He's the Italian composer-prince who murdered his wife and her lover, was into wild bouts of self-flagellation, and who at the end of the 16th century wrote some of the most chromatic vocal music ever conceived in self-pitying lamentation for his human condition.
That's the myth, at least, but a brilliant new book by Glenn Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex, reveals there's much more to the story.
Despite the dazzling harmonic shifts in Gesualdo's fifth and sixth books of madrigals, his music was so extreme that some 20th-century critics and composers believed him to be a proto-serialist, going further than any composer before Schoenberg in mining the expressive potential of saturated dissonance. Watkins goes on, fascinatingly, to chart how the story of Gesualdo and his music has enthralled and inspired 20th- and 21st-century creatives, from Stravinsky to Boulez, Andriessen to Brett Dean, Werner Herzog to Ian Rankin.
Watkins wants us to understand Gesualdo in the context of his time, to reveal the man behind the myths, and to allow him to change in our perceptions from crazed musical psychopath to culturally comprehensible composer. And yet the hex, the essential mystery and enchantment of his music, remains.
Glenn can tell us how Gesualdo does it, analytically speaking, but nothing can prepare you for the visceral magic of this music's dark power.


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    2010/mar/18/carlo-gesualdo-composer-psychopath ]


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