Tuesday, October 24, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
The Terrace Theater, The Kennedy Center
2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566
Free pre-performance discussion with Artistic Director Ryan Brown and Thomas Dunford, guest musical director and archlutenist at 6:30 p.m. in the North Atrium, on the same floor as the Terrace Theater.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Elebash Recital Hall, the Graduate Center (CUNY)
365 5th Ave New York NY 10016
Free pre-performance discussion with Artistic Director Ryan Brown and Columbia University professor Giuseppe Gerbino at 6:30 p.m. in Elebash Recital Hall.
Thomas Dunford … Guest musical direction, Archlute
Liv Redpath… Clorinda, Soprano
Lea Désandre … Mezzo-Soprano
Kristen Dubenion-Smith… Alto
Patrick Kilbride… Tancredi, Tenor
David Newman … Testo, Baritone
Alex Rosen… Bass
Ryan Brown… Violin
Elizabeth Field… Violin
Paul Miller… Viola
Beiliang Zhu… Cello
Doug Balliett… Bass
Jean Rondeau… Harpsichord, Organ
Richard Gammon… Mise en espace
Notes on the Program
by Jonathan Christopher Ligrani
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) bridges Renaissance, Baroque, and Modern musical worlds. He prioritized an aesthetic of emotional persuasion over contrapuntal purity, spearheaded operatic development, and traversed secular and sacred genres. Born in Cremona as the eldest son of a doctor, Monteverdi received early training in composition from Marc’Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di cappella of Cremona Cathedral. Through Ingegneri, and continuing with his appointment as musician, composer, and singer at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, Monteverdi learned from the innovators of his time, such as Cipriano de Rore and the Mantuan maestro di cappella, Giaches de Wert.
At Mantua, Monteverdi began forging a new artistic path. His experimental Fourth and Fifth Books of Madrigals (1603 and 1605) showcased a novel perspective on composition—his self-proclaimed seconda pratica—modernizing the balanced treatment of dissonances and harmony toward emotional expression and rhetorical persuasion. This perspective was bold within the world of Renaissance aesthetics, and Monteverdi received public criticism for violating the natural order of his craft. Yet his success continued. His renowned court opera, L’Orfeo (1607), humanized Greek mythology, demonstrating music’s supernatural power to command nature, as well as stir the passions toward empathy. This work is generally regarded as opera’s first masterpiece. Monteverdi’s second opera, L’Arianna (1608), compelled its first audience to tears during Arianna’s lament over her abandonment. The success of this lament merited its publication as a separate piece, as well as a polyphonic reworking in the Sixth Book of Madrigals (1614).
In 1613, Monteverdi secured one of the most prestigious musical posts in Italy, maestro di cappella at S. Marco in Venice. He went on to produce madrigals stretching the genre’s definition, integrating theatrical performance and orchestral effects into a “representative" style, such as Il combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda, as well as public Venetian operas, including the Greek epic Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640) and the Roman historical L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643)—both premiering at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo.
This evening’s program showcases Monteverdi’s inventiveness and power of emotional representation. The theatrical madrigal, Il combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda, displays Monteverdi’s stile concitato, or “agitated style,” which he described as a musical representation of anger, one of the three human passions, along with equanimity and humility. The text is taken from Torquato Tasso’s Crusade epic, Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), and depicts a narrated battle wherein the Christian knight, Tancredi, slays his foe, only to discover that his beloved Clorinda lies beneath the armor. Listen for the galloping theme of the horse after the narrator’s introduction, and the tremolo sixteenth notes in the strings matched by rapid vocal declamation. The piece was originally staged and performed during Carnival at a Venetian nobleman’s palace in 1624, complete with a horse and armored sword fight. In a similar manner, the Lamento della ninfa utilizes staging to heighten its dramatic impact. As per Monteverdi’s directions, the soprano is to remain apart from the three male singers who commiserate and comment upon the nymph’s pitiful situation, reminiscent of a Greek chorus. Accompanying the Nymph’s entry, and undergirding the singers’ exchanges, the continuo repeats a descending pattern of the minor scale, unwavering in its trudging fate. This musical gesture became a hallmark of subsequent Baroque lament arias. These two pieces appear in Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals (Venice, 1638), which he split into two parts—warlike songs in the first half and those of love in the second. The Combattimento and Lamento function as theatrical counterpoints within this layout.
Hor che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace and Volgendo il ciel per l’immortal sentiero are also included in the collection as songs of war. The first piece, a setting of Petrarch, begins with a bucolic description of night, the six voices progressing as a lulling block of sound. This unity unravels during the second stanza, when the poetic subject describes his grief. The tranquil beginning clashes with the stile concitato appearing at the mention of the subject’s warlike state, peaceful composure returning only at the thought of his beloved. Volgendo il ciel is a tenor solo in praise of a new king, possibly written for the Hapsburg Emperor, Ferdinand III. It originally accompanied a ballo featuring dancing nymphs.
The madrigals, O come sei gentile and Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben are soprano duets appearing in Monteverdi’s Seventh Book (1619), which features works for differing vocal combinations. Both texts expound the grief of unrequited love, the former finding metaphoric semblance in a caged bird’s singing—mirrored by the virtuosic imitation of the two voices—and the latter illustrating the agony of loss in departing and converging vocal lines, replete with painful dissonances and text painting. The yearning soliloquy, Se i languidi miei sguardi, described by Monteverdi as a dramatic “love letter” for solo voice and continuo is also included within the collection.
Monteverdi’s compositional innovations and aesthetic views have bolstered his image as a pivotal figure in music history. His gift for viscerally transmitting the emotions and subjectivity of humans has maintained its efficacy through the ages. Monteverdi’s works have received countless adaptations, arrangements, and stagings, influencing the genres of film, literature, and visual arts, among others. On the 450th anniversary of his birth, Monteverdi’s music continues to touch our hearts, provoke our imagination, and mold our sensibility, and it will continue to do so for generations to come.