Stylistic Techniques Part One – The Renaissance Period

Project 1: Gesulado and Madrigals

Carlo Gesualdo de VenosaPrince of Venosa, Count of Conza
(March 30th 1566 – September 8th 1618)


The title of count of Conza was awarded to Gesualdo’s ancestor, Sansone II in 145. The family further received the principality of Venosa (now Southern Italy) from King Phillip II of Spain in 1561 when Carlo’s father Fabrizio II married Girolama Borromeo who was the niece of Pope Pius IV,

Carlo himself seems to be more infamous for his troubled life than his music, you could describe his life almost like that of a novel. However, academic work in recent years has brought more recognition of his work than in previous centuries and some renaissance in his compositions.

Born as a second son he didn’t have the worries of an heir, until 1591 when his eldest brother died and he was now the heir. It was then he inherited the title of Prince of Venosa.

In 1586, Carlo married his cousin, Maria D’Avalos, daughter of the Marquis of Pescara. This marriage did not last. On 16th October 1590, in a palace apartment near Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, Naples, Carlo and three others murdered her and her lover – Fabrizio Carafa. Italian noblemen of the time were virtually duty-bound to kill their wife once they had been found guilty of adultery. Gesualdo is said to have surmised her “in flagrante delicate, di fragrance peccato”. Eyewitness reports at the time said that he entered the apartment with three other men shouting ” Kill that Scoundrel, along with this harlot. Shall a Gesualdo be made a cuckold?” After a while he emerged, hands dripping with blood, only to re-enter the room saying “I do not believe they are dead!” then further ensuring they were indeed dead. The murder did indeed cause uproar in Naples and despite not being prosecuted he paid the price for the killings. Lurid details of the killings were printed in the press and he was seen as a semi-mythical, somewhat vampiric person as a result. Fearing retribution he withdrew to his family castle in the town of Gesualdo.

In 1894 he married Eleonora d’Este but after only a few months they began to live apart and the marriage was both adulterous and abusive. In 1603 Eleonora initiated legal proceedings against two women , Aurelia and Polisandra, and it was here that there were accusations made of witchcraft. They were both convicted but were sentenced to live in Gesualdo’s castle. There were also descriptions of his depression when not doing anything related to music. It was rumoured that to cure his physical and mental problems that he resorted to said witchcraft and that he had male servants beat him on a daily basis.

He lived the final years of his life in isolation and was regarded by locals sinister. A painting commissioned by Gesulado for his own church, just a few years before his death, depicts him as a penitent on the brink of purgatory.


When he had moved to Ferrara to marry Eleonora he was also interested in the musical reputation of the house of Este. He found the atmosphere in court stimulating as was the proximity of several leading composers of the time.

His compositions were mainly for voice and he worked with Ferrara famous ensemble of singing women the Concerto Delle Donna. The Ferrarese ducal press published his first two books of madrigals in 1594, followed by the third in 1595 and the fourth in 1596. In 1603 he published two sacred motet collections.

The final madrigals, as well as the Responsonia were published in 1611. These last two madrigals were considered “late” works due to their unusual experimental nature. Gesualdo claimed that they had been written nearer the time of the other madrigals, but he had been forced to publish accurate copies as inaccurate copies had been printed and some of his work plagiarized.

The connection between Gesualdo’s life and his work seems to be evident in that of his musical style. His use of extravagant but jarring harmonies that can be both astonishing and unsettling. His most famous compositions are the six books of madrigals and are known for their daring use of harmony and beauty. His great religious work, Tenebrae Responsonia (vocal compositions for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Easter) are less wild than the madrigals but are unsettling.


Lorenzo Bianconi, revised by Glenn Watkins. (20th January 2001). Gesualdo, Carlo, Prince of Venosa, Count of Conza.. [Online]. Oxford Music Online. Last Updated: 28th May 2015. Available at: [Accessed 11 April 2023].

Kathleen Kuiper. (July 20th 1998). Carlo Gesualdo, principe di Venosa, conte di Conza. [Online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last Updated: March 26 2023. Available at: [Accessed 6 April 2023].

Alex Ross. (19th December 2011). Prince of Darkness The murders and madrigals of Don Carlo Gesualdo.. [Online]. The New Yorker. Last Updated: December 11th 2011. Available at: [Accessed 11 April 2023].

Tom Service. (2010). Carlo Gesualdo: composer or crazed psychopath?. [Online]. The Guardian. Last Updated: Thu 18 Mar 2010. Available at: [Accessed 11 April 2023].

Noah Tesch. (June 26th 2019). Carlo Gesualdo: Murder, Witchcraft, Choral Musics. [Online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 6 April 2023].

Wikipaedia. (4th July 2005). Carlo Gesualdo. [Online]. Last Updated: 3rd April 2023. Available at: [Accessed 11 April 2023].


A madrigal is a form of vocal chamber music that originated in northern Italy during the 14th Century, decline and was almost non-existent by the 15th Century, then flourishing in the 17th century. By the late 16th and early 17th Centuries they achieved international recognition.

The origin of the term madrigal possibly comes from the Latin “matricale” meaning the mother tongue.

