Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was an Italian composer who suffered from terrible insanity for the entire duration of his life. Born in 1566, he lived for 57 years - during which time he produced music that was, in its structure and attitude, hundreds of years ahead of its time. Apart from the most radical of musical scholars and composers, most dismissed his work as the delirious ramblings of a lunatic.
In 1586 he married his first cousin - Donna Maria d'Avalos, the daughter of the Marquis of Pescara. She had a reputation for being the most beautiful woman in the whole region, and this being Italy it wasn't long before she was attracting suitors. She had an affair which lasted two years, which became common knowledge in the town - and when Gesualdo heard of the rumours he hatched a plan: he had wooden replicas made of the castle keys, and pretended to go out hunting. Returning deliberately early, he caught his wife in bed with her lover and killed them both, leaving their bodies in public view by way of revenge. He then committed a typically twisted infanticide - beginning to doubt the parentage of his son, he had him put on a swing and rocked vigorously while a five person choir sang his songs of death. It took his son three days and nights on the swing to die.
Being a nobleman, he could not be prosecuted - but his own conscience was to punish him far more deeply; he became a recluse and ordered his servants to whip him daily for extended periods of time. He is believed to have died from infected wounds caused by these beatings.
Werner visits the derelict castle where he lived, and tries to let his music, the people he encounters, and the locations capture the elusive spirit of this most unusual of men; the castle is believed by the locals to be haunted, and there is a long-evolved tradition of superstition regarding his life and the place he lived - they regard him as a devil. Looking out at the vista from the ruins, we are told by one of them that the huge expanse had once all been forest - Gesualdo himself cut all the trees down; it took him months. Contrast this to the beauty of his music, and it's easy to see why Werner was attracted to the man as a subject.
This piece is relatively short at just under an hour, and naturally shows up Herzog's interest in music much more than his usual films (although the soundtracks in all of his films are memorable); the central subject is a musician after all! There are extended performances of his madrigals, and rather scholarly expositions by lovers of the work.
This is one of Werner's more inaccessible documentaries, which although being unmistakably Herzog in the characters he comes across is best watched by lovers of either Gesualdo's music or Herzog's films. Ideally both; I get the feeling that many viewers who come to this from his most recent releases may be left slightly disappointed.
on 9 November 2013
I came across the composer while doing research on a talk I'm giving about the 'dark' side of various artists whose work is beautiful but the artist themselves were not 'pleasant', to say the least!
So Gesualdo's story is that of a difficult, possibly daemonic, certainly 'strange' person.
Herzog is drawn to'odd' characters and this "Herzogized" docudrama, seeks to give a strongly impressionistic insight into the nature of the tortured artist.
The film is made, largely on location and the quirky found characters such as the bagpiper who must play in Gesualdo's ruined castle every day to keep the evil soul of Gesualdo trapped therein and the opera singer who travels the dusty corridors add to the overall strangeness of things.
There are also quite straightforward episodes where the, beautiful, music is performed and explained.