24 Mar 2013

Carlo Gesualdo (1560–1613)

From Composer of the Week, 9:00 am on 24 March 2013
Carlo Gesualdo

Carlo Gesualdo Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Peter Hoar looks at the life and music of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa.

He is known to have murdered his wife; there are stories of adultery, necrophilia, masochism and witchcraft. Perhaps not the nicest of characters.

His music, as Hoar says, “has been held up as further evidence of a contorted mind with its extreme harmonies, unpredictable rhythms and obsessive lyrics,” and was rejected for almost three centuries for its seemingly unbridled licences.

His time came again in early 20th century when it was found that Gesualdo was doing in 1600 the sorts of things that many contemporary composers were now bold enough to try again.

Further information:

Werner Herzog's film on Gesualdo - Death for Five Voices (1995)


Cecil Gray and Philip Heseltine, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa: Musician and Murderer, London, 1926.
Glenn Watkins, Gesualdo: The Man and His Music, London, 1973.
Glenn Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex: Music, Myth, and Memory, New York, 2010.

Music Details:

Gesualdo: Responsorium 2, from Feria V, In Coena Domini – Hilliard Ensemble (ECM)
Gesualdo: Caro, amoroso neo, from Madrigals Book 2 – Kassiopeia Quintet (Globe)
Gesualdo: Veggio si dal mio sole, from Madrigals Book 3 – Kassiopeia Quintet (Globe)
Gesualdo: Belta, poi che t’assenti, from Madrigals Book 6 – Kassiopeia Quintet (Globe)
Stravinsky: Monumentum Pro Gesualdo – Collegium Vocale Gent, Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe (Pentatone)
Gesualdo: Responsorium 9, from Sabbato Sancto  – Hilliard Ensemble (ECM)

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes