Claudio Monteverdi, 1567-1643

Son of a doctor, apothecary and surgeon in Cremona, he received a solid humanist education and studied viola, organ, composition, song and counterpoint with Marco Antonio Ingegnieri, polyphonist and master of chapel at Cremona Cathedral. Early composer, he produced at the age of fifteen a set of twenty motets with three voices. Five years later, he had his first five-part Madrigal Book published in Venice (1587).  

In 1590, Monteverdi was hired by Duke Vincenzo of Mantua, as music master and then appointed chapel master in 1601. In Mantua, he married in 1599 Claudia Cattaneo, musician and singer at the court (died in 1607).  He accompanied the duke to Florence for the wedding festivities of Marie de Medici and Henry IV.

The performance of Euridice by Jacopo Péri created on this occasion deeply marked the prince and his suite (October 6, 1600). The year 1607 is the year of the creation of Orféo, commissioned by the Duke of Mantua to compete with the court of the Medici and surpass Euridice by Jacopo Peri. The success was immense and crowned Orfeo, the first great opera in the history of music. In 1608, the "Lamento d'Arianna" (Lasciatemi morire) violated all the rules of composition and etiquette, turned the music upside down and brought tears to the court.  

In 1613, after the prince's death, Monteverdi became chapel master of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, a duty he held until his death. After the plague which ravaged Venice in 1630 and took away his son Francesco, Monteverdi was ordained a priest. With the Eighth Book of Madrigals (Madrigali guerrieri e amorosi, 1638), the priest remains faithful to the madrigal genre, while developing the very theatrical stile concitato (agitated). So it was already, with the crash of the arms of Combat of Tancrede and Clorinde, 1628, gathered in the collection of 1638.  

In 1637 a patrician opened in Venice, the first lyric theater for a paying audience, the San Cassiano followed by two other theaters, the San Moisé and San Giovanni e Paolo in 1640. Venice became the world capital of opera. Only two Monteverdi operas written at that time have survived: the Return of Ulysses (1641) and the Coronation of Poppé (1642), mature works by a 75-year-old composer where the principles of a new genre are clearly established.

Monteverdi's abundant work includes many pages of polyphonic religious music (masses, vespers, psalms, motets ...) and also secular music. Last great representative of the Italian school of madrigal, genre to which he devoted nine Books, Monteverdi places in the center of his compositions the canto solo which he brings to its apogee in his stage music.  

Monteverdi is not only the last great madrigalist and one of the first opera composers, he is also the inspired ferryman between two cultures, two musics, that of the Renaissance and that of baroque music.

Claudio Monteverdi dies in Venice in 1643. The city of the Doges organizes with funerals with choirs. Monument in the history of music, "the divine Claudio" sung by d'Annunzio rests in the basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (I Frari) not far from Titian and the sculptor Canova.

© Didier Chagnas