14th Century madrigals are based on a consistent poetic form of two or three stanzas of three lines each with 7 or 11 syllables per line. It is often set polyphonically in two parts, its musical form representing the structure of the poem. A typical two stanza madrigal has an AAB form where

AA is being sung to the the same music B is a one or two line coda, a concluding phrase, the text of which sums up the poem.

The 16th Century madrigal is based on a different poetic form and was characteristically of higher literary quality. It included not only settings of poems called madrigals but also of other forms. The poetic form of the madrigal is generally free but similar to a one stanza canzone (song). Typically it consists of a 5 to 14 line stanza of 7 or 11 syllables per line, with the last two lines forming a rhyming couplet.

The musical style of the 16th century madrigal was increasingly dictated by the poem. The first generation of 16th century madrigal composers developed the madrigal further until excesses eventually exhausted the genre. The madgrigal was popular outside Italy but it was in England where a strong native tradition was to develop.

In 1588 Nicholas Younge published “Musical Transalpina” which was a large collection of Italian madrigals in the English tradition.Thomas Morely was the most popular and Italianate of the Elizabethan madrigalists, he assimilated the Italian style and adapted it to he English taste, which was lighter poetry and music.

There are 5 characteristics of Madrigals

  1. Secular lyrics
  2. Increased polyphony
  3. Word painting
  4. Both Capella and with instrumental accompanyment
  5. Though composed they do not have repeated sections with new lyrics on each repeat. The music changes as the lyrics progress and past melodies are rarely repeated.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2006). “madrigal”. [Online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last Updated: 28th January 2019. Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2023].

Masterclass. (2021). What Is a Madrigal? A Brief History of Madrigals in Music. [Online]. MasterClass. Last Updated: 17th August 2021. Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2023].


Bella poi che t’assenti _ Gesualdo

I have looked at the score and I beg to differ on the order of the chords in the first 4 bars as shown in the answers so here is what I work them out to be and am wiling to be corrected as to why these are wrong.

I would not say that I recognise the chord progressions in any later work but I am wondering if it is anything like Handels’ messiah. I do think that this particular work feel like it is a precursor to a written funeral mass, having heard funeral mass at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II I would say it very much was like a funeral mass.

bb.9-20 chromatic. bb.40-42 imitative

b.55 “dolore” sad or sorrowful

Looking at the score as a whole and also listening to it, this is a very sad piece, funereal perhaps would be a better word to use. There is use of homophonic textures and counterpoint to bring the piece together. I would also say that he used some polyrhythmic and polyphonic textures to achieve the sound he was looking for. It only has 5 voice part but I think this sounded more like a choir, he textures making this possible. Even though the voices are singing the same madrigal they are singing those at different times. This in turn makes them sound more complex and where he uses chromatics to move through a section these provide more depth to the piece and also more solemnity.

Characterises of Gesualdo’s style

research point 1.0

Renaissance madrigals

Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594)

Flemish composer and the most famous composer of the late 16th century. A master in the field of sacred music.  He worked at the Munich court from 1557 until his death in 1594. He made Munich a city of music and his contemporaries called him Princeps Musicorum (Prince of Musicians). He took care to mirror the meaning of texts in his music. His keywords reflect the influence of Italian mannerism. He employs text painting counterpoint and emotional intensity.  No records of him having composed any instrumentals.

Bayerische Akademie Der Wissenschaften. (2023). Orlando di Lasso-Gesamtausgabe. [Online]. ayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Last Updated: 2023. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2023].

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (July 20th 1998). Orlando di Lasso. [Online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last Updated: June 10th 2022. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2023]

Uncle Dave Lewis. (2023). Orlando Di Lassus Biography, Somngs and Albums. [Online]. All Music. Last Updated: 2023. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2023].

John Wilbye (1574-1638)

He has been described as one of the finest English Magdrigalists of his time and also as a poet. His poetic style was described as romantic and work written from the heart but he never married and his poems illustrate a life of unrequited love.

Described as having a “delicate writing for voice” and a master of rhythm je chose carefully the texts he set to music, many of which were translations of Italian verse. Even though he is one of the finest madrigalists of his time he only write 66 madrigals 

My Poetic side. (2023). John Wilbye poems. [Online]. My Poetic Side. Last Updated: 2023. Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2023].

The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998). John Wilbye. [Online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last Updated: August 28th 2022. Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2023]

Matona Mia Cara vSweet Honeysucking Bees

Matona Mia Cara is written in Italian for four voices, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. It is homophonic and also heterophonic.  The independent parts are only moving slightly, in seconds and thirds but the melody is uniform between the parts. There is evidence of counterpoint. There appear to be no performance directions for the piece that I can see and parts appear imitative all the way through. The score looks very uniform but parts sound so harmonious to be engaging but sound moody.

Sweet honey sucking bees is written for five parts with two sopranos followed by Alto, Tenor and Bass. The piece includes quite a few musical textures, heterophonic, polyphonic, polyrhythmic and contrapuntal. There is more of a discernible melody than Matona  Mia Cara and there is evidence of performance directions which naturally alter the parts . These are complex in places.  Parts move much more than the seconds and thirds of Matona Mia Cara and sounds much more jolly than Matona Mia Cara. The written score is more detailed than Matona Mia Cara  having been published four years after the death of Di Lasso and written with more English tastes in mind.

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