Stravinsky and Gesualdo’s Mo(nu)ment[1]



Claudia Vincis and Paolo Dal Molin



                       Even at the time of Rake’s Progress, little was known of the works of Carlo Gesualdo. If the darkest and most mysterious secrets of the murderer/madrigalist’s adventurous biography were the object of centuries of constant attention, the rigorous study of his oeuvre came only after 350 years of misunderstandings. In fact, numerous early twentieth century revivals of composers and genres of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries depended notoriously on a fortuitous convergence of research, musical production, performance and composition. Something similar can be seen with the “Prince of Venosa”. His modern ‘cult’ goes back to the beginning of the ‘fifties, when collection of documents began for the two musicological undertakings which disseminated it, the edition of Sämtliche Werke (SW)[2] and Gesualdo. The Man and his Music.[3] The first replaced the few existing sporadic anthologies, and finally rivaled such initiatives as the monumenta of the Istituto Italiano per la Storia della Musica[4]; the second - the labor of one of the curators of the complete works - still remains today the principal book of reference.


                        Igor Stravinsky culminated his own visitation of Gesualdo - which will be the subject of this study - with the completion of three motets of the Sacrarum cantionum liber primus of six and seven voices, that is, the Illumina nos (1957), the Da pacem Domine and Assumpta est Maria (1959), and with the re-composition of three madrigals in the Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD Annum (1960) - Asciugate i begli occhi (book V, VIV), Ma tu, cagion di quella (second part of Poiché l’avida sete; book V, XVIII) and Beltà, poi che t’assenti (book VI, II).  It is convenient first of all to go back to the occasions of his encounters with Gesualdo, and the sources and the literature that engaged him. The writings, signed or co-signed by Robert Craft and Stravinsky - both initiated readers of Gesualdo (the High Fidelity edition of September of 1961 did not exaggerate when it presented Craft as “our prime authority on Carlo Gesualdo of Venosa”) - and the documents conserved in the Igor Stravinsky Collection of the Paul Sacher Stiftung of Basel (PSS)[5] allow us to confirm those facts that Erik Walter White and Roman Vlad have spoken of in well researched listings.[6]

                       As others would tend to conclude, it is easy to observe that Stravinsky’s thoughts on Gesualdo’s original text became explicit in this re-elaboration. (By now however, such correct and well-considered judgments are like a circulating form ready to be filled out and signed.) We have therefore attempted to illustrate the Stravinskian means and the ends, comparing its assumptions with the image of Gesualdo in the American and imported German musicology of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. It is therefore not expected for this examination of Monumentum and the Tres sacrae cantiones to (by means of catch-all categories) retrace Stravinsky’s interventions on the originals back to a record of operations and so to refine their lack of systematicality or enlighten the analytical naivety of our historical approach. Neither is it our intention to pursue the umpteenth funambulesque comparison between the Gesualdo-Stravinsky works and that postmodern carousel which, despite the composer’s intentions, has become Pulcinella. It has seemed more urgent for us to elucidate the passages in the writings and the conversations concerning Gesualdo (indicated henceforth by the alphanumeric acronyms in Table 1) so that finally the essentials would be placed in perspective.


A  Robert Craft, preface to Don Carlo Gesualdo, Illumina nos. From the book of ‘Sacrae Cantiones’ for six and seven voices. The missing parts composed by Igor Stravinsky, London, Boosey and Hawkes, 1957. Implicit bibliography: see C (Einstein, Gray-Heseltine, Vatielli and La Polifonia Cinquecentesca e i Primordi del Secolo XVII commented by Pannain).

B  Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft, “Gesualdo,” Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, New York, Doubleday, London, Faber & Faber, 1959, pp. 32-34.  This text was clearly edited before the summer of 1959. 

