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<<  -- 3 --  Rajgopal Nidamboor    THE MONTEVERDI ALLURE


If the ancients placed wholesome faith in the healing powers of music, Monteverdi was an ardent proponent of the idea of [mediaeval] minstrels playing music for patients in convalescence, thus fostering their recovery. Touché! Modern scientific thought confirms that music, Eastern or Western -- one that is quite soft, and gentle -- has a soothing, tranquillising effect on patients, more so those that are anxious, tense, or highly strung. It is a universal curative agent, which has now been found to be efficacious, in conjunction with, or outside, medical treatment, for a host of illnesses: from anxiety, asthma, TB, cancer, hypertension, headaches, insomnia, depression, to Parkinson's disease, not to speak of bed-wetting in children. Music can also fine-tune the mind for a host of other activities: from academic learning to sports. Not only that. Music is more than a boon to the handicapped. Musical instruments, with adaptations, can effectively be used for the development of sensory-motor co-ordination -- something that could help the disabled to move.

Music, said Monteverdi, is the language of the soul -- a complete reorganisation of the self. To take one example. Hippocrates, the 'father of medicine', often took his mental patients to the Temple of Aesculapius, with a singular purpose: to heal them, by making them listen to the harmony of sounds. Antiquity has it that music has something more to it than the healing power of herbs -- to cure illness. To draw another example: Homer relates, in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, how sacred hymns and songs halted a rummaging plague, and the 'chanting of lays' healed Ulysses' injured knee. No small wonder why Monteverdi conjured up visions of his timeless maxim: 'The end of all good music is to affect the soul.'

Aside from all his palpable genius, there's more to Monteverdi than what meets the ear. His public style was supremely resonant. He created musical pomp and splendour with shimmering brass, ceremonial dotted rhythms, and spezzati effects. What's more, his monodic lines were often more flexible. It's ditto for his very own idea of basso continuo: a masterstroke. His introduction of the 'manoeuvre' changed the polarity of his bass and upper line. The outcome was dramatic. It freed the upper voice, and evolved the basis of his stamp, or leitmotiv. And, although Monteverdi's madrigalism is now no longer in vogue, his great range of textual nuance, or drama, created through a fluid melodic style, has parallels in modern opera -- a living embodiment, and a veritable accolade to his genius.

It sums up Monteverdi -- the first great composer of opera. A man, who revealed the magnificent possibilities of music, never before incarnate -- for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Copyright © 29 November 2003 Rajgopal Nidamboor, Mumbai, India


The first great composer of opera and the director of music at St Mark's in Venice, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was as famed for his madrigals as much as his motets, and sacred music - most notably the 'Mass' and 'Vespers'. He was also the earliest artist to use an orchestra and reveal, or even celebrate, the dramatic range of the operatic form, like no other musician - before, or after him.

Rajgopal Nidamboor is a Mumbai-based writer-editor. Visit him at

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