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.


Unfortunately the first album only has 17 madrigals of the 100 or so that he wrote (in six books) so I didn’t want to review them out of context.

As for the Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, they are excerted from a larger Responsoria et alia ad Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae spectantiaponsoria covering Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. (I did not know the name of the day between Good Friday and Easter before.) There are 9 pieces for Maundy Thursday but the disc I listened to has 14, including a piece from the 4th part (“et alia”) and some other pieces I cannot quite place. If I had the notes I might be able to tell you but its been 7 years since I first listened to this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.