C  Robert Craft, ‘Gesualdo (Don) Carlo, principe di Venosa,’ Encyclopédie Fasquelle de la Musique, vol. II, edited by François Michel with the collaboration of François Lesure and Vladamir Fédorov, Paris, Fasquelle, 1959. Catalogue of the works in the entry (titles have been standardized):

- Sacred vocal music: Sacrarum cantionum liber primus. 5vv (Naples, 1603); Sacrarum cantionum liber primus, 6, 7vv (Naples, 1603); Responsoria et alia ad Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae 6vv (Naples, 1611) including the Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel and «1 messe» [mistaken for the Miserere mei, Deus]; In te, Domine, speravi. 4vv (Salmi delle compiete de diversi musici napoletani, Naples, 1620).

- Secular vocal music beyond the six books of madrigals: All’ombra degl’allori, canzonetta, 5vv and Come vivi cor mio, canzonetta, 5vv (Pomponio Nenna, Ottavo Libro de’Madrigali a 5, Naples, 161811); «1 de madrigaux à 6v. (VII[XVIII], 1626) [Madrigali, 6vv, ed. M Effrem (Napoli 1626)]; il ne reste que le quintus de ce volume, au Lic. Mus. de Bologne [1 of the six-voice madrigals… ; only the quintus remains of this volume, at the Lic. Mus. of Bologna]». - Instrumental: Canzon francese, in 4 voices, for keyboard (GB-Lbl Add. 30491). Sources pointed out in the entry: editions of the six books of madrigals (Ferrara, 1594a 1594b 1595 1596; Gesualdo 1611a 1611b; Genova 1613) and collection of letters of Gesualdo, Alfonso Fonatanelli, Leonora d’Este conserved at the State Archives of Modena.  Modern Editions: SW i-VII. La Polifonia Cinquecentesca e i Primordi del Secolo XVII. Musica Sacra e Spirituale di Gian Domenico Montella, Giov. Maria Trabaci, Carlo Gesualdo, edited by Guido Pannain, Milan, Ricordi, 1934 (L’Oratorio dei Filippini e la Scuola Musicale di Napoli Volume I; Istituzioni e Monumenti dell’Arte Musicale Italiana, Vol. V). Bibliography: Ferdinand Keiner, Die Madrigale Gesualdos von Venosa, Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel, 1914.  Cecil Gray, Philippe Heseltine, Carlo Gesualdo: Prince of Venosa, Musician and Murderer, London, Paul Kegan Trench Trubner, 1926. Francesco Vatielli, Il principe di Venosa e Leonora d’Este, Milan, F.lli Bocca, 1941.  Alfred Einstein, The Italian Madrigal, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1949, 3 vol, pp. 688-717.  Remo Giazotto, ‘Poesia del Tasso in morte di Maria Gesualdo,’ Rassegna Musicale, XVIII (1948), pp.15-28.  George Ruffin Marshall, The Harmonic Laws in the Madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo, Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, December 1955 [dated in January of 1956; “Univ. of Michigan, 1957” is a mistake].  Discography: «Quatre disques ont été enregistrés par Columbia sous la direction de l’auteur de cet article [Four discs were recorded by Columbia under the direction of the author of this article]» - see footnote 10 in this article the discs (a) to (d).

D  Robert Craft, preface to Carlo Gesualdo di Venosa (1560-1613), Tres Sacrae Cantiones, Completed by Igor Stravinsky, London, Boosey & Hawkes, 1960. This text corresponds in large part, except for some revision, to writing A. 

E  Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft, ‘Chromaticism’, Memories and Commentaries, New York, Doubleday, London, Faber & Faber; 1960, pp. 115-17.  Implicit bibliography: Edward E. Lowinsky, Secret chromatic art in the Netherlands motet, translated from the German by Carl Buchman, New York, Columbia University Press, 1946 [PSS IS B 1157]. Edward E. Lowinsky, ‘Adrian Willaert’s Chromatic Duo’ Re-Examined’, Tijdschrift voor Muziekwetenschap, XVIII (1956-1959), pp. 1-36 [PSS IS A 27].  Edward E. Lowinsky, ‘Matthaeus Gretier’s ‘Fortuna’: An Experiment in Chromaticism and in Musical Iconography,’ The Musical Quarterly, XLII/4 (1956), pp. 500-519 and XLIII/1 (1957), pp. 68-85.

