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Monteverdi and Musical Coherence

The musical coherence of Monteverdi’s seconda prattica compositions has often been overlooked by taking too literally his brother Giulio Cesare’s famous declaration that in the new style ‘it has been his intention to make the words the mistress of the harmony and not the servant.’ Monteverdi and his brother, for the sake of argument and without enough time to develop the thesis at greater length, oversimplified the issue in the Dichiaratione of the 1607 Scherzi musicali. While Monteverdi certainly took the text as his point of departure as well as the ultimate rationale for many features of his madrigals, motets, and dramatic compositions, he never became a slavish imitator of words not an ingenious inventor of musical metaphors, even though madrigalisms are readily apparent in his music.

Te balanced union of textual and musical considerations took different forms in the stile rappresentativo and the polyphonic and concerto madrigals and motets. Morever,m the relationship between text and music took on a different aspect in each individual composition. But whatever the style or character of the piece. Monteverdi never ignored the demands of musical logic and coherence. Conversely, it is often this musical coherence that gives primary force to the expression of the text, fo in the absence of a powerful musical logic, the addition of tone to word is likely to prove fleeting, superficial, and unconvincing.

[Excerpted from The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance by Jeffrey Kurtzman. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 308-309.]

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