Claudio Monteverdi was an Italian violinist, singer and composer. His art flourished at the Gonzaga court in Mantua and in Venice, where he composed madrigals and some of the earliest operas, still admired today. His innovation and his talent for putting words, and feeling to music as well as dramaturgic tendencies, made Monteverdi the linchpin of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque music.
Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567. He was the son of a medical professional, yet he cultivated his passion for music and became part of the Cremona Cathedral Choir. Monteverdi began publishing his music in 1582, with this first collection of Motets and Madrigals, sort of sung sonnets, with no instruments. Monteverdi’s talent caused him to be called to Mantua, to Vincenzo I Gonzaga’s court as violinist and singer. By 1602 he became the court conductor.
After the death of his wife, Claudia Cattaneo, a singer at Gonzaga’s court, Monteverdi moved to Venice, and his career and fame took off. He conducted the choir of San Marco and began composing some of his most famous oeuvres.
Monteverdi’s musical talent and innovation is largely held responsible for the shift from Renaissance music to Baroque. This is mainly identifiable with his version of the madrigals. From the earliest days, madrigals were secular, poetic verses which were half told, have sung. Madrigolds were not accompanied by any instruments, but were made of an ensemble of voices, generally from three to six. As of Moneverdi’s fifth book of madrigals (in total he published nine) the shift becomes clear. Monteverdi inserts an instrumental base line to accompany his madrigals. At fist the two versions coexisted, but by the 1620s the melodic version had gained respect.
Moneverdi’s successful merging of instruments and voice in madrigals is easily understandable when considering his operatic background. Monteverdi is largely considered the father of opera. Amongst his many compositions, four in particular stand out, the early two and two towards the end of his life: L’Orpheo and L’Arianna, while the Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea were composed nearing the end of his life.
These operas, based on classical myth and history, are the first examples of musical drama, where lively orchestration and linear music, such as the subdivision of instruments per scene, created an all new feel to sung music.
In 1632, Monteverdi took orders and became a priest. Towards the end of is life he was often ill and subdivided his attention between opera and sacred music such as Masses. Monteverdi died in Venice in 1649 and is buried in the church of the Frari.
Written by: Valentina Zannoni