F  Igor Stravinsky, preface to Edward E. Lowinsky, Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music, Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1961 (H, 106-108).  Dated Hollywood, January 27,1961. [PSS IS B 90].  Stravinsky’s text mentions many passages of Lowinsky’s  in the following order: chapter 1 ‘Frottola and Villancico’ with reference to p. 14; chapter VI ‘Tonality in Dance Music’ citing from p. 66; chapter IV ‘Floating Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music’ with reference to pp. 46-50; chapter VII ‘Tonality and Statistics’ citing from p. 74; chapter V ‘Consolidation of Tonality in Balletto and Lute Ayre’ citing from p. 61; chapter II ‘From Dunstable to Josquin and Palestrina’ with reference to p.15; chapter I citing from p. 14; chapter II with reference to p. 26; chapter VI citing from p. 70.

G  Robert Craft, ‘The Murderous Prince of Madrigalists,’ High Fidelity, 11/9 (September 1961), pp. 54-56, 130-131.

H  Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft, Expositions and Developments, New York, Doubleday, London, Faber & Faber, 1962, pp. 104-108.  A previous version of the dialogue appeared in the concert program of the world premiere of Monumentum (Venice, Festival Internazionale di Musica Contemporanea della Biennale, September 27, 1960).

I  Igor Stravinsky, ‘Gesualdo di Venosa: New Perspectives,’ preface to Glenn Watkins, Gesualdo The Man and His Music, London, Oxford University Press, 1973, dated Hollywood, 7 March 1968 and already published in Retrospectives and Conclusions, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1969, pp.107-116. 

Table 1: List of the writings and conversations of Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft entirely dedicated to, or with notable passages about, Carlo Gesualdo, excluding the press releases signed by Craft for Sunset, Columbia and Odyssey records (citation, [commentary], explicit or implicit bibliography and call-numbers of the musicological literature archived in the Igor Stravinsky Collection of the Paul Sacher Stiftung).  


On the West Coast


My own passion dates from a chance view of a friend’s transcription of Aestimatus Sum.  Seeking further examples, I learned that only a few pieces existed in modern reprint and that these few were to be found badly edited, defunct publications. The Library of Congress owned the 1613 complete score edition, however, and this could be microfilmed and rewritten in a more familiar notation.  I did just that, and during a period of about a year, “transcribing” Gesualdo became a suspense-charged late-night diversion (R. Craft, G).

                       Beginning in 1954 the Southern California Chamber Music Society offered the city of Los Angeles its famous Monday Evening Concerts directed until 1971 by Lawrence Morton.[7] Evolved from the Evenings on the Roof (1939-1954), to which Stravinsky dedicated the Three songs from William Shakespeare on the occasion of the sixteenth and final series, the new Monday concerts re-proposed the well-worn formula of the cross-section programs: contemporary music (with numerous premières), standard repertoire (Bach cantatas above all) and ‘pre-classic’ literature (even better if unknown).[8] At least in the program of the first three seasons, the pioneering performances of the Gesualdo Madrigalists by Robert Craft[9] (then transformed into a recording project,[10] parallel initially to that of the complete works of Anton Webern[11]) figures, along with Machaut, Crecquillon, Obrect, Josquin, Tallis, Monteverdi, and others.


September 20, 1954: Dylan Thomas Memorial Program (authors and titles as in the concert program).

Andrea Gabrieli, Ricercare del 12° tono; Henry Purcell, Funeral Music for Queen Mary (March, Anthem, Canzona); Adrian Willaert, Ricercar for Instruments; Heinrich Schütz, Symphonia Sacra: “Fili mi, Absalon”; Carlo Gesualdo, Six Madrigals for five voices (Moro lasso, Itene o miei sospiri, Io tacero, Invan dunque o crudele, Luci serene e chiare, Dolcissima mia vita); A word about Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) [by] Aldous Huxley; Three Poems by Dylan Thomas, recorded by himself (Poem in October, In My Craft or Sullen Art, Do not go gentle into that good night); Igor Stravinsky, In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (Dirge-Canon and Song, “Do not go gentle into that good night”), first performance; Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata no.106: “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”.


