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Claudio Monteverdi, one of the greatest visionaries of music
Like Beethoven some 200 years later, he quickly mastered and exhausted the musical tradition he inherited.
His impact in establishing the nascent form of opera was incalculable, as were his groundbreaking orchestral writing and the countless new textures and effects he devised.

As early as the 1600s, Monteverdi's "modernist" tendencies had been criticized by the very eminent Bolognese theorist, Giovanni Artusi, who published a pamphlet mocking Monteverdi's progressive techniques.

Monteverdi replied in the preface to his Fifth Book of Madrigals assuring his listeners that they could “rest contented in the knowledge that, as regards consonances and dissonances… my point of view is justified by the satisfaction it gives both to the ear and to the intellect” .

Monteverdi was no mere iconoclast who rebelled against tradition, as evidenced by his surviving letters, which reveal a man who cared deeply for his art and was highly sensitive to criticism. His letters also show that the loss of his first wife, Claudia, in 1607 became almost too much for him to bear, and that he took his subsequent parental duties very seriously. It was this, more than anything else, that propelled Monteverdi's genius to such great heights, as he struggled to cope with fatherhood and depression, he found his way out in music.

Born the son of a Cremonese barber-surgeon, Monteverdi began composing as a child and published his first book of motets for three voices in Venice when he was only 15 years old. Two years later he published a volume of canzonette, followed in 1587 by the first of nine books of madrigals (eight published under Monteverdi's supervision, the ninth published posthumously).

This series of successes was crowned by his appointment as violist at the court of Mantua in 1592. It was a more dangerous undertaking than it might seem, because the Duke of Mantua set out to conquer the Turks in 1595 and Monteverdi was forced to accompany him to relieve the morale of the troops.

He survived the various skirmishes and four years later married one of the court singers, Claudia de Cattaneis, with whom he had two sons and a daughter, the latter of whom died in infancy.

By the time he was appointed maestro di cappella at Mantua in 1601, Monteverdi had already established himself as one of the rising stars of Italian music. But it was the publication of the Fourth and Fifth Book of Madrigals, in 1603 and 1605 respectively, that really went around the world.

Academic rules were turned upside down and Monteverdi developed new harmonic progressions that brought words to life like never before. Illicit copies circulated widely, causing excitement among educated musicians of the time.

This initial creative phase culminated with the premiere of Monteverdi's debut opera, L'Orfeo. L'Orfeo goes beyond the Florentine obsession with dry recitative, embracing madrigal, lute chant and all sorts of new orchestral sonorities and theatrical effects.

In one fell swoop, Monteverdi had revolutionized a genre that was still in its infancy. Dramatic situations that previously might have elicited little more than a nod began to seriously engage the audience's emotions.

Music would never be the same again!

There is more

It is said that once, during a performance of his opera L'Orfeo, Monteverdi was so taken with his music that he forgot to conduct the orchestra. The interpreters had to stop and ask him to regain control of the situation. However, when Monteverdi turned to apologize to the orchestra, they gave him thunderous applause, moved by the intensity of his music.

It is a story that has spread over the years through the oral tradition and the literature on the composer. However, references to this anecdote can be found in many biographies of Monteverdi and in his own letters.

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