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The 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi's birth

In the year marking the 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth, the International Festival’s music programme features his three surviving operas, the ‘other’ Vespers and a modern-day premiere of his rediscovered work. Read on to learn more about the Italian composer and hear from the artists presenting his works this August (you can also listen to our Monteverdi playlist).


The end of all good music is to affect the soul – Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi (1644) by Unknown draughtsman/engraverClaudio Monteverdi was born on 9 May 1567 in Cremona, Italy. He studied with the director of music at the local cathedral and while still only in his teens, he published several books of secular and religious music. In his twenties, Monteverdi was employed as a musician by the duke of Mantua where he had an opportunity to meet some of the finest performers and composers of the time, as well as travel to Hungary and Flanders. Famed by his books of madrigals and avant-garde experimentations in music, Monteverdi became truly established as a composer by writing his first opera L’Orfeo, considered to be the first great operatic masterpiece. We’ll get back to this opera a bit later in this blog, but first let’s hear from a couple of conductors and Monteverdi experts who will present his work at International Festival this August.

 “Monteverdi straddles both the Renaissance and the Baroque (…) He was very good at keeping both old and new worlds in his sacred music,” says Robert Hollingworth, director of British chamber vocal ensemble I Fagiolini, “On the modern side, there is a focus on solo voices, instrumental accompaniment, and virtuosity; but remaining conservative by using what is basically a Renaissance vocal ensemble with an odd extra instrument and a touch of harmonic spice.”

Speaking about the genius of Monteverdi and his music, conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner says "It's almost like a pop song - it has so much energy and colour and passion; it tells you how you might be feeling today, how you will be feeling tomorrow and how you felt yesterday. It's all there in the music and it will just blow your mind away!"

Monteverdi’s operas

Now back to the operas. This August offers a rare opportunity to experience all three surviving opera works by Claudio Monteverdi as directed performances in concert by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists conducted by period performance pioneer Sir John Eliot Gardiner. This landmark project celebrates the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

L’Orfeo is a tribute to the transcendent power of music, and a celebration of love that even death cannot destroy. Remaining two operas oppose to each other in their morality: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria is all about marital fidelity and the lasting quality of faithfulness, whereas in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is political ambitions, unscrupulous machinations and lust that triumph in the end.

A new Monteverdi discovery

Generating a sense of enormous excitement is a recently rediscovered work by Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz, which will receive its modern-day premiere at the launch of the 2017 Queen’s Hall concerts.

Edinburgh’s own Dunedin Consort will present Combattimento - German composer Schütz’s transcription of Monteverdi’s bewitching Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. This remarkably expressive mini-opera tells a story of a Christian knight from the Crusades mistakenly killing the Sacrean woman he loves.

Monteverdi’s other Vespers

Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers are acknowledged as one of the Renaissance’s musical masterpieces, but the composer also compiled a later set of psalm settings when he was working in Venice and writing for the greatest singers there. One of Britain’s true choral treasures, I Fagiolini expands to take in a specially assembled period instrument ensemble for a spectacular unveiling of Monteverdi’s final work on the subject of Vespers. Their director Robert Hollingworth talks about the ‘other’ Vespers and the mysterious cornetto muto in the video below.

Book your tickets now

We hope you are as excited as we are for such a fantastic Monteverdi offering in the 2017 International Festival’s music programme and that you will join us for the celebrations of his 450th birth anniversary. See you in the concert halls!

Dunedin Consort – 5 Aug 11am at The Queen’s Hall
L’Orfeo
– 14 Aug 7pm at the Usher Hall
Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria – 15 Aug 7pm at the Usher Hall
L’incoronazione di Poppea – 17 Aug 7pm at the Usher Hall
I Fagiolini – 19 Aug 11am at The Queen’s Hall


Image credit:
Claudio Monteverdi (c.1630, oil on canvas) by Bernardo Strozzi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; adapted by Edinburgh International Festival

Claudio Monteverdi (1644) by Unknown draughtsman/engraver (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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