As we know from pop culture’s fixation on the Corleones and the Sopranos, there is a certain fascination with powerful Italian families. Politics and gangsters aside, Italian ruling families in the Renaissance were also some of music’s most generous patrons. This week we look at the musical contributions of the Gonzagas, who ruled Mantua for nearly four hundred years.
Alessandro Striggio: Composer, instrumentalist, illegitimate son, and nobleman from Mantua. He led a life that was nothing short of successful, at a time in the 16th century that has been called a golden period for both Mantua and its rulers, the Gonzaga family. Striggio was also one of several composers who were near the cusp of a new development in music history: the inception of opera. Concerto Italiano performs madrigals by Striggio on the CD release entitled La Caccia: Alessandro Striggio.
Three cities can lay claim to having had the distinction of producing the earliest operas. Though Venice and Florence have their own champions, only Mantua can say it had Claudio Monteverdi. His L’Orfeo of 1607 is perhaps the most famous example of the period. It was first performed at the Mantuan palace under the sponsorship of the Gonzaga family’s leader, Duke Vincenzo I. One can only imagine what it was like to attend the premiere. The New London Consort performs Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo on the CD release from L’oiseaux Lyre.
In the year following Monteverdi’s first excursion into the new world of opera, Marco da Gagliano also plunged into composing his own operas with a certain amount of success. Gagliano, a native Florentine, visited Mantua for six months in order to create an opera based on the myth of Daphne, an unfortunate dryad who turned herself into a laurel tree in order to escape Apollo’s advances. She succeeded, though Apollo’s obsession turned into worship. Ensemble Elyma performs La Dafne on their recording of the same name.
Before there was opera in Mantua, there was the madrigal. One of the more significant names associated with it was Giaches de Wert. Although his tenure as the court’s Kapellmeister was wrought with difficulties, his many achievements were quite evident, including over 230 madrigals that were published during his lifetime in sixteen volumes, and credit for being an influence on Monteverdi. Cantus Cölln performs madrigals by Giaches de Wert on their CD release, Il Pastor Fido.
Salamone Rossi was the most successful Jewish musician working at the Mantuan court; his devotion and excellence made him a favorite of Duke Vincenzo. In addition to his madrigals, he composed several books of purely instrumental music. Hesperion XXI, directed by Jordi Savall, performs instrumental music by Salamone Rossi on the Alia Vox CD release, Ostinato.
Our new release segment this week takes us to the cooler climes of Finland. This new CD features the first complete period instrument recording of the clarinet concertos of Finnish composer Bernhard Henrik Crusell. The soloist is the American early clarinetist Eric Hoeprich, accompanied by the Kölner Akademie, directed by Michael Alexander Willens.