“I really do not think that there is one composer who can be rightly compared to this genius.”
In completing their masterful Monteverdi Edition, Claudio Cavina and La Venexiana have returned to the beginning – to the Madrigali a cinque voci… Libro primo – of Monteverdi’s exploration of the madrigalian art form, a journey which was to occupy the composer for more than 50 years of his life across his staying in the cities of Cremona, Mantua and Venice. In this First Book, published in 1587 when the composer was barely 20 years old yet demonstrably showing clear evidence of his approaching maturity, La Venexiana’s performances are again faithful to Monteverdi’s passion for the written word – above all to the weight theme of love. In this final release in the Monteverdi Edition Cavina adds a twist in the tail by including on this new CD the madrigals from the posthumous Libro Nono put together by the composer’s Venetian publisher. With the rerelease of La Venexiana’s recording of Il Terzo Libro (complete with a new essay penned by Stefano Russomanno), eight volumes now comprise Glossa’s Monteverdi Edition, all available within the attractively and imaginatively unified design style which has become the hallmark of the label.
The Monteverdi Edition by no means represents the entirety of Claudio Cavina and La Venexiana’s contribution to the music of the Cremona-born composer (nor to their survey of other music from the time – Carlo Gesualdo remains a firm favourite of Cavina). 2007, as well as marking the 400th anniversary of the first performance of the “favola in musica” that is L’Orfeo saw Cavina take his musical and dramatic vision “on the road” criss-crossing Europe from London to Bruges, from Regensburg to Jerez de la Frontera (and very definitely with Italian performances too). The view of these early music experts was committed to disc (issued as one of Glossa’s striking “Ediciones Singulares” book-cum-disc presentations) and received as strong praise as the live performances did. In the UK, for example, both Gramophone magazine and BBC Radio 3’s “Building a Library” from its CD Review programme demonstrated their approval. With the completion of not eight but nine books of madrigals La Venexiana are in the mood for more Monteverdi. Claudio Cavina indicates in this latest interview his appreciation of and his appetite for the sacred music.
Having now completed recording all of Monteverdi’s madrigals, what is your opinion about the quality of the composer’s inspiration across the half century of their composition?
One of the characteristics that identify Monteverdi as a composer was his continual willingness to experiment. From his First Book of Madrigals onwards, Monteverdi was wanting to identify the practice of what he would regard as being suitable for a “good composer”. To that end, he went through several stylistic evolutions, employing a great number of musical ideas in order to find his own special direction. Poetry was most assuredly a very important element for him to be able to explore the world of the madrigal: from Petrarch to Battista Guarini to Torquato Tasso, Monteverdi sought to find a “filling”, a contact between music and text. When we perform the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Books of Madrigals, we taste the essence of Monteverdi’s madrigalian style, but with the Seventh and Eighth Books Monteverdi’s new ideas concerning the use of the basso continuo and solo voices inspire a freedom and a scent of the operatic world that was to come. Given the trajectory covered by Monteverdi during his career, I really do not think that there is one composer who can be rightly compared to this genius.
The First Book was published when Monteverdi was only 20 years old. In what ways does this collection of madrigals demonstrate the genius of the composer?
Indeed, the First Book is the work of a very young composer, but it is nonetheless possible to find in it some madrigals which indicate that there is a little genius here at work. I am thinking here of Baci soavi e cari and the tripartite Ardo, sì, ma non t’amo. Additionally, if the Monteverdi of the First Book does reflect a very youthful style it is clear that it is one that is progressing and in a state of development. The Second Book of Madrigals – and it is remarkable that this appeared only a mere three years after the first – will present extraordinarily beautiful pieces such as Non si levava ancor l’alba novella, Non m’è grave il morire and Ecco mormorar l’onde.
From amongst all the madrigals is there one which gives you special pleasure as a performer?
A particularly special for us is the Lamento della Ninfa (an “opuscolo in genere rappresentativo” from the Eighth Book). In this madrigal Monteverdi employs a new form where the three men’s voices sing with “hand” tempo whilst the soprano sings with a free tempo. In La Venexiana we perform it live as a jazz piece and every time the audience’s reaction is fascination and huge enthusiasm. This way of performing early music began with Monteverdi but we find reference to it in the literature some considerable time later when, in a very important 18th-century treatise, Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni, Pier Francesco Tosi wrote that “rubato is very good in a slow piece and yet better in ternary tempo. The best singer will be the one who after exercising rubato will be able to return to the good – as in original – tempo.” Clearly – and this treatise was published in 1723 – this was a practice common in baroque music and Monteverdi was indeed a precursor of a musical idea which was used across the 18th century (and later, of course!).
A large part of your performing time last year was spent with L’Orfeo (as well as releasing a recording of the work). What did all these performances tell you about Monteverdi’s dramatic art?
L’Orfeo constitutes a complete performance in itself of Monteverdi’s music as a whole. Within it you can find instrumental pieces, five-part madrigals, recitativos, canzonettas, concertatos, dances, duos and more! Thus, from this point of view, all the different styles of Monteverdi, from his Second to his Eighth Books of Madrigals can be identified in L’Orfeo. The drama is in the poetry, and Monteverdi is a maestro in finding each contrast, each characteristic and each human sensibility. Each and every time that we performed L’Orfeo last year we felt shivers running down our spines and tears welling up inside us. For me L’Orfeo is as dramatic an opera as any by Puccini.
Your interest in Monteverdi’s compositions also extends to his sacred music. What does your experience of performing the madrigals (and other secular works) bring to the sacred music?
When, as La Venexiana, we perform the Vespro della Beata Vergine or the Selva morale we are always made profoundly aware that Monteverdi has initially been a composer of madrigals and it is an easy process to locate in his sacred works all the musical precepts of his secular music. Of course, we know that the sacred music was composed for religious celebrations but the church in this period – and, in my opinion, in all periods of human history – acts as a big – a sacred – theatre, in which the role of music was as an important way of celebrating the glory of God, and the power of the Church. In that way the 1610 Audi coelum is not so distant from Orfeo’s Rosa del ciel, nor does Ave maris stella represent a huge mental jump from Ecco mormorar l’onde.
by Mark Wiggins © 2008 Glossa Music / MusiContact