In the Italian madrigal tradition of the early seventeenth century, references to pain and death were handily decodable into the language of physical love, so commonly as to almost render the poignancy of the metaphor lifeless and shopworn. Indeed, one gauge of a skilled madrigal composer is his ability to infuse such predictable conceits with new emotional vitality. Such visceral settings were the forte of Carlo Gesualdo, whose last two books of madrigals (his fifth and sixth, both published in 1611) are especially noted for their use of intense chromaticism in vividly rendering the love-death metaphor. Among the most noteworthy of the pieces from these late collections -- published just two years before his death in 1613 -- is the madrigal Moro, lasso, al mio duolo, which takes erotic suffering as its central image. Of course, the substitution in madrigal poetry of death for sexual ecstasy is not arbitrary, and perhaps Gesualdo's talent at evocative musical rendering derives (for good or ill) from a literal, or intellectual, conflation of the two. In an infamous incident uncannily attuned to the nature of his music, Gesualdo, upon discovering his wife and her lover in a compromising situation, reportedly murdered them both in a fit of rage. However, Gesualdo's violence was fueled by love and jealousy alone; he is reported to have employed a crew of young boys to flagellate him on a regular basis. This sense of violent ecstasy on the brink of insanity can certainly be sensed in his music. Throughout Moro, lasso, there is a constant tension between diatonic repose and chromatic rage. The piece begins with long-held notes moving slowly in descending half steps, metaphorically representing death and agony; this is sharply contrasted by the subsequent break on the words "she who could give me life" into a stream of flowing, imitative counterpoint. This kind of juxtaposition recurs throughout the piece in a thorough playing out of the text's dichotomous imagery: between gasping pauses and shimmering held notes of exclamation, life is represented by active linear motion and counterpoint, death and pain by searing chromatic chordal progressions; what emerges from this polarity is an expression of longing fraught with ineffable tension.
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Description by Jeremy Grimshaw
|2014||Glossa / Glossa Cabinet||GCDC 80010|
|2013||Zig Zag Territoires||ZZT 319|
|1998||Berlin Classics||0093 362BC|
|1998||Valley Entertainment / VLT||0000015023|