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Work

Carlo Gesualdo Composer

Tenebrae Responsories, W7: Other Days (a6)

Performances: 2
Tracks: 4
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Musicology:
  • Tenebrae Responsories, W7: Other Days (a6)
    Genre: Motet
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir

Omnes amici miei

The glorious Tenebrae Responsories that Gesualdo composed for Holy Week stem from the darkest period of the composer's life, when he had fled from the musically conducive environment of the court of Ferrara before a storm of ill feeling and scandal. While in Ferrara his reputation as a composer had grown at equal pace to his reputation as a wife abuser and adulterer. Commentators acknowledge that in these pieces Gesualdo was finding in the sufferings of Christ a mirror for his own deep personal torments. Other composers of Responsories worked on this liturgically sensitive material with an affected detachment, while Gesualdo's contributions to the small genre, in sharp contrast, are inflamed with anguish.

Technically no different than motets, renaissance Responsories followed a fixed sectional design of aBcB. The Responsory is the only fixed form Gesualdo is known to have worked in. Even in his madrigal and motet writing he avoided the repetitious schemes often favoured by his contemporaries. Repetition, it seems, was counter to his natural artistic inclinations. It's remarkable to discover that he remains very much himself, and even achieves greater harmonic consistency and strength, when forced to work within these comparatively tight parameters.

Omnes amici mei, is the first Responsory in the sequence for Good Friday. It begins the sorrows of Jesus "All my friends have abandoned me…" Gesualdo, an outstandingly vivid setter of text in a generation that prided itself on just that, seizes the opportunity such a rhetorical flourish provides. He announces the onset of the Christly misery with giant block chords, all six voices singing. The music then proceeds much like the other works in the series. Drawing largely from techniques developed in his madrigals, Gesualdo builds the music on rhythmic modulations, contrasts of density and on effective use of unprepared dissonances. Far from creating a pointlessly eccentric, anomalous, or uncertain music, in the Responsories Gesualdo handles a wide range of difficult materials with deft sureness. The only thing that's truly strange about this music is how powerful it is.

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