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Work

Carlo Gesualdo Composer

Ave Regina caelorum, W8.11 (a5)

Performances: 3
Tracks: 3
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Musicology:
  • Ave Regina caelorum, W8.11 (a5)
    Year: 1603
    Genre: Motet
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
The altar painting in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the town of Gesualdo, contains the only known portrait the infamous prince/composer Don Carlo di Gesualdo himself. Painted by an unknown artist, it shows Gesualdo kneeling in prayer in the lower left hand corner. At top center, Jesus as Redeemer raises his right hand in absolution. Gathered all around are divine and saintly figures, including St-Francis, who Gesualdo adored, St Carlo Borromeo, St Domenic, the Archangel Micheal and the Blessed Virgin Mary. All eyes are fixed on the Redeemer, most point fingers towards the sinner, Gesualdo. Meanwhile two mysterious figures, a male and female, seem to be in the midst of being rescued from the flames of damnation, while a winged figure of an infant is peacefully, innocently ascending above.

Most commentators naturally have read into this cryptic painting a host of themes relating to Gesualdo's murder of his first wife and her lover in 1590. They see it as an expression of his remorse, as well as an attempt to assuage it. It was probably commissioned by him sometime around the year 1592. The humble prayerful attitude it presents, one not usually associated with Gesualdo, is fully mirrored in the composer's moving sets of motets on prayers to the Virgin Mary, and, the two are understood to hold dimensions of the same personal, secret content. Nowhere else in his music does he convey such an uncanny, metaphysical, spiritual tenderness, such a quietly impassioned longing. The text Ave Regina hails her as the "most comely one" and queen of Heaven. The music mirrors the sentiment. As in the madrigals Gesualdo uses chromaticism as his main device for expressing depth of feeling. His motets are composed in a diatonic style, however, so when he introduces his frequent, bold dissonances they have a redoubled effect, since we measure them against the diatonic norm. The music unlike the madrigals, is slow and relatively continuous, the lines longer, developed in eloquent imitative passages of some length. On the whole, the Marian motets, like Ave Regina, are Gesualdo's most elegant, conventionally beautiful works.

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