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Work

Carlo Gesualdo Composer

O vos omnes, W7.80 (a5)

Performances: 3
Tracks: 3
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Musicology:
  • O vos omnes, W7.80 (a5)
    Year: 1603
    Genre: Motet
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa, achieved a notorious reputation early in his life: before his 30th birthday he was a double murderer. The Prince, grand-nephew to the Pope himself and nephew of the most powerful Cardinal at the Council of Trent, discovered his wife and her lover in bed, and he slew them both in a fit of rage. Afterwards, Gesualdo retired to his family home and undertook religious projects to atone for his crimes. He founded a Capuchin monastery and two chapels dedicated to Santa Maria della Grazie. He also wrote and had printed three volumes of sacred music. While his style in these pieces—two collections of general motets and a complete set of liturgical Responsories for Holy Week—is less outrĂ© than his densely chromatic madrigals, his musical choices often betray the man's deep personal devotion and pain. His two related settings of the text "O vos omnes" offer the clearest evidence of his grief.

In the Catholic liturgy, "O vos omnes" is said during the most solemn and austere moments of the year, the three days commemorating Christ's passion and crucifixion. It is one of 27 texts serving the services of Tenebrae, the Holy Week services in which candles are ritually extinguished in memory of the sacrifice of Jesus; they rub shoulders with the Lamentations of Jeremiah. All Lent is a season of penitence and self-denial; a text from its liturgy thus comes as no surprise in Gesualdo's life. Yet the Council of Trent had declared that music of the Church should employ greater restraint and sobriety; Gesualdo's two O vos omnes motets, in their overt madrigalian pathos, fly in the face of liturgical propriety.

The "free" O vos omnes, which Gesualdo published in 1603, takes the misery of its text quite seriously: "O all you that pass by, see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow." In its rhythmic cast, the five-voiced motet offers no great divergences from the textual cadences. In harmony, on the other hand, Gesualdo forces his singers to wander a torturous and frequently chromatic path (even Stravinsky was astonished by this piece). Cross-relations and sudden shifts to unprepared chords abound. If anything, the six-voiced derivative version Gesualdo included in his 1611 Holy Week collection can be even more shocking. He has altered some voice parts to incur even more difficult leaps and sudden madrigalian rhythmic shifts. O vos omnes embodies Gesualdo's passionately remorseful soul.

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