Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) was an Italian composer, musician and singer, who stood at the crossroads of one of the most crucial periods in musical history.
Life and Music
Born the son of a Cremonese barber-surgeon, Monteverdi began composing at a very early age and had his first book of three-part motets published in Venice when he was 15.
In 1587, he published the first of nine books of madrigals. This remarkable run was capped by his appointment at the Court of Mantua in 1592, initially as a viol player.
Monteverdi married one of the court singers, Claudia de Cataneis, by whom he had two sons and a daughter.
By the time he was appointed maestro di cappella at Mantua in 1601, Monteverdi was widely recognised as a distinguished composer, a reputation further enhanced by the publication of his Fourth and Fifth Book of Madrigals in 1603 and 1605.
Monteverdi’s period in Venice proved a fitting climax to his career. In 1619 he published his Seventh Book of Madrigals, which further developed the harmonic audacity of his previous volumes, while in 1624 his hybrid entertainment, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, created a sensation at its premiere.
Sadly, not all of Monteverdi’s finest music survived. Only one trio of his 1630 opera Proserpina Rapita is extant, and the Gloria is all that remains of a 1631 Mass of Thanksgiving written specifically for St Mark’s.
He might well have laid his operatic pen down for ever had it not been for the opening of the first public opera houses in Venice in 1637 for which he wrote three final masterpieces: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640), Le Nozze d’Enea con Lavinia (1641, lost) and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (1642).
Monteverdi died the following year and was laid to rest in the church of the Frari in Venice.
Did you know?
Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo told the mythical tale of Orpheus - a musician who, when his wife Euridice died, went down to Hades, the land of the dead, to try to get her back. It was a tale to which composers would return time and time again.