Claudio Monteverdi (1567 –1643) and Introduction to the Baroque

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 –1643)
Monteverdi was an Italian composer who was so revolutionary for his time, that he is considered to provide the pivot point for transition from Renaissance to Baroque. He was influenced by the Gabrieli’s, and Giovanni Gabriele was influenced by him

He was harmonically revolutionary in that his music led the listener from a sense of leaving “from home” for a tour of harmonic exploration, with growing tension (called “drive to cadence,” to repose in the tonic in the home key.  A cadence literally means to “fall.”  In rhythm it generally refers to the rhythmicallity that lends itself to the “fall” of marching feet.

Monteverdi and later Baroque composers discovered that one could explore “secondary cadences” within the various scale degrees other than the major and final cadence from the chord on the fifth scale degree (or dominant) to that on the first scale degree (or tonic).  Those can be successive descending fifths or ascending fourths which ma proceed through all the scale degrees.  This series of progression, as far as it proceeds is called a “circle of fifths.

Terraced dynamics is another characteristic of Baroque music. The crescendo was not known until after the Baroque period.  Rather, like terrace on hillsides, the dynamics were assigned to phrases or parts of phrases, often alternating loud and soft, with the effect of an echo, as in the antiphonal instrumental music of the Gabrieli’s at St. Mark’s.

During the Baroque era we see music that utilizes chordal progressions within a polyphonic texture consisting of interplay of independent voices. At the end of the Baroque era, polyphony was brought to its refined summit with Johan Sebastian Bach, at a time that polyphony was yielding to homophony. Bach was seen in his day as out of touch with the times. It was not until Mendelssohn rediscovered him much later in the Romantic Period that his genius was recognized.

For performances of Monteverdi’s work, see:
Beatus vir [Blessed is the man], from Selva Morale e Spirituale (Psalm 112:1-10)

This piece is particularly interesting to me for several reasons: because of three short bass fragments repeated throughout which unifies the piece, although the voices above provide variety; because of the deceptive cadence within it; because of the augmented rhythm at the close of the large sections, affecting a rhythmic cadence before repeating the section or before going to new material; because of the clear metric organization in which the piece begins in homophonic 4 meter, moves to an imitative, polyphonic middle section in which the bass fragments are adapted to the new meter which is repeated, as before; because of it’s introduction of the basso continuo; and because it is in clear ABAC form, returning to the original material, and then closing with a section that has some similarity to what has preceded, as though summarizing the entire piece. The deceptive cadence uses the expectation deceives the listener by suspending resolution and gently leading us a little further. The return to the tonic chord is a resolution that finally brings us “home.”

Beatus vir anticipates a number of Baroque devices which would follow: harmonic progression, circle of fifths, clear metrical organization, rhythmic drive, rhythmic and melodic augmentation.

Compare at slower tempos, but with no less drive: , and


Vespro Della Beata Vergine

Vespro della Beata Vergine, 1610

This video begins with a discussion by the conductor of the music and of its spiritual qualities. You will also note an excursion into the circle of fifths.
Lauda Jerusalem, Dominum

For more video recordings of Monteverdi’s work, including secular music, see:…0.0…1ac.8bduy5U2UMo

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