October 17, 1955[12]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Trio in C major, K 549; Carlo Gesualdo, Five Madrigals (Dolcissima mia vita, O dolorosa gioia, Tu m’uccidi o crudele, Ecco moriro dunque, Moro lasso); Some comments on the Court of Ferrara and Gesualdo [by] Aldous Huxley; Carlo Gesualdo, Five Madrigals (Ardita zanzaretta, Tu piangi, Ardo per te, Meraviglia d’amore, Itene o miei sospiri); Renaissance Instrumental Music (Josquin Des Pres, Royal Fanfare ; Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Canzona ; Heinrich Isaac, Canonic song; Henry Purcell, Funeral Music for the Queen Mary; Andra Gabrieli, Ricercar).


February 4,1957

Compere, Missa Alles Regrets ; Stockhausen, Music for 5 Wind Instruments ; Verg, Canon on a Schoenberg Tone Row ; Gagliano, Madrigals for 5 voices ; Gesualdo, Responses for 6 voices, Bach, Cantata No 152:“Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn”.[13]




          All of the madrigals in the pageant in memory of Dylan Thomas (none of which were repeated the following year) were published in a widely circulated edition by Wilhelm Weismann (8 Madrigale für fünfstimmigen Chor, Leipzig, Peters, 1931), later the editor of the first six volumes of the Sämtliche Werke.[14] For the second festival Craft and Morton prepared a transcription of books four, five and six following the example of the Partitura delli sei libri de’ madrigali a cinque voci (Genova, Pavoni, 1613) preserved at the Library of Congress in Washington.[15] Ruth Adams, a musician and student at the University of California - photographed with Stravinsky in the control room of the Radio Recorders of Los Angeles during a recording of the madrigal ensemble in May of 1955[16] - was working on the Responsoria.


         Some vague information on performance practice is found in the preface to Glen Watkins’ Gesualdo where he took or molded the opinions of the gran notabili in clarification of the adopted criteria, and thus in support of the validity of the result. The madrigals were performed a cappella and without embellishments, not with full but sotto voce, and with dynamic gradation searching for such perfect intonation as would justify the bold dissonance - as Zarlino, Cerone, Mazzocchi and Padre Martini (I, viii-ix) would have reported, prescribed or deduced.  Even in the terminological confusion an ideal of clarity is expressed here which few among the most talented singers throughout Los Angeles could possibly pursue. Marilyn Horne - the diva to whom Stravinsky would later dedicate his Two Sacred Songs of Hugo Wolf (1968), and invited by Paul Hindemith to sing the most noted madrigal of the Prince, at the Festival of Vienna with Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry and others - wrote to Morton on February 24 of 1957: «Can’t you just hear all our vibrati swinging against each other when we should be singing a heavenly well-tuned Gesualdo chord.»[17]






          Stravinsky was excited about the “Prince of Venosa” at least from 1952 (A), one year earlier than the Gesualdo Madrigalists began rehearsing in his residence in Hollywood.[18]  The idea of recomposing some madrigals must have occurred at the latest in 1954 (H, 104) on the evidently too restricted scale of the Peters’ 8 Madrigali.  It was then taken up again in 1959 when the Sämtliche Madrigale für fünf Stimmen (SW I-VI) had been in circulation for two years, although the transcriptions of the last three books of Morton and Craft’s work had already been in circulation for four. In the meantime the composer and assistant entered into possession of a considerable part, if not all, of the sacred opus of Gesualdo.(A) Fourteen of the nineteen Sacrae cantiones for five voices (Naples, Costantino Vitale, 1603) were found in a modern edition in the first volume of L’Oratorio dei Filippini e la Scuola musicale di Napoli edited by Guido Pannain.[19] In 1959 the photocopies arrived of the remaining five motets from Italy and of the Responsoria et alia (Gesualdo, Gian Giacomo Carlino, 1611), and, in the fall of the next year, of the Sacrae cantiones for 6 and 7 voices (Naples, Costantino Vitali, 1603).[20] (A) As Pannain had warned, the Filippini copy of the Vitali printing was missing the books for the sextus and bass parts which were irretrievably lost. 


