Claudio Monteverdi

December 2020

Claudio Monteverdi

Week 1

Part 1

Have you ever wondered what music sounded like 400 years ago?! One of the most important composers from that point in time was Claudio Monteverdi, who lived in Italy. He wrote in many different styles, but he is considered to be one of the most important people who "invented" the opera!

Here is the opening to one of his most famous operas, "L'Orfeo." The musicians in this performance are carefully trying to recreate what a performance would have looked and sounded like 400 years ago. Do you notice that some of the instruments are different than how they look today!?

Part 2

Let's listen to another part of this same opera. "L'Orfeo" is a love story about a legendary Greek hero named Orpheus who loves a woman named Eurydice. The story of Orpheus has been told for over 2,500 years!

This piece from "L'Orfeo" tells us how happy Orpheus is now that he knows Eurydice. Do you notice how important dancing is to this music? Monteverdi specifically wrote in sections where the dancing (instead of the singing) "takes center stage."

Week 2

Monteverdi is famous for his music that features the human voice. In addition to opera, he wrote many important madrigals and motets, two styles of music that feature groups of singers.

Here is one of these motets, performed by a group of British singers! Notice how some moments of the music feature notes that "crunch" against each other, but these notes always resolve to beautiful sounding chords. The "crunchy" dissonance helps make the beautiful chords sound even more lovely!

Part 2

Here's an example of a madrigal that Monteverdi composed. Do you know what language this piece of music uses?

Can you follow along with the score (that's another word for "sheet music") while you listen to the music? Each voice sings one of the lines, so you can count how many singers are singing at once by looking up and down to count which lines have music on them at the same time!

Week 3

Part 1

Let's listen now to a performance where you can hear a keyboard instrument featured prominently. Remember, in Monteverdi's day the piano had not been invented yet, so people usually playing either the harpsichord or the organ!

This is a famous vocal duet by Monteverdi. Does the man's voice surprise you? 400 years ago, men who could sing with very high voices were extremely popular! This is a bit less common today, but there are still men with naturally high voices who can perform this music from long ago!

Part 2

Monteverdi wrote a lot of music that was performed in the Church. He worked at the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, the most important church in that historic town. In the past, people were very concerned that church music should sound different than secular ("non-church") music.... but it sounds like Monteverdi used some of the same dramatic effects from his operas in his church music. (Compare this music to the first video you listened to this month!)

Week 4

We know that the piano had not yet been invented, so what instruments were common 400 years ago? One of these instruments is the lute, a stringed instrument that is not very common these days.

In this video you'll hear a lute accompanying a singer. This composition by Monteverdi really gives the sing a chance to show off!

Does the lute remind you of any other instruments? How is it similar to/different from a violin or a guitar?

Part 2

To finish the month, let's listen to a video that features many of the things we've focused on this month! In this video we have:

  • A man with a high voice (known as a "Countertenor")

  • Instruments that are not commonly seen today (in this video we see lutes, a cornett, and a hammered dulcimer!)

What do you think of the sound of this very old music? I love playing the piano, but this music from the time before pianos were invented is one my favorite styles of music!

I hope you enjoyed the music of Claudio Monteverdi!

(And don't worry, I don't think he looked quite this scary in real life!)