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Gesualdo: The Man and His Music (Clarendon Paperbacks) Paperback – 5 Dec 1991
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'In a second edition Profesor Glenn Watkins has revised his 1973 book, which was a notable contribution to musicology, and has added a new chapter and epilogue bringing up to date the study of the composer.' Contemporary Review, Dec '91
About the Author
Glenn Watkins is Earl V. Moore Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and author of "Pyramids at the Louvre: Music, Culture, and Collage from Stravinsky to the Postmodernists "(1994), "Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century "(1988), and "Gesualdo: The Man and His Music "(1991). --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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One day in October of 1590 Don Carlo surreptitiously disabled his locks, then accounced that he would set out on a hunt only to creep back in the still of night with his henchmen. The chronicles go into salacious detail about what happened next: About the night-dress Donna Maria asked to be put out on the bed, about the maid posted as sentinel, and the sudden commotion as Don Carlo and his men broke down the doors to find the pair "in flagrante delicto di fragrante peccato", exhausted and asleep after their love-making. There were shots and multiple sword-thrusts, with Don Carlo unable convince himself the job was done until he had cut his victims to ribbons, and had personally skewered his wife to the floor, repeating to himself "I do not believe she is dead". He dragged the bodies out onto the stairs, along with a notice explaining why he'd killed them, for all the town came to gape at next morning. The Duke was still clad in a woman's night-dress, while his lover's "wounds were all in her belly, and especially in those parts which ought to be kept honest".
Neapolitans were riveted, with as many taking the lovers' side as that of their murderer. All the local poets were spurred into song, including the great Torquato Tasso, whose friendship with the protagonists inspried his tear-drenched sonnet "On the Death of Two Most Noble Lovers". Don Carlo's nobility ensured there was no trial, and he quietly withdrew to Ferrara, where he remarried, but only to find himself "assailed and afflicted by a vast horde of demons which gave him no peace unless twelve young men, whom he kept specially for the purpose, were to beat him violently three times a day, during which operation he was wont to smile joyfully."
Don Carlo built a private chapel, completed in 1592. Inside hung a painting depicting the Virgin Mary and saints all pointing to the sinner, Don Carlo, while the fires of purgatory burnt below - out of which angels pull the figures of a man and a woman. Could these be the murdered lovers before which Don Carlo implored forgiveness? His music certainly becomes filled with an obession with themes of guilt, sin, pity, and death - even the joy of love being mixed with a fascination with pain: 'dolorosa gioia', such 'joyous pain' being a typical outburst.
Never has there been a composer with a more macabre background than this, nor yet so muscially so obsessionally fascinating.
Stravinsky began his famous foreword to Glenn Watkins' biography of Gesualdo with the words "musicians may yet save Gesualdo from musicologist, but certainly the latter have had the best of it until now". Watkins makes a wonderful companion through the vertigo inducing chromatic spirals leading into the strange, visionary world of this dark genius. The entire book makes gripping reading not merely for the dark details of his biography but for the profound insights into late Renaissance to early Baroque period in which he dwelled.
So truth indeed is stranger than fiction.