Carlo Gesualdo

1566–1613

Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, married his first cousin – the twice-widowed Maria d’Avalos who was several years older than he. She bore a son and not long thereafter embarked on an affair with Fabrizio Carafa, duca d’Andria. Informed of her infidelity, Gesualdo laid a trap and, with the help of others, murdered his wife and her lover in bed. He later took a wife from the d’Este family, rulers of Ferrara, whose musical interests coincided with his own. He wrote a quantity of sacred and secular vocal music and a relatively small number of instrumental pieces. In style his music is unusual in its sudden changes of tonality, its harmony and its intensity of feeling, qualities that have found particular favour among some modern theorists.

Gesualdo, a nobleman of melancholy reserve, published six books of madrigals, the second of them originally under an improbable pseudonym. These include some remarkable and striking compositions, such as the five-voice Moro, lasso, al mio duolo, and the earlier Ahi, disperata vita.

Gesualdo’s numerous sacred compositions include works intended for the liturgy of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, as well as Marian compositions such as Ave, dulcissima Maria and Ave, regina caelorum. Volumes of sacred music in a Sacrarum cantionum liber primus (‘First Book of Sacred Songs’) of works in five parts and another of works in six and seven parts were published in Naples in 1603.