Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Vocal Music of the Early Baroque and the Invention of Opera

Composer Biographies

Claudio Monteverdi

Born: May 15, 1567, Cremona, Italy

Died: November 29, 1643, Venice, Italy

Italian composer. Leading composer of the late Renaissance and early Baroque and the first great composer of operas.

Although Monteverdi can be viewed as a composer of both the Renaissance and the Baroque, there is a continuity that runs through his works in both styles. Monteverdi was a dramatic composer, finding a depth of meaning in texts that turned each of his pieces into a convincing musical and dramatic statement.

Monteverdi's career began at an early age. He published his first pieces, a collection of three-voice motets, at the age of fifteen. By 1591, when he went to Mantua as a musician for the Gonzaga court, he had already published books of "spritual madrigals" (1583) and canzonettas (1584), as well as his first two books of madrigals (1587 and 1590). In Mantua, he continued writing madrigals and in 1607 produced his first work in the new genre of opera, his setting of L'Orfeo . In 1613, he was appointed maestro di cappella at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. He remained in Venice for the rest of his life, writing music in all genres, including his final opera, L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642).

Monteverdi wrote in a style that he called the seconda pratica , a term he used to separate himself from the more conservative tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries. For Monteverdi, the starting point was always the words. Whatever mood the words might suggest or whatever effect a single word needed to convey was reflected in the music. This is the basic idea of word painting used in madrigals throughout the century. For Monteverdi, however, it was not an isolated effect, but an absolute guiding force. This ideal permeated his madrigals and found new expression in the dramatic language of opera. All these techniques work together to make Monteverdi one of the true geniuses of Western music.


  • Operas, including L'Orfeo (1607), Arianna (1608, music lost), Il ritorno d'Ulisse (The Return of Ulysses, 1640), and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642)
  • Other dramatic music including Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda, 1624)
  • Secular vocal music, including 9 books of madrigals (1587–1651, book 9 posthumous), scherzi musicali, and canzonettas
  • Sacred vocal music, including Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610), masses, Magnificats, Madrigali spirituali (1583), motets, and psalms

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Musical Examples

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  • A General Biography
    A biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Includes portraits of Monteverdi and a bibliography for further study.
  • Works and Recommended Recordings
    A list of Monteverdi's works and recommended recordings from ClassicalNet.
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