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Monteverdi’s Unsuccessful ‘Audition’ in Rome

As early as the Fall of 1608 Monteverdi had discussed the possibility of leaving Mantua and his publication of a monumental Mass and Vespers in 1610, with a dedicate to Pope Paul V was clearly an attempt to promote his services. In that year, with his collection in tow, Monteverdi traveled to Rome, where he hoped to achieve two results: an audience with the Pope to enable him to offer his sacred collection in person, and a free place for his son Francesco. (Monteverdi was a widower of over two years at that point.) In a letter from that month he wrote to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga:

“‘in the Roman seminary with a benefice from the church to pay his board and lodging, I being a poor man. But without this favor I could not hope for anything from Rome to help Franceschino, who has already become a seminarian in order to live and die in this calling.”

None of the composer’s plans came to fruition, and the letter, which gives a sense of the his dire financial situation, continues:

“For if Rome, even with Your Most Illustrious Lordship’s favor, were not to help him, he and another brother of his would remain poor, so that they wowukld hardly be able to start the New Year with bread and wine, which I lack. I shall look out for some simple benefice or other that can bring in a stipend sufficient to obtain the satisfaction of this need from His Holiness, if Your Most Illustrious Lordship will be so kind as to try and assist both him and me at the same time (as I hope from your infinite virtue), both with His Holiness and with Monsignor the Datary; otherwise, fearing that I troubled him too much when I was in Rome, I would not dare to ask him again any favor.”

[Translation by Time Carter from Paolo Fabbri’s Monteverdi, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp 109-110.]

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