Here’s some SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC: Tenebræ factæ sunt by Carlo Gesualdo, performed below by Nordic Voices (NO).
About the Composer:
Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) is classical music’s darkest villain, a man whose eerie music is matched by a chilling biography comprising adultery, madness, and gruesome homicide. From an early age, Gesualdo was enthralled by music, studying lute and forging relationships with local musical luminaries as a member of an elite accademia, or intellectual club. Sent as a child to train for the priesthood, Gesualdo watched as his older brother Luigi was designated heir to the Principality of Venosa in southern Italy. Luigi’s death in 1584, however, paved the way for Carlo’s ascension to power. In 1586, Don Carlo Gesualdo married his cousin, the mythically beautiful Donna Maria d’Avalos, with whom he had a son and who, not four years after their marriage, could be found with her throat slashed, drenched in blood, in the bed of her lover. The lover in question, the Duke of Andria, was murdered as well: the official who found the Duke’s body noted that his corpse was wearing “a woman’s nightdress with fringes at the bottom” and was “covered with blood and pierced with many wounds,” while “a bit of the brain had oozed out” of a gunshot wound to the head. As a prince, a man of great influence and — apparently — violent inclination, Gesualdo was never tried for his crimes; in fact, he fled town following the murders, leaving behind a bizarre legacy: a trail of lurid rumors that to this day inhabit Italian folklore; and dozens of musical compositions, sacred and secular, renowned for their twisted emotional intensity.
About the Piece:
The question that haunts Gesualdo’s musical legacy is this: was he a tormented genius whose inner turmoil came to life in the unusual, grating harmonies of his compositions — or, were his unusual, grating harmonies the result of mediocre musical talent, nonetheless thrust into the spotlight by the macabre glamour of his criminal record? Regardless of the answer, Gesualdo’s music is widely viewed as ahead of its time, pushing the notion of tonality across thresholds of conventionality that most Western composers wouldn’t dare toe until the turn of the 20th century. In Tenebræ factæ sunt, a selection from his set of liturgical works for Good Friday, six voices croon and cluster in stirring harmonies that progress through tightly adjacent chromatic lines. Though the pacing is calm — almost eerily so — the piece is marked by surprising shifts of mood, from despair to ecstasy, as the Latin text recounts the crucifixion.
- “Prince of Darkness: The murders and madrigals of Don Carlo Gesualdo” by Alex Ross for The New Yorker
If you enjoyed Tenebræ factæ sunt, you might also like…
- Carlo Gesualdo: Omnes amici mei dereliquerunt me
- Orlande de Lassus: Osculetur me osculo
- Eric Whitacre: Lux Aurumque