I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read anything, by anyone, professional or otherwise, that didn’t express amazement at the work of Carlo Gesualdo.

Well, I’m not amazed (which should go some way in demonstrating that I don’t simply think old = great).

What is it that amazes everybody?  Singular ability for organic and logical architecture?  A knack for manipulating, while at the same time satisfying, our subconscious and visceral expectations (i. e., setting up and achieving goals)?  Clever or captivating motivic development?

I can’t detect any of these hallmarks of greatness in his music.  No, people seem to be completely twitterpated over the simple fact that he employs much more chromaticism than his contemporaries.  His music is unusual, and for some reason, most people have decided that “unusual” and “good” are synonymous.

His madrigal, Moro, lasso, al mio duolo, is typical of his style.  Chromaticism, all by itself, is not hard to achieve.  Just put it in there!  Chromaticism that means something, that will have consequences for the other parts and for what happens further along in the composition, requires much more compositional skill.  Gesualdo’s chromaticism exists completely on the surface.  He constructs only tiny little islands of relationship, often as tiny as two adjacent harmonies.  The result might be called “complicated but not complex.”  Despite the crazy veneer, there isn’t really anything in his work to sink one’s teeth into.

Now, all that said, chromaticism done right can be very effective.  There’s nothing wrong with unusual.  I only take exception to the way many musicians, in my experience, equivocate between “unusual” and “good.”


1 Response to “Gesualdo”

  1. 1 Anna-Lisa
    February 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    watched the you tube clip. Not my favorite in that genre.

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