<< -- 2 -- Rajgopal Nidamboor THE MONTEVERDI ALLURE
Venice was to Monteverdi what football was to 'King' Pele. He flourished as never before, in spite of personal tragedies. It was Venice that first broadened and refined his dramatic language, and eventually led him to formulate his last two great operas -- The Return of Ulysses, and The Coronation of Poppea. The cosmopolitan milieu of the great conurbation of canals, its musical reservoir, and books, not to speak of some eminent, distinguished colleagues -- and, most importantly, his pupils, acted as a tonic and inspirational opportunity for Monteverdi. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
As a composer, Monteverdi endeavoured to create a practical philosophy of music, and stylistic innovations. He followed Platonian ideals, and divided emotion into three basic categories: love, war, and calmness. He expressed each kind by differing rhythms and harmonies. His theory of music was an unbridled acceptance of realism -- the imitation of nature in myriad ways. Which was precisely the reason why he placed great emphasis on the innate meaning of the text through [his] music.
Monteverdi's music had lightness, a sense of humour -- something that carried with it an aura, or quintessence, of a poem rather than its detail. Take for instance, his cantata: the use of pizzicato, or plucking strings, to express the clashing of swords. It's a wondrous paradigm that not only demonstrates his originality, but also his consummate skill for the idiomatic use of stringed instruments. Not only that. Monteverdi's work emphasises drama, with a sense of a grand climax: where music was/is a means rather than an end. Of memorable melodies made to gel into a musically attractive woven pattern for the opera. This was his stamp. Peerless. Beyond compare -- a touchstone of his very own creativity, and pedestal for his exalted place in Music's Hall of Fame.
Son of a barber-surgeon and chemist, Monteverdi (1567-1643) was also one of the greatest Italian musical-dramatists of all time. In his formative years, he studied with the director of music at a cathedral: Marcantonio Ingegneri. A prodigy, Monteverdi also published several books -- on both religious and secular music -- in his teens. They were all competent pieces, not only excellent in terms of classical allegory, but also attractive in word and sound. Destiny was manifest -- and, Monteverdi was marked for greatness with more than a touch of Plato's 'divine frenzy', and from the word go.
Monteverdi was equally fond of chromaticism, especially in his madrigals. He also used sighing suspensions, and unexpected leaps to hold on to bass pedal notes to create chords. His repetition structures were also unique. He often created large-scale pieces by bringing back the same blocks of material, and varied their meter to give more variety. It was his benchmark -- and, quite unlike his contemporaries. When Monteverdi died, at age 76, he was cognisant of his contribution to music -- a grand legacy to which he never attached a price-tag.
Monteverdi contended that good music was in consonance with the rhythm of life: a metaphor, a potion of fascinatingly structured, yet precisely composed form of therapy. He also believed that music was a renewal of divine balance, synchronisation of human mind, and its emotions. He regarded many forms of sickness as being, more or less, musical problems. A sick person, he reckoned, had lost his/her inner strength, harmony. His/her sickness was a dissonance, a disturbed symphony, not in tune with the laws of the cosmos. Which explains why he used music to bring about man's rapprochement, even realignment, with cosmic or universal sound.
Copyright © 29 November 2003
Rajgopal Nidamboor, Mumbai, India