          For the occasion of the concert at the Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice on September 13,1956 which was the premiere of Canticum sacrum, Stravinsky thought of including the Illumina nos in six voices completed ex novo.[21] Alessandro Piovesan, director of  the  Festival Internazionale di Musica Contemporanea of the Biennale,[22] was however, not

persuaded by the proposal. The work on the «Sacra Cantione» then became delayed but not the visit to the «unpicturesquely squalid» town of Gesualdo. (A)[23] In June of the following year, the month of the inauguration of the Gesualdo complete works, Boosey & Hawkes printed the Illumina nos (“the missing parts composed by Stravinsky” who had completed them in Hollywood on May the 5th) with an invaluable introduction by Craft.[24]


          Preparing the ninth volume of the complete works the young and adventurous musicologist Glenn Watkins noted in the compilation two single pieces: the canonic motets Da pacem Domine and Assumpta est Maria.[25] This must have been in the spring of 1959. The discovery (or, rather, the confirmation) of Gesualdo’s attempt at the standard par excellence of speculative music - i.e. the canon - was destined to erase any suspicions of contrapuntal inexperience: the frontispiece of the seventeenth-century printing, which Pannain had already edited in semi-diplomatic transcription, also contained a significant clin d’oeilsingulari artificio compositae, summa aurium animorumque oblectatione concinuntur»).[26] Watkins wrote to Craft[27] and the first response was a letter of congratulations which, without doubt, met his expectations; having deduced the second part according to the prescription, it remained to invent the bass.[28] That Stravinsky could have burdened himself with this remained likely but not certain for the next two months. Three weeks had not passed from sending the transparencies with the transcribed parts and the resolved canons,[29] to the 27th or 28th of September when in Venice, the two motets were completed.[30]


          Shortly thereafter Stravinsky undertook the final pilgrimage to the sites of the Prince’s dynasty, to the D’Este Library of Modena and to Ferrara (the cities in which Gesualdo stayed between 1594 and 1597), then to Naples where he conducted a concert at the Teatro San Carlo before returning to Venice. In that autumn he ordered volumes IV, V and VI of the Weismann edition which were delivered to him in November.[31] Looking over to the two last of them again on February of 1960, the project of the re-elaboration of the madrigals finally took form (H,104). By the 20th, writing to Mario Labroca,[32] Stravinsky spoke of the Monumentum as if it were complete and proposed its absolute premiere for the Biennale’s Festival of the following autumn.[33] The homage to Gesualdo was performed the 27th of September 1960 (four years after the misunderstanding about the Neapolitan with the late Piovesan) together with the Symphony of Psalms as well as the Opus 6 of Anton Webern and Alban Berg which Craft conducted in the first part of the concert.  Two months later George Balanchine presented a choreography of them at the New York City Ballet.[34]


         For the occasion of the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Gesualdo (1560)[35] the Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum. Three madrigals recomposed for instruments and the set of the Tres sacrae cantiones. Completed by Igor Stravinsky[36] were finally published by Boosey and Hawkes with a new preface by Craft.[37] Stravinsky himself asked the London publisher to lay out the titles in new modern printing in the same «luxury of engraved frontispieces and decorative frames» which Gesualdo demanded from Vitale and Carlino to emulate «the splendor of the ducal printer [of Ferrara]» (Figures 1-3).[38]



From the “Musician and Murderer” to the “Man and his Music”.


