A Lasting Effect: What Should You Know About Carlo Gesualdo?

Friday 20 July 2018

As a part of our Autumn 2018 touring season, we’ll be presenting the music of Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa in our Triple Bill, under the title ‘I will not speak‘.

Resident blogger, Alex Burns, introduces you to the man behind the music.


1. He was a murderer
Gesualdo found his wife of two years, Donna Maria, in bed with Fabrizio Carafa, who was the Duke of Andria. Gesualdo set up a trap for the pair after suspecting for some time that an affair might be taking place. He announced he was going away for a hunting trip, but instead he returned back to the castle to find the couple together. He murdered the pair on the spot. He used a knife and a gun to brutally kill the two, and the officer reports reveal a gruesome scene. Reports account that Gesualdo returned to the bedroom after initially leaving, declaring that they weren’t dead (eyewitnesses said he just continued to stab his wife in a fit of fury). He then got the bodies dragged out to the front of his palace for the people of the city to see.
Although the evidence against him was monumental, Gesualdo was ultimately not charged due to his social status. Being a nobleman in those times worked to your advantage!

2. He was an unexpected Prince 
Gesualdo was supposed to become a member of the clergy, and was sent to Rome for training, but then his elder brother unexpectedly died in 1584. That meant when his father died in 1591, Gesualdo became the third Prince of Venosa and eight Count of Conza.

These roles gave him a lot of power across the land. Being this high up in royalty also gave Gesualdo the chance to travel and meet new people. In 1594 he arranged another marriage, this time to Leonora d’Este, the niece of Duke Alfonso II. It was at this point that Gesualdo travelled and spent time in Ferrara.

3. He was celebrated during his lifetime as a talented composer. 
Carlo Gesauldo’s vocal works were some of the most complex and dynamic pieces of music in the sixteenth century and are still recorded and performed today. He often wrote lyrics about love, death, ecstasy, agony and pain, which gives him a unique point of view on both sacred and secular musics. His six books of madrigals are legendary in Renaissance vocal repertoire, and still influence vocal and choral composers now.

4. His music has inspired many notable composers.
Gesualdo’s legacy has meant his music has inspired many others. This includes a dedication from Igor Stravinsky for his composition Monumentum pro Gesualdo. Peter Maxwell-Davies composed Tenebrae Super Gesualdo in memory of the composer. Also, Australian composer Brett Dean composed Carlo, a work for string orchestra to pay homage to Gesualdo.


So want to hear what all the fuss is about with this prince-murderer-composer? Click here to book tickets to hear some of his most glorious madrigals performed as part of ‘I will not speak’, part of the Triple Bill from English Touring Opera’s Autumn Season. This will be a fantastic opportunity to hear the heart of Gesualdo and his complex, yet troubled music.

Image source: whatson.englishtouringopera.org.uk

© Alex Burns 2018
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