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9 May 2016, 16:36
The Baroque composer revolutionised music, was fantastically theatrical, and gave us some of the most amazing choral moments. Claudio Monteverdi, we salute you...
2017 marks Claudio Monteverdi’s 450th anniversary. To celebrate, conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir are going to be performing the Italian composer's three surviving operas and his epic Vespers 1610. Here's Sir John Eliot to give you an introduction to the composer, his times and his incredible work.
So it was busy times in music around 1610 with a lot of people playing around with the idea of music, staging and drama. Monteverdi, only just beaten by Jacopo Peri and his opera Dafne, had his go at revolutionising the artform with L'Orfeo. Here's an extract with bari-hunk Simon Keenlyside...
The composer's setting of a woman mourning her lost love makes the most devastating musical picture. She laments over a slow, still ground bass as the male voices look on. Listen to her impassioned howls of 'amor' and feel the bottom drop out of your soul.
His Vespers of 1610 is an absolute epic masterpiece. It really is church music on an operatic scale. From fanfares, arias and trios to instrumental interludes and amazing choruses. Here it is, from John Eliot Gardiner and his choir. Just thrilling.
Before Geordie Shore and 50 Shades of Grey, people went to part-songs for their fix of the raunchy and the scandalous. These pieces would have been preformed in back rooms and pubs, with an X-rated script of amorous love, secret liaisons, passion and general hotness. In fact it's so good, Early Music group I Fagiolini made it all into a film. Here's the NSFW trailer...
This guy really knew how to add a bit of spice to his music – sometimes subtle, sometimes gratuitous. Suspensions, harmonic crunches, dissonances both resolved and unresolved – Monteverdi really knew how to make us squirm. Just take a listen to the amazingess and abject
sexiness of the opening of his 5th book of madrigals.
His works aren't just confined to gargantuan cathedral spectaculars or strange, esoteric madrigal consorts – his 'Selva morale et spirituale' (a collection of scored works published in Venice in 1640 and 1641) is a stunning collection of sacred music, and much of it fit for your parish church. Expect, however, the composer's usual style, and theatrical flair. Here's his famous Beatus vir
(and it contains this guy)
That's right – in 2015 at 348 years young he was still on top of the Classic FM Chart. It was his Vespers, in a fantastic performance from the Voices of Classic FM, the Sixteen. What a tribute to the timelessness and enduring magic of his music.