Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Haiku Wednesday – Carlo Gesualdo

Carlo Gesualdo“Mr Gesualdo,
How do you plead to murder
Of wife and lover?”
“Guilty, your honor.”
“And to chromaticism
And strange harmony?”
“Guilty as well, sir.
May I be remembered for
All I have done here.”

And so it was.  Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) is remembered for both the salacious events of his life and for the strange beauty of his music.  For those interested in the lurid details, I leave you to your own devices.  I’m trying to keep it PG here.  By the way, the above exchange never would have occurred because, as nobility (he was Prince of Venosa), he was exempt from prosecution.

Gesualdo is known for his secular and sacred music.  He wrote six books of madrigals, and the later books show greater and greater experimentation with chromaticism.

Here is a Gesualdo madrigal, Moro, lasso, al mio duolo

His most well-known sacred work is the Tenebrae Responsoria, which is lavish in its use of chromaticism, unusual harmonies, and abrupt shifts in tempo.

From the Tenebrae Responsoria, O vos omnes

The level of chromaticism used in Gesualdo’s work was very unusual at the time, and was not used to that great an extent until modern times.  Stravinsky was especially taken with his work, and wrote Monumentum pro Gesualdo, which incorporates an arrangement of one of Gesualdo’s madrigals (Belta, poi che t’assenti).

A theme used in Stravinsky’s Monumentum, Gesualdo’s Belta, poi che t’assenti

And in Stravinsky Monumentum

I leave you with this sweet confection from Gesualdo:  Ave dulcissima Maria