Thursday, May 2, 2013

Claudio Monteverdi: The Persevering Cameleon

Historical Period: Baroque

Nationality: Italian

Born: 1567; Cremona, Italy

Died: 1643; Venice, Italy

Children: one daughter and two sons, only the sons survived.
Contemporaries: Heinrich Schutz

Specialty: Nine books of Madrigals, Vespro della beata vergine (1610); La favola d'Orfeo (1607); Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640); L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642)

       Have you ever heard someone say “keeping up with the times”? Well Claudio Monteverdi was a composer that had the consistent capacity to re-invent and adapt his musical style as needs arose where he was living.

     What’s Happening in History?

    Around this time, England and Spain start fighting (1568), William Harvey figured out that the heart pumps the blood throughout the entire human body, Galileo Galelei discovered that the planets revolve around the Sun, Robert Hooke makes up the word "cell" for those small things found in our bodies, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn started to dominate the art world with his extraordinary paintings, and Miquel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. It was in these remarkable times that Claudio Monteverdi lived and wrote lots of music!

Early Years

       Monteverdi grew up singing in the cathedral choir of his hometown, Cremona, in the country of Italy. By age 16, he became an accomplished instrumentalist, had published a volume of three-part motets and an entire book of sacred madrigals. Motets and madrigals are songs written to be sung in church.

Mantua, Madrigals, Motets, & Marriage

     In 1587, Claudio composed his first volume of secular madrigals and then his second volume in 1590. It was also around this time that Monteverdi got a job as a string player at the ducal court in Mantua. By 1592, Monteverdi had composed his third madrigal collection and his fame as a composer was spreading around. 
    In 1599, something really important happened: Claudio made the important decision to get married. He was given the joy of having three children, unfortunately only his two sons survived. The eldest son became a musician like him and his younger son became a doctor. 
    Two years later, in 1601, Claudio took a big step becoming the maestro di cappella at the Mantuan court, and over the next four years he finished two more madrigal collections. In 1607, Claudio took another step to challenge himself musically, he started composing his first opera, called L’Orfeo, which was performed in February in Mantua.


     After all this joy and success, Monteverdi’s wife died after a long sickness. Monteverdi had to deal with a lot of sadness and grief, take care of his sons, and work at the same time; it was a very difficult period for him. This however did not keep him from finishing a second opera, L’Arianna, and had it performed as part of the marriage of the Gonzaga heir, Francesco, to Margaret of Savoy in May 1608. It must have been a painful and happy occasion to have his opera performed at the wedding.  Unfortunately, all but one aria of the opera has survived and, even worse, the principal singer of the opera died during rehearsal. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi wrote Vespro della beata vergine, performed by voices and instruments.

Venice & the End

     In 1613, Monteverdi moved to Venice, where he became maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s Cathedral. This was the place that Monteverdi remained for the rest of his life. It was here that Claudio wrote more operas and ballets. Twenty-seven years later, in 1630, many of Monteverdi’s pieces were destroyed when Austrian troops conquered the palace where he worked.  After this, Monteverdi made another major decision taking holy orders, deciding to become a priest in the Catholic Church.  In the remaining years of his life Monteverdi still wrote more operas and madrigals.

     Claudio Monteverdi never gave through all the hardships in his life, how are you dealing with the hard stuff in your life? We live in a beautiful and broken world, do not be surprised by the bad things that happen in life, none of us have control over that. What we are responsible for is how we act in the tough times and the good times. What will you choose?

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