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Carlo Gesualdo


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(1560 – 1613)

Carlo Gesualdo, known as Gesualdo da Venosa (?8 March 1560 – 8 September 1613), Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was an Italian composer, lutenist, nobleman, and notorious murderer from the late Renaissance. He is famous for his intensely expressive madrigals, which use a chromatic language not heard again until the 19th century; and he is also famous for committing what are possibly the most famous murders in musical history, of his first wife and her lover.

The evidence that Gesualdo was tortured by guilt for the remainder of his life is considerable, and he may have given expression to it in his music. One of the most obvious characteristics of his music is the extravagant text setting of words representing extremes of emotion: “love”, “pain”, “death”, “ecstasy”, “agony” and other similar words occur frequently in his madrigal texts, most of which he probably wrote himself. While this type of word-painting is common among madrigalists of the late 16th century, it reached an extreme development in Gesualdo’s music.

While he was infamous for his murders, he also remains famous for his music, which is among the most experimental and expressive of the Renaissance, and without question is the most wildly chromatic; progressions such as those written by Gesualdo did not appear again in music until the 19th century, and then in a context of tonality that prevents them from being directly comparable.


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  • storytellingman

    Just stunning, this man's work.

    14 Nov 5:40pm Reply
  • amscab

    I just came across a very interesting and well-written article on Gesualdo, which you may enjoy: To whet your appetite, a perhaps suprising quotation: "There is a very curious letter from the poet Guarini, in which he says he prefers Gesualdo to the modern style because he is ‘so far from the hardness of Monteverdi.’ For Guarini, Gesualdo is so nice, so easy! Exactly the opposite of what we now think." :-)

    16 Sep 10:48pm Reply
  • HaHaHaYoureDead

    мой любимый композитор эпохи возрождения. вообще, вся т.н. "классическая" музыка вплоть до баха, хороша целиком и полностью. возможно, потому что она очень проста в самом высшем значении этого слова.

    20 Jul 1:33pm Reply
  • AniRockAniMetal

    Śliczna są te jego madrygały.

    29 May 4:29pm Reply
  • Bassquiat

    Free download masses, motets and other secular music of Guillaume Dufay (1397 - 1474), good quality:

    21 Oct 2013 Reply
  • wisbech

    He became one of my favourites before I ever knew any details about his life or the murders. It's an interesting biographical detail but he's a singular composer notwithstanding.

    28 Aug 2013 Reply
  • spathod

    "While he was infamous for his murders, he also remains famous for his music, which is among the most experimental and expressive of the Renaissance, and without question is the most wildly chromatic; progressions such as those written by Gesualdo did not appear again in music until the 19th century, and then in a context of tonality that prevents them from being directly comparable."

    3 Aug 2013 Reply
  • ut0

    hi-res scans of paintings etc.

    6 Jan 2013 Reply
  • Jhaidinszaev

    also are there really no hi-res pictures of this guy that's a shame

    27 Sep 2012 Reply
  • Jhaidinszaev

    here's an even simpler explanation: by the rules of common-practice tonality, chromaticism refers to melodic notes from outside the tonic scale requiring resolution; dissonance refers to harmonic (implied or actual) elements requiring resolution; atonality refers to any composition in which this resolution does not happen

    27 Sep 2012 Reply
  • gwalla

    Here's a simpler explanation. Chromaticism has to do with how the notes relate to a scale: a passage of music is highly chromatic if it uses a lot of notes outside of a diatonic scale. Dissonance has to do with how notes played at the same time relate to each other: tritones and major seconds are more dissonant than perfect fifths. Atonality has to do with whether the notes in a piece relate to a key: a piece is atonal if no particular harmony (such as C major) is heard as a "goal" (called a tonic). Music of the Romantic era is usually very chromatic, but also tonal and generally consonant. Much atonal music is highly chromatic and contains a lot of dissonance, but it doesn't have to; it possible (but rare) to write atonal music that sticks entirely to a diatonic scale (called "pandiatonic" music).

    11 Jul 2012 Reply
  • Siphonblast

    more complex harmonic ratios are perceived as more dissonant (e.g 656:395) whereas simpler ratios are perceived as much more pleasant, like the octave (2:1) and said to be in a nice harmony. But the reason that such definitions are not objective is because the entire concept of dissonance (and its converse, consonance) -- is based on a human's perception of a sonorous entity or a group of sonorous entities. And anything with a definition based upon human perception is subjective. But as I said, there are (ignoring epistemology, here, of course) some contexts where you might say that you've more or less objectively classified something as a 'dissonance' if you are speaking in relativistic terms (that is, speaking relatively based on some context. For example, using a chromatic dominant thirteenth in a Bach work is 'objectively' dissonant in the relative context of his harmonic language). but it'd obviously be ridiculous to say that such an assertion is objective in general..

    3 Jul 2012 Reply
  • Siphonblast

    @wisbech: chromaticism can imply but doesn't necessarily cause dissonance depending on the musical context. The use of chromaticism within a Bartok quartet and an altered jazz chord are different musical contexts. Chromaticism normally implies dissonance because inside a given diatonic context, introducing a chromaticism not only references much further (and thus less familiar to the ear) overtones in a tonal piece, but also due to the perceived relationship relative to the previous note, it causes tension due to both the distance (e.g. a minor second) or when uses as a chromatic harmony, causes tension expressed as mathematical ratios of frequencies (waves in a time spectrum i.e. partials) acting against each other. A mathematical definition of dissonance can be done, defined with a certain threshold of how many times the frequencies act 'against' each other in a given time domain.. but even still since music deals with aesthetics the topic remains highly subjective in most cases.

    3 Jul 2012 Reply
  • Zimmerman333

    Un grande...

    2 Jul 2012 Reply
  • skinnydrifter

    Oh my god this is beautiful

    27 Feb 2012 Reply
  • wisbech

    "chromaticism ≠ atonality" - This I understand, but what I don't grasp is how chromaticism and dissonance differ. Is there an objective way to define dissonance?

    13 Feb 2012 Reply
  • catholicbird

    chromaticism ≠ atonality

    27 Nov 2011 Reply
  • joshsiret

    Anyone else like this?

    1 Nov 2011 Reply
  • Freund_Hein_

    Varg Vikernes of the renaissance? ... wtf? Gesualdo may have been a murderer, but he was surely no xenophobic lunatic ... not to speak about the complete lack of any musical commensurability ... change the record, please.

    10 Oct 2011 Reply
  • Seavas

    Using "atonal" to describe music is only slightly less problematic than using "anti-Semitic" to describe anti-Jewish sentiment. :/

    10 Oct 2011 Reply
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