         The coincidence of the Stravinsky-Gesualdo encounter, the programs of the Monday Evening Concerts, the Gesualdo records directed by Craft, and the Sämtliche Werke has finally been cleared up: the works ‘d‘après Gesualdo’ evidently originated at the heart of a  manifold development. When Stravinsky began the Monumentum, not only were there two complete editions of the madrigals, but in particular the genre counted a number of studies, some of indisputably authoritative quality. Without doubt the most advanced of these until the ‘60s was the chapter on Gesualdo in The Italian Madrigal by Alfred Einstein (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1949, 3 vol.) and the dissertation of George Ruffin Marshall, a pupil of Gustave Reese, entitled The Harmonic Laws in the Madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo (New York University, December 1955). Einstein’s monumental study was the source of many shared beliefs about text setting, form and mannerism in the music of Gesualdo, although Craft only explicitly cited one of its secondary comments on sacred works.(A)  Marshall’s thesis, listed in the bibliography of the Encyclopédie Fasquelleentry (C), pointed to the madrigal’s neglected counterpoint.






Figure 1: Frontispiece of the Printing of the Sacrarum cantionum liber primus for six and seven voices

(Naples, Costantino Vitale, 1603)






Figure 2: Frontispiece of the Tres sacrae cantiones (London, Boosey & Hawkes, 1960).



Figura 3: Frontispiece of the Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa (London, Boosey & Hawkes, 1960)


                   The research on the sacred output did not in fact make any progress beyond the fifth volume of the Istituzioni e Monumenti dell’Arte Musicale Italiana (see above). Since Pannain  certainly would have abstained from transcribing an incomplete text and, in any case, turned to the subject twenty years later, it was Stravinsky and his entourage who were the first to lay hands on the Responsoria and the Sacrarum cantionum liber primus for six and seven voices.[39] With the publication of the Illumina nos by Boosey & Hawkes (1957) and the commission for the second of three volumes directed by François Michel the opportunity presented itself to reveal the state of the art. In his essentially biographical article for the Fasquelle (C), Craft devoted a quite original paragraph to the Responsoria. He was not the first to write on the complete collection, seeing that Ruth Adams’s thesis, The Responsoria of Carlo Gesualdo (University of California, Los Angeles, 1957), dated from two years earlier; yet he would certainly have reached a much broader public. After presenting some clues on the sources and their delayed examination, the introduction to the seven-voice motet (A)[40] dwelled on the circumstances which saw Stravinsky as a protagonist in the exhumation of the Illumina nos (if not simply of all the six- and seven-voice motets) and led to the Columbia recording.[41]  Needless to say that the role of Morton and the catalysm of Craft himself were all obscured to the complete advantage of the Maestro. In the ensuing writings the more anecdotal contents were dismissed and the memorial value exalted (that is the homage of the great contemporary figure to one of the great historic composers), while no echo remained of the spirit of discovery and the atmosphere of renaissance. (B and D)


          Further to the editions by Pannain and Weismann, Einstein and Marshall’s studies, and the consultation with Ruth Adams, Craft and Stravinsky collected what was for the time, a relatively exhaustive corpus of Gesualdian literature from Cecil Gray and Philippe Heseltine’s ambiguous monograph Carlo Gesualdo: Prince of Venosa, Musician and Murderer (London, Paul Kegan Trench Trubner, 1926[42]) to Francesco Vatielli’s booklet Il principe di  Venosa e Leonora d’Este (Milano, F.lli Bocca, 1941).[43]  On the first of December 1955 Stravinsky ordered a copy of the doctoral thesis of the Riemannian Ferdinand Keiner, Die Madrigale Gesualdos von Venosa (Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel, 1914),[44] which was an essential reading for various generations of scholars, with an impressive number of (rather questionable) transcriptions.  Books and specific articles went side by side with numerous other musicological studies such as the famous Secret Chromatic Art in the Netherlands Motet (New York, Columbia University Press, 1946)[45] and Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music (Berkeley-Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1961),[46] both among the works of Edward Elias Lowinsky, one highly annotated by Craft, the other prefaced by Stravinsky.


