By Lottie Halbik
QTRANGE that a
se• sixteenth century composer who was as revolutionary in his time as Beethoven in his should only receive recognition in the twentieth century.
Revolutionary and strange because it was he who began to %1 rite opera as we know it today: who was the precursor of modern in n and harmonystrumentatio, and yet managed to be the servant of two masters—of the Church and worldly powers. of the CounterReformation and the Renaissance.
Such a man was Claudio Monte% erdi, son of a doctor, horn in Cremona. in 1567 where he received his musical education. At about the age of 23 he became attacbed to the splendour-loving sourt of Mantua of which he was later made Maestro di Cappello. After over 20 years faithful service he was dismissed for no apparent reason, but a year later attained a similar post at St. Mark's, Venice, where he died in leeSe.
HIS life had been beset by ill health, financial and other worries, and sorrow at the death of his wife after little more than 10 years marriage leaving him with two sons, Francesco and Massimiliano. (Francesco after studying law became a Carmelite Friar.) He spent harrowing, dark years proving Massimiliano's innocence to the inquisition and surviving the plague which ravaged Northern Italy after the Mantuan war of succession.
Shattering as these experiences
steadfast but was reaffirmed and in 1632 he was ordained a priest.
But all his life he maintained as harmonious a relationship with his family as with his two masters in music—the Church and the evergrowing popular theatre world in which the aristocracy were rapidly replacing the Church as patron of the arts. Even during his terture at San Marco he succeeded in vastly pleasing the Procurators by reorganising the choir and guiding the sacred music in the true spirit of the Counter-Reformation whilst finding time to write innumerable operas, madrigals and other secular works.
PoSTERITY was not kind to him. Apart from almost entirely neglecting him for 200 years, much of his work and biographical details acre lost or destroyed. Happily though. many of his madrigals. a handful a operas and the bulk of the church music have survived.
They include the monumental Vespers of the Virgin Mary and the Mass in jib ternplire of 1610. Monteverdi dedicated them to Pope Paul V, and it is said that he journeyed to Rome with them to please the Pope, to try to obtain a bursary to the Papal Seminary for his eldest son, and with an eye on the much coveted post of director of music to the Sistine Chapel.
But the bursary and the post eluded him as it did his illustrious contemporary, Palestrina.
Of the two works, the "Vespers" is one of the most outstanding and moving in music as well as perfectly illustrating Monteverdi's aptitude for composing in two different styles. Much of the choral writing is in the traditional form, but the monodies and solos introduce startling operatic eepression and recitative and exceptionally large orchestral forces are employed us well as advanced techniques and harmonies.
Monteverdi was obviously aware of the work's unsuitability for liturgical use for he labelled it for performance in "chapels or the private rooms of princes".
fr was the "Vespers"
which received a praiseworthy performance by the B.B.C. Orchestra, Chorus and Choral Society under Rudlof Schwarz in the version edited by Walter Goehr at the Royal Festival Hall recently.
The "Vespers" had its first English performance in 1946, but Monteverdi had already engrossed and fascinated eminent musicians all over Europe—d'Indy, G. F. Malipiero and Orff, to mention only a few—and it is not unlikely that his influence will spread yet more to have a powerful and lasting effect on the music of tomorrow.