Reception of Gesualdo’s. Madrigals in the Early. Seventeenth Century. CATHERINE DEUTSCH. Gesualdo’s modernity and his ambiguous and ambivalent place. Through the uneven phrases of the madrigals, the music pursued its course, never sticking to the same key for two bars together. In Gesualdo, that fantastic. The murders and madrigals of Don Carlo Gesualdo.

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Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, wrote some of the most startling, gripping, fiercely expressive music the world has ever known.

His biography has lured many into curiosity about his music he murdered his first wife and her lover, and most likely his second son as well, whose paternity he doubtedand there have been many discussions of his psychological profile. But in the end, the strength and unflinching audacity of his music alone is more than enough to draw us to him.

Gesualdo Madrigals (quintet arrangement)Brentano Quartet

Through the uneven phrases of the madrigals, the music pursued its course, never sticking to the same key for two bars together. In Gesualdo, tesualdo fantastic character out of a Webster melodrama, psychological disintegration had exaggerated, had pushed to the extreme limit, a tendency inherent in modal as opposed to fully tonal music.


The resulting works sounded as though they might have been written by the later Schoenberg. The whole is disorganized.

Madrigals, Libro 6 (Gesualdo, Carlo)

But each individual fragment is in order, is a representative of a Higher Order. The Highest Order prevails even in the disintegration.

The totality is gesualro even in the broken pieces. More clearly present, perhaps, than in a completely coherent work. You have to rely on your immediate perception of the ultimate order.

Madrigals, Libro 1 (Gesualdo, Carlo)

So besualdo a certain sense disintegration may have its advantages. It would be hard to put it better. Gesualdo partakes of the aesthetic of the Mannerists, exaggerating color, proportion and gesture to reveal emotional truths. Think, for example, of the strained, elongated figures of El Greco. And although mescaline is perhaps inappropriate in a public madrigl setting, the music alone may inspire such reveries in those with the right combination of attention and sensitivity.

But, just as we all know of people of strong character who come to be more completely themselves as they age in fact, it seems to be a truismso madrugal the madrigals in the final book, Book VIexhibit an even greater density of these characteristic moments such that they do, indeed, threaten to whirl into chaos.


The amount of emotional turmoil we can precariously contain within our lives is on occasion fantastically large.

At times we feel we just barely manage to cheat the forces of collapse. This is the volatile world of heightened experience these madrigals evoke, repeatedly holding us in the grip of the concentrated moment.

We present here two madrigals from this final book in an instrumental setting. But may I never cease to suffer. The second, Io pur respiro in cosi gran dolore states: Even in agony, I still breathe, and you still live, O pitiless heart.

Ah, since there is no more hope of again seeing our beloved, Death, give us aid; take this life.

Torture me not, but with a single stroke end my life and woe. Gesualdo Madrigals quintet arrangement. Reprintable only with permission from the author.