                        This sector of Stravinsky’s library appeared to be always updated from constantly renewed attention or by generous recognition from other scholars in sending complementary copies of their work.  From the imposing article which Weismann published at the conclusion of his editorial work, through to the influential Gesualdo ovvero assassinio a cinque voci: storia tragica italiana del secolo XVI di Alberto Consiglio (Napoli, Berisio, 1967), it reaches the monograph Gesualdo. The Man and His Music (London, Oxford University Press, 1973). Stravinsky not only wrote the preface of Watkins’ book, dated Hollywood, March 7, 1968, but had followed its genesis from afar.[47]


         It is worth noting that, Aldous Huxley, Stravinsky’s «walking encyclopedia» in the American period/years before 1963, and also himself an enthusiastic Gesualdian of the moment, was one of the protagonists of the events of the 16th and 17th of October of 1955 and translated the texts of the madrigals for the concerts and the records as well as some paragraphs from Vatielli’s volume.[48]  Charged with the reconstruction of the contexts and the psychological profile of the musician, the writer delved into a fairly extensive article in 1956 (“Gesualdo: Variations on a Musical Theme”),[49] a series of data and comments which he had already presented in the public conferences and in some letters.[50] Scholarship apart, the writing is strongly indebted to Gray-Heseltine, Vatielli and Einstein. Moreover it confirms the old prejudices on the art of a troubled man and contains quite a grotesque and contemporizing preamble which almost makes one long for the genuine meschalinic associations between Gesualdo and late Schoenberg found in The Doors of Perception (1954).




«Composing Instrumental Translations»


         In the list of Stravinsky’s works from the new edition of the Grove, Monumentum appears with Pulcinella and the Greeting Prelude to Happy Birthday among the orchestral works (along with the Concerto, Movements etc.) instead of the ‘arrangements’ such as the Choral-Variationen über das Weihnachtslied ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her’, the Tres sacrae cantiones, the Two Sacred Songs of the Spanisches Liederbuch of Hugo Wolf and the last unpublished Four Preludes and Fugues of the Wohltemperiertes Clavier.[51]  The catalographic distinction between the three madrigals «recomposed for instruments» and, for example, the Bachian Bearbeitung von Einige canonische Veränderungen depends upon internal criteria.[52] The level of elaboration of the original is in no way inferior In the latter but the many readings of Weismann’s diplomatic transcription (the score, the common time signature “C”, and the note values are those of the Molinaro printing), which Stravinsky modernized in a coherent way, are re-barred, re-metered, compressed, and cut or developed with new inserts.

           Nevertheless, the transcription for instruments is a salient aspect of the Monumentum and imposed certain criteria in the selection of the originals from the last three books of madrigals. Since Stravinsky wanted to work with a potentially “transliterative” model which would not require the least modification whatever to render stylistically instrumental what was not so, there was an absence of any type of specifically vocal rhythmic profile (successions of sixteenths or combinations with rapid values) to limit the number of suitable madrigals. The various combinations of the ensemble resources were employed to individuate the parts of the form and the alternation of types of writing.  Except for certain exceptions, the results, if still not the intentions, are plain to see, and not at all unusual. Operating instead on lower formal levels, the orchestration often brings the texture and voice leading into a new layering.

         The transcription for winds and strings of the madrigals omits the text, the basis and assurance of the formal logic, that is,  the  correlation  between  the  poetic  and  musical structure.[53] A historical justification arose a posteriori in Otto Kinkeldey, probably via Watkins: 

I mentioned this quote from Kinkeldey to Mr. Stravinsky and promised to send him a copy. The idea that contrasting fast-polyphonic, slow-homophonic style implies instruments is perhaps a bit naive, but the quote from Doni, as well as K[inkeldey]’s additional comments elicits interest – particularly to the Gabrielian sound, which all of us must have been struck with in Stravinsky’s Monumentum.[54]


