Topic: ArtMusic

Last updated: February 9, 2020

A crucial trans-mutational figure of the 17th century was Claudio Monteverdi. An Italian composer, choirmaster and string player born on May 5th, 1567 in Cremona, Italy. Monteverdi composed a book of madrigals by the time he was 17. At age 24, he became a musician in the court of Mantova, where he eventually became music director. By his mid-40s, he would be the most celebrated composer in Italy.

Meanwhile, around the year 1600, a group of Florentine intellectuals introduced their fledgling concept of opera, an imitation of ancient Greek drama. In 1607, Monteverdi took this rudimentary approach and turned it on its head with, arguably, the first true opera, “L’Orfeo.” He wrote both secular and sacred music, was a pioneer in the development of opera and was one of the masters of the madrigal. His revolutionary debut defied all existing musical convention. His work, considered ground-breaking, manifested the revolution from the Renaissance form of music thereto of the Baroque period. https://www.opera-online.

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com/en/items/works/lorfeo-monteverdi-striggio-1607 One among the foremost important characteristics of the early Baroque style was a shift from a polyphonic texture to a homophonic texture. Prima practica was described as the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing strict counterpoint, prepared dissonance and equality of voices. Seconda practica used a lot of freer counterpoint with an increasing hierarchy of voices emphasizing soprano and bass. In Prima practica the harmony controls the words. In Second practica the words should be in control of the harmonics.

Others called the two practices “stile antico” and “stile moderno” meaning old and modern style. This was signified by the new style of monody, which was used in order to express the meaning and emotional power of the words. However, this only was achieved by abandoning the elaborate polyphony and returning to some sort of texture reminiscent of Greek monody, which ultimately led to the invention of early Baroque monody. Monteverdi also introduced the shift away from the choral vocal style to a soloistic vocal practice and the system known as bass continuo which provided a foundation over which a vocal or instrumental melody could unfold.

The virtuosity of trained singers and the ability of a soloist to more effectively communicate the emotion of the text led composers away from the choral madrigal toward a type of solo madrigal and eventually to opera. Monteverdi’s operatic approach also resembles modern song, with its use of a prominent single melody line and chordal accompaniment for colour and background. He exploited dynamics and dissonance to convey human emotion in ways that dazzled audience. Soloists were now able to add their own elements of dramatic presentation, such as gesture, vocal styling and facial expressions to communicate the mood more effectively since being freed from the restraints of an ensemble. Since a soloist, unlike an ensemble, cannot generate a harmonic support for their melodic line, the practice of using a basso continuo came into play as a means of accompaniment. Around the turn of the century, the practice of “figuring” the bass came into common practice, allowing the keyboard, lute, or harp player to improvise the harmonic structure instead of being burdened with reading a cumbersome score written for multiple instruments.

This practice allowed the basso continuo to be the ideal accompaniment for the new recitative-type style. Which led to one of the most significant changes in all music history: the institution of major-minor tonality. Most music from the Renaissance were composed strictly in modes, that largely relied on these main chords the tonic, predominant and the dominant. Each chord could assume its function in the movement between keys, governed by tonality, that helped shape a musical structure.

With the coming of this development, the thrust to the tonic became the most powerful force in music. Rhythm, supported by systematic harmonic progressions within the 16th-century tonal system, had become moderately steady and predictable by the end of the century, even in the polyphonic style of Palestrina. Additionally, the bar lines in the modern editions of the works of this era don’t seem to be an intrusion.

Composers were able to develop forms of instrumental music larger than had ever been known. Monteverdi’s brilliance is equally apparent in his non-theatrical works. His books of madrigals epitomize the evolution of Renaissance to Baroque.


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