Michael McCooe – Composer: Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi (May 1567 – 29 November 1643) was an Italian composer, violist and singer whose most famous works was Vespro della Beata Vergine more casually known as Vespers of 1610.

Summary of Monteverdi

Unlike many composers of his generation whose musical success came posthumously, Monteverdi was regarded as a revolutionary, inventory composer who enjoyed considerable fame throughout his career.

His music marked the change from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period and he developed a style of music for each style – the heritage of Renaissance polyphony and the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque.

Established career

Born in 1567 in Cremona, Italy, he was taught by Marc’Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro of the local cathedral at the time. He went on to study at the University of Cremona before forging a career around Italy.

He worked at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga as a vocalist and viol player, then as music director. By 1602, he was working as the court conductor and was later appointed master of music on the death of his predecessor Benedetto Pallavicino.

Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo, acknowledged to be one of the first operas, was dedicated to Francesco, son of Vincenzo, before he moved to Rome in 1610. Also in 1610, as the name suggests, Monteverdi’s famous works Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers of 1610) were printed. Comprising of around an hour and a half of evening hymns, they are often acknowledged as the biggest thing in sacred music before Bach. Just two years later, Vincenzo passed away and Francesco sacked Monteverdi after running into financial trouble. This led to him moving again, this time to Venice.

Later life

In 1632, Monteverdi became a priest. Suffering from various illnesses in his later life, he still managed to compose two final masterpieces with Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641), and the historic opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642).

The latter was based on the life of the Roman emperor Nero, and is often regarded as the culminating point of Monteverdi’s work. It contains tragic, romantic and even comic scenes, with a more realistic portrayal of the characters and warmer melodies than his previous work.

You can listen to some of my favourite classical pieces on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated regularly.