1590s, 1610s, 1988, 2004, Music

Carlo Gesualdo Madrigaux a 5 voix (1988) by Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie and Tenebrae responsories for Maundy Thursday (2004) by the King’s Singers

How we remember the past is always fascinating. They say the winners write history and that’s fine when it comes to political violence, but how relevant is that to art? Why exactly was Gesualdo forgotten for a couple centuries?

Very briefly, the story with Gesualdo is that he was considered a minor Renaissance composer and then completely forgotten. When he was “rediscovered,” contemporary musicologists and composers were shocked to hear how adventurous his music was for the era; in fact little of the baroque and classical eras was this daring in terms of chord changes and the use of dissonance.

And I can confirm this with what little knowledge I have of both music theory and Renaissance music. To my ears, some of this stuff sounds like it could easily be early 20th century vocal music, written in tribute of the Renaissance, but aware of the romantic tradition and the crisis of tonality.

And that’s what’s so hard to get my head around: this sounds both really old and, at times, crazy progressive, and yet he was totally forgotten. It’s fascinating.

I’m not sure he’s the greatest Renaissance composer you’ll ever stumble across, but he sure was one of the nuttiest. I am going to keep looking into his work, as it’s really unique. Both of these recordings are worthwhile and both show off his idiosyncrasies and forward thinking.

Great stuff.


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