- "Papa" of opera. His music was an important bridge from Renaissance to Baroque aesthetics.
Vital StatisticsBorn: May 15, 1567, Cremona, Italy
Died: November 29, 1643, Venice
Performed as: Player of viols; probably studied singing
During the composer's lifetime: Shakespeare’s plays were written and performed. The Thirty Years War was fought.
- Boy wonder: Publishes his first collection of sacred songs at age 15.
- First gig, 1590 or 1591: Lowly court musician for the Duke of Mantua.
- Madrigal man: Between 1587 and 1607, Monteverdi publishes five books of madrigals and the Scherzi musicali (Musical pleasantries), a book of lighter-themed songs for voice and accompaniment. They make his reputation.
- Bumped up to middle management, 1601: Appointed maestro della musica (master of music) in Mantua.
- Opera at last: His Orfeo is performed at court in February 1607. Although not the first, this opera is the most impressive and important opera of the early 17th century.
- The boot, 1612-style: Monteverdi is abruptly dismissed from the Duke’s service, after three years of discontent and court intrigue.
- Corner office, 1613: Appointed maestro di capella at the Cathedral of San Marco, in the Republic of Venice. This was a state appointment as much as a church position, and one of the more important ones in Italy. Monteverdi composed music for civic celebrations, as well as sacred music. He was famous by this point, well-paid, and able to take advantage of many other composing opportunities.
- Public opera: Venice gave birth to public opera houses in the late 1630s. Monteverdi responded with Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The return of Ulysses to his homeland, 1639/1640), Le nozze d’Enea in Lavinia (The marriage of Aeneas in Lavinia, 1640/1641, now lost), and his last and, today, best-known opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (The coronation of Poppea, 1642/1643).
- Survivor: Monteverdi survived highway robbery on the journey from his hometown of Cremona to Venice.
- Great loss: Despite his fame, many of Monteverdi’s compositions are lost, including more than 10 stage works, and much sacred music.
- Low point: Monteverdi wrote that he had only pocket money left when he was sacked at Mantua.
- Credit where credit is due: The most famous part of Poppea, a duet between Nero and Poppea in the last scene, was actually composed by someone else.
- Grave: Monteverdi is buried in Venice at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
- Paolo Fabbri, Monteverdi, trans. by Tim Carter. (Cambridge, 1994.) The standard biography. Out of print, but worth looking up.
- The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi, John Whenham and Richard Wistreich, eds. (Cambridge, 2007). Lots of biographical information, supplementing the standard biography. Some technical language.
Explore the Music
- Vocal music: Known for his operas and his madrigals. He composed madrigals throughout his career, publishing eight books of them. A ninth book was published after his death.
- Breaking the rules: Monteverdi was at the center of a famous controversy, when his “modern” style of composition was attacked by music theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi. No theorist himself, Monteverdi proposed a “second practice” in which breaking the rules was justified in order to express poetic meaning. This idea became a bedrock concept in Baroque music.
- Realism, 1643: In his opera L’incoronazione di Poppea, an ambitious courtesan manipulates a weak, psychologically unstable ruler (Emperor Nero), and there’s cross-dressing, exile, dueling goddesses—what more could you want from opera?
|look inside||Vespers (1610) By Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Arranged by Jeffrey Kurtzman. For SSTTBB soloists, SATTB chorus, orchestra (2/3 violins, 3 trumpets in D, 1 trumpet in B flat, 2/3 violas, 2 cellos, 1 double bass, 3 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 2 recorders, 2 flutes). Mixed Voices. Classic Choral Works. Standard Choral Works. Performing score. 288 pages. Duration 90'. Published by Oxford University Press (OU.9780193375888)|
A voce sola (Arie, canzonette e recitative)
(Voice and Piano). By Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Edited by Gian Francesco Malipiero. Vocal Collection. 28 pages. Ricordi #R128500. Published by Ricordi (HL.50019470)
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