Gesualdo, Carlo

Period: Renaissance

Born: c. 1560 in Naples, Italy

Died: Sunday, September 8, 1613 in Gesualdo, Avellino

Nation of Origin: Italy

Major Works:


Other Information:

Don Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa, may have been born in Venice on March 8, 1566. Birth records from 16th century Venice are not always reliable. Standard reference literature often states "circa 1560 or 1561" as his birth date. In any case, Gesualdo is known to have died September 8, 1613. He was born into an old and noble Neapolitan family and was the nephew of Saint Charles Borromeo. He became interested in music as a youth and began composing conservative madrigals and sacred works. His personal life, however, was not so conservative. In 1590 he arranged for the murder of his adulterous wife, the lovely Maria d'Avalos, and her lover. Although he was never brought to justice for these acts, the scandal was enormous and many a poet of the time wrote stanzas proclaiming the misfortune of Maria d'Avalos.

In 1594 he married a princess of the d'Este family and resided for a time at the court of Ferrara. There he published his first four books of madrigals between 1594 and 1596. Although his early compositions are quite conservative, his later madrigals and sacred works show the influence of his contemporary Luzzasco Luzzaschi (1545-1607). After hearing the music of Luzzaschi, Gesualdo began to evolve a more chromatic and sensual style of composition. His later compositions include two books of madrigals and three volumes of sacred works. Music historians often refer to Gesualdo's later style as pre-Wagnerian in that it foreshadows by more than 200 years the daring chromaticism of Richard Wagner. Gesualdo's later music is characterized by fragmented poetry, unconventional cadences, exaggerated rhetorical devices, ambiguous successions of chords, and a free mixture of counterpoint and homophony. He is considered to be one of the finest and certainly one of the most innovative composers of Italian madrigals in the late Renaissance.

Essay contributed by:
Steven G. Estrella

Composer Bibliography:

Watkins, Glenn, Gesualdo, The Man and His Music, London, 1973.

Gray, Cecil and Heseltine, Philip, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, Musician and Murderer, London, 1926.

General Bibliography:

Reese, Gustave, Music in the Renaissance, W.W. Norton & Company; November 1959, ISBN: 0393095304

Sachs, Curt, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World , W. W. Norton & Company, 1943, ASIN: 0393097188

Slonimsky, Nicolas and Kuhn, Laura; Editors, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Gale Group, December 2000, ISBN: 0028655257

Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John; Editors, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Groves Dictionaries, Inc., January 2004, ISBN: 0195170679

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim, Kennedy, Michael, and Kennedy, Joyce The Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 6th Edition, 2012, ISBN: 0199578109

Links to essays at other sites:

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Biographical essay from Wikipedia
Rocco Brancati's Site (in Italian)
The Gesualdo Consort of London

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