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Monteverdi: Eyes That Were Once My Life

Can you guess this piece? Here’s a hint: merrie Mantuan melodies…

Madrigals were incredibly popular in the Renaissance. For one thing, they were full of intense romantic poetry, and consequently, full of body parts: beating hearts, fluttering hair, reaching hands, and—of course—hauntingly beautiful eyes. In addition, they were often easy enough to sing at home. This didn’t last, however. By the end of the 16th century, new madrigals frequently employed musical sophistication such as could only be achieved by a professional ensemble. The famed “concerto di donne,” an all-female group of singing virtuosi from Ferrara, helped to spur this transition. Monteverdi’s third madrigal collection also appeared at this time. While some of its contents are more accessible, many are quite difficult. It has been speculated that Monteverdi’s patron, the Duke of Mantua, may have wanted music for his own “knock-off” version of the Ferrarese group!

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