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Gesualdo in the 20th century
Posted by Paul Breslin on May 14, 2015, 11:01 pm
Since John France noted that despite his specialization in 20th century music, he enjoyed Bo Holten's disc of Gesualdo madrigals, it seems worth mentioning that one of the greatest 20th century composers, Igor Stravinsky, admired Gesualdo. He wrote a short ballet, Momentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa, that esentially arranges Gesualdo madrigals for instruments. He also admired Gesualdo's great contemporary, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). He cited the "Sancta Maria" in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 as precedent for separating the syllables of "laudate" with rests in the last movement of his Symphony of Songs.
Twentieth century music, more than that of previous centuries, is haunted by echoes of the musical past. Until Mendelssohn's revival of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829, music was almost always contemporary by default. Composers might study Palestrina or Bach to master counterpoint, but these composers were not publicly performed. As our way of thinking about music became historicized (the HIP movement, beginning in the second half of the 20th century, is only one instance of this trend), composers began to think of music from all periods as simultaneously available for stylistic allusion. Whether this is a blessing or a curse, or both, is too large a question to address here.
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