(b Cremona, 1567; d Venice, 1643).
It. composer. Chorister, Cremona Cath. At 16, when he was already a fine organist and viol player, he pubd. some sacred madrigals. Entered service of Duke of Mantua as viol player and singer of madrigals. Went with Duke on military expeditions to Danube and Flanders, 1595 and 1599. Heard and was influenced by Florentine operas of the Camerata, notably Peri's Euridice, 1600. His own first opera, La favola d'Orfeo was prod. in 1607, notable in history of mus. because for the first time the acc. was for a full (by the standards of the time) orch. The following year his Arianna was perf. at a ducal wedding celebration in Mantua; only the Lamento, which was immediately popular, survives. He left Cremona after the death of the Duke in 1612 and in 1613 became Master of Mus. of the Venetian Republic. For St Mark's, Venice, he composed a superb stream of sacred works which spread his fame throughout Europe. He received a visit from Schütz and his works were studied by M. Praetorius in Ger., Mersenne in Fr., and Tomkins in Eng. 12 of the operas he had written in Mantua were destroyed there in 1630 when it was sacked by Austrian troops. In the same year the plague ravaged Venice; the combination of these catastrophes probably accounts for Monteverdi's admission to holy orders in 1632. When the first opera house, San Cassiano, was opened in Venice in 1637, Monteverdi's interest in opera was re‐kindled and for the remaining 6 years of his life he comp. a series of works of which only 2 survive.
Monteverdi's place in the history of Renaissance mus. can be justly compared to Shakespeare's in literature. Working from traditional beginnings, he transformed every genre in which he worked by imaginative use of available styles rather than by revolutionary means. His madrigals cover a period of 40 years, from publication of the 1st book in 1589 to the 8th in 1638 (the 9th was pubd. posthumously in 1651). He soon introduced instr. accs., and chromatic modulations, and the dramatic nature of the mus. foreshadows the solo cantata and operatic recit., culminating in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624) which is a miniature opera in style, acc. by str. and employing descriptive effects.
His sacred mus. veered between elaborate traditional polyphony and an advanced concerted style in which elements from his secular madrigals and operas lend colour and drama to the text, as in the famous Vespers comp. for Mantua in 1610. The operas take the Florentine melodramatic and monodic form and embellish it with all that he learned from It. madrigalists and Fr. composers. They are, in effect, the first mus. dramas, making use of what came to be known as leitmotiv and deploying many startling dramatic devices. They are also the first operas in which the characters are recognizably human rather than symbolic figures. Above all, the melodic genius and fertility of his mus. and its harmonic adventurousness are what make it so attractive and ‘contemporary’ in the 20th cent. Naturally, the scores present many musicological problems; their solution by various eds. has caused considerable disagreement among students of the period. Prin. works: