Baroque. Enjoying fame in his lifetime, he wrote one of the earliest operas, L'Orfeo, which is still regularly performed.


Claudio Monteverdi was born in 1567 in Cremona, in Northern Italy, to Baldassare Monteverdi, a doctor, apothecary and surgeon. During his childhood, he was taught by Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di cappella or singing master, at the Cathedral of Cremona. He wrote his first music for publication, some motets and sacred madrigals in 1582 and 1583. By 1587, he had produced his first book of secular madrigals. Between 1590 and 1611, Monteverdi worked at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga in Mantua as a vocalist and viol player. In 1602, he was working as the court conductor.

In 1599 Monteverdi married the court singer Claudia Cattaneo, who was to die in September 1607, leaving him with three children.

By 1613, Monteverdi had moved to the San Marco in Venice where, as conductor, he quickly restored the musical standard of both the choir and the instrumentalists, which had declined due to the financial mismanagement of his predecessor, Giulio Cesare Martinengo. The managers of the basilica were relieved to have such a distinguished musician in charge, as the music had been in decline since the death of Giovanni Croce in 1609.

Monteverdi was ordained a Catholic priest in 1632, and during the last years of his life, when he was often ill, he composed his two last masterpieces. Both were operas: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641), and the historic opera L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on the life of the Roman emperor Nero. L'incoronazione especially is considered a culminating point of Monteverdi's work; it contains tragic, romantic, and comedic scenes (a new development in opera), as well as a more realistic portrayal of the characters, along with warmer melodies than had previously been heard. It requires a smaller orchestra, and has a less prominent role for the choir. After a long period when Monterverdi's operas were regarded as of merely historical or musicological interest, since the 1960s The Coronation of Poppea has re-entered the repertoire of major opera companies worldwide.

Monteverdi died in Venice on November 29, 1643 and is buried in the church of the Frari.



Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked primarily on madrigals, composing a total of nine books. As a whole, the first eight books of madrigals show the enormous development from Renaissance polyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.

The titles of his Madrigal books are:

  • Book 1, 1587: Madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 2, 1590: Il secondo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 3, 1592: Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 4, 1603: Il quarto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 5, 1605: Il quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 6, 1614: Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 7, 1619: Concerto. Settimo libro di madrigali
  • Book 8, 1638: Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo, che saranno per brevi Episodi fra i canti senza gesto.
  • Book 9, 1651: Madrigali e canzonette a due e tre voci

The Fifth Madrigal Book

The Quinto Libro (Fifth Book), published in 1605, was at the heart of the controversy between Monteverdi and Giovanni Artusi. The latter attacked the "crudities" and "license" of the modern style of composing, centering his attacks on madrigals (including Cruda Amarilli from the Quinto Libro (See Fabbri, Monteverdi, p. 60) see Media, below) from the fourth book. Monteverdi made his reply in the introduction to the fifth book, with a proposal of the division of musical practice into two streams, which he called prima pratica, and seconda pratica. Prima pratica was described as the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing strict counterpoint, prepared dissonance, and equality of voices; seconda pratica used much freer counterpoint with an increasing hierarchy of voices, emphasising soprano and bass. This represented a move towards the new style of monody. The introduction of continuo in many of the madrigals of the book was a further self-consciously modern feature. In addition, the fifth book showed the beginnings of conscious functional tonality.

The Eighth Madrigal Book

The Ottavo Libro, published in 1638, includes the so-called Madrigali dei guerrieri ed amorosi which many consider to be the perfection of the madrigal form.

While in Venice, Monteverdi also finished his sixth, seventh and eighth books of madrigals. The eighth is the largest, containing works written over a thirty-year period, including the dramatic scene Tancredi e Clorinda (1624), in which the orchestra and voices form two separate entities; they act as counterparts. Most likely Monteverdi was inspired to try this arrangement because of the two opposite balconies in San Marco, which had inspired much similar music from composers there, such as Gabrieli. What made this composition also stand out is the first-time use of string tremolo (fast repetition of the same tone) and pizzicato (plucking strings with fingers) for special effect in dramatic scenes.

The Ninth Madrigal Book

The ninth book of madrigals, published posthumously in 1651, contains lighter pieces such as canzonettas which were probably composed throughout Monteverdi's lifetime representing both styles.


Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas, but only L'Orfeo, L'incoronazione di Poppea, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and the famous aria, Lamento, from his second opera L'Arianna have survived. From monody (with melodic lines, intelligible text and placid accompanying music), it was a logical step for Monteverdi to begin composing opera, especially for a dramatically inclined composer who loved grand effect. In 1607, the premiere of his first opera, L'Orfeo, took place in Mantua. It was normal at that time for composers to create works on demand for special occasions, and this piece was part of the ducal celebrations of carnival. (Monteverdi was later to write for the first opera houses supported by ticket sales which opened in Venice). L'Orfeo has dramatic power and lively orchestration and is arguably the first example of a composer assigning specific instruments to parts in operas. It is also one of the first large compositions in which the exact instrumentation of the premiere has come down to us. The plot is described in vivid musical pictures and the melodies are linear and clear. With this opera, Monteverdi created an entirely new style of music, the dramma per la musica (musical drama) as it was called. L'Arianna was the second opera written by Claudio Monteverdi, and one of the most influential and famous specimens of early baroque opera. It was first performed in Mantua in 1608. Its subject matter was the ancient Greek legend of Ariadne and Theseus. During the last years of his life, when Monteverdi was often ill, he composed his two last masterpieces, both operas: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641), and the historic opera, L'incoronazione di Poppea, (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on the life of the Roman emperor Nero.

Other Works

The Vespers of 1610 are also one of the best examples of early repetition and contrast, with many of the parts having a clear ritornello. The published work is on a very grand scale and there has been some controversy as to whether all the movements were intended to be performed in a single service. However, there are various indications of internal unity. In its scope it foreshadows such summits of Baroque music as Handel's Messiah, and J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion. Each part (there are twenty-five in total) is fully developed in both a musical and dramatic sense - the instrumental textures are used to precise dramatic and emotional effect, in a way that had not been seen before.



See also


Further reading

  • Arnold, Denis (1975). Monteverdi. London, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-03155-4
  • Bukofzer, Manfred (1947). Music in the Baroque Era. New York, W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-09745-5
  • Carter, Tim (1992). Music in Late Renaissance and Early Baroque Italy. Amadeus Press, 1992. ISBN 0-931340-53-5
  • Fabbri, Paolo Monteverdi. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Monteverdi, Claudio (1980). The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi. London:
  • Schrade, Leo (1979). Monteverdi. London, Victor Gollancz Ltd. ISBN 0-575-01472-5
  • Leopold, Silke (1991). Monteverdi (Music in Transition). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Whenham, John, and Richard Wistreich (eds.) (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521875250 (cloth) ISBN 0521697980 (pbk)

External links

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