                         In spite of this, and in the light of the conviction of Gesualdo’s poetic selections and techniques of text setting, Stravinsky would not have missed noticing the specific articulation and exegesis in the music of the text provided in the originals. The correspondence of poetry and music was summarily assumed in the ‘fifties, as is proven in numerous inventories of musical-poetical oxymorons and antitheses (which - even before distinguishing phases of Gesualdo’s madrigal output, and if facile equations were not drawn between the constant sound pictures and the joy or pain of the musicians -  contained a germ of awkwardly expressed truth). [55] Stravinsky and Craft considered these parallels «conventional insipidities» (I,vi) in the same way as Huxley, who in the 1956 article had detailed the reasons for his own opinion. Taking out certain findings from previous musicology to add others, similar points of incorrect but penetrating criticism - as some sympathetic readers maintained - could have been written thirty years earlier. The inspiring source was the second part of the 1926 monograph on Carlo Gesualdo which was more ambiguously moderate than the first part in its neuro-psychiatric account. Its author, Philippe Heseltine, was no less than the noted composer under the pseudonym of Peter Warlock, a friend whom Huxley portrayed in the youthful Antic Hay.[56] The conciliatory digressions on the poetics of alienation, the consensual catch-all of formalists and postmodernists, could, this time, be based on first hand intuition and produced through the effort of listening for echoes of the Monday Evening Concerts repertoire among the sonorities of Monumentum.[57]


                        The openings of the three movements are especially exemplary. In the first, the distinction of the two homogeneous instrumental groups (the winds f against the strings p) covers the heptameter Asciugate i begli occhi [Dry your beautiful eyes] and its partial repetition differently. Following the same principle Stravinsky crudely splits the second verse (Deh, cor mio, non pian-/gete [come, dear heart, weep not]) and its repetition, which are orchestrated symmetrically, except for dynamics and expression. The incipit of Ma tu, cagion di quella atroce pena [But you, the cause of that atrocious pain], instead reunites some of the centrifugal motions (such as the redistribution of the vocal lines in distinct octave registers, sometimes obsessively alternated) which are clearly responsible for the departure from the model. The original voice leading is placed below a typically Stravinskian diffraction in the same instruments or in diverse timbres.[58] It is therefore of little importance to know if Stravinsky saw in Ma tu, cagion the application of a specific type of harmonic progression.[59] In fact, the re-composition tampers with the texture of the chords, i.e. the movement of the major sixth to the octave (Ma tu, cagion) and tenth to the octave (tu, cagion) in oboe parts I and II and bassoon I, obtaining in the later an unlikely Gesualdian line (see Example 1, mm. 1-2).  Finally in the transcription of the first four measures of the third madrigal, Beltà, poi che t’assenti (see Example 2), the timbral contrast of the two homogeneous and separated instrumental groups, as in Asciugate i begli occhi, seems to especially illustrate the manner of reading of Gesualdo’s work circulated throughout the ‘70s. In this way the last movement is properly selected as a clear example of an age-old misunderstanding.[60] Certainly the composer could not imagine that the original intonation of the heptameter would imply the sequence g-E -D -G -D 6-G = F# (with the internal chords raised by a semitone), as, according to Dahlhaus[61] on the other hand, would have been easy to clarify. At worst, he would have brought the sequence g-E-D-G-D6-F#6  back to a combination of those “patterns” which Watkins would indicate more clearly than his predecessors, though continuing to read them ”elliptically” and neglecting the text-music relationship.[62] In reality not only does the original become fragmented placing the so-called “color” in relief without twisting the voice leading of the part as in Ma tu, cagion, but two convergent effects were pursued above all: a particular division of the acoustic space and a variant of the rhythmic effect. Herein lies the interest of the Stravinskian intervention, namely in these marginalia of interpretive concern.[63]




Example 1: Monumentum; II, beginning, (Ma tu, cagion)

Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD Annum – Igor Stravinsky © 1960 by Hawkes & Son (London) Ltd. US copyright renewed Reproduced by permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.