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Classical 101

Composer Claudio Monteverdi Was Born 450 Years Ago

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

I suppose the reason Claudio Monteverdi is my favorite composer is that I've always enjoyed the combination and the tension of words and music.

I'm a little late getting on the Monteverdi birthday bus. He was born 450 years ago, on May 15, 1567.

Monteverdi wasn't the first to compose operas. Vocal music had flourished in the church and in the taverns for hundreds of years before he was born in 1567.

But history gives pride of place to the man from Cremona, Italy, who went on to serve in important musical posts at the court of Mantua, Italy.

Later he became the granddaddy of them all, as maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice — then and now one of the treasures of the world.

By the time he died in 1643, Monteverdi was celebrated throughout Europe for his sublime music for the church, for his madrigals — of both love and war — and his operas. Only three of these works survive. But there are thought to have been 15 more operas including L'Arianna — a fragment of which we have today, Laciaemi Morire.

Here is Monteverdi giving primacy to the words of the heartbroken Arianna, abandoned by Teseo. Lasciatemi morire! ("Let me die!") It's a perfect marriage of words and music. Where does the music begin and where do the words end?


Like many, my introduction to Monteverdi's music came from recordings even older than I am. French teacher and conductor Nadia Boulanger made recordings of Monteverdi's work in the late 1930s, when interest in Monteverdi was confined to libraries rather than concerts. She gave us a living, singing artist.


My one desert island pick is Monteverdi's Vespers for the Blessed Virgin (1610). Monteverdi submitted this collection to the authorities in Venice, in hopes of landing the gig at St. Mark's.

And land it he did! None can resist these psalm settings, the Magnificat and verses from the Song of Solomon. Monteverdi combines the glory of God and the sensuality of music into one work.


Bravo, Maestro! Buon compleano. Happy birthday.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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