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Work

Carlo Gesualdo Composer

Ardo per te, mio bene, W6.62   

Performances: 4
Tracks: 4
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Musicology:
  • Ardo per te, mio bene, W6.62
    Year: 1611
    Genre: Madrigal
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
"Contrast is the cornerstone of his art," said a prominent historian of Carlo Gesualdo. The noble Prince of Venosa acted the tyrant to his household and murdered his wife, yet he remained deeply and mystically religious; it is too easy for the twentieth century to see the jarring contrasts in the man's personality embodied in the jarring contrasts that certainly are present in his music. Yet when viewed more carefully, the shocking contrasts among adjacent musical sections, even those in a piece such as Ardo per te, mio bene, devolve rather simply from the words of the text. Italian musicians for most of the sixteenth century had been striving for a musical gesture that reflected every nuance of their poetic texts; Gesualdo and the Ferrarese avant-garde composers who so entranced him in his earlier days were merely using more shocking technical resources to achieve the same. Ardo per te, mio bene may be one of his most bizzare, and at the same time one of his most natural compositions.

The text of Ardo per te, mio bene embodies contrast—and sexual double entendre—at its heart. "I burn for you, my love, but that flame blows a sweet air into my heart; I die for you, my life, but such divine joy to die, the sweetest to languish. Blessed destiny, if I can again burn and die...." Gesualdo leaves no doubt as to his passionate reading of each word! He reflects the initial flame both in melody and harmony: the first imitative melody contains flashes of rapid melismas, and the harmony travels erratically from G to F sharp. But the flame exudes a sweet air, which the composer presents in completely straightforward Palestrinian counterpoint in C major. A harmonic irruption announces the poet's death, but again the meaning of the word shifts. The lover's joy erupts in syncopation and surging melismas. But the sweetest pain is still yet to come. Gesualdo sets the text "the sweetest to languish" amid a richly chromatic and achingly dissonant harmonic progression, leading from C sharp through E flat to D; he even enjoys the same sweetness once again, harmonically shifting from B through D flat to C. Poets, composers, singers, and listeners, all may contemplate, recall, and enjoy the lover's happy sensations.

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