Home Submission Guidelines Subscribe Archived Issues Contact Us Help

Claudio Monteverdi's madrigal settings of Gerusalemme liberata

Selections from Gerusalemme liberata were also used by other Northern Italian courts for self-aggrandizment. Examining Tasso’s relationship to the court society in which the poet worked, Ettore Mazzali points out that he “is the interpreter of the Late Renaissance effort at re-elaborating and adorning its tradition; and his mind tends on the cultural level, toward a decorative idealism.”[40]  This desire to “re-elaborate” court and cultural traditions was also in the motives of the composers who set the stanzas of Tasso to maintain their positions. Tim Carter notes “Often central to some historians’ interpretation of the arts in the period is a nostalgic harking back to the glories of the High Renaissance.”[41]  For example, Fabbri comments on the context in which the young Claudio Monteverdi composed his two Tasso settings in his Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci (1592):

On more than one occasion, Vincenzo [his patron] had been on the point of realizing those chivalric ideals which he found idealized on an epic scale in Gerusalemme liberata and would become a new champion of a new crusade in the Holy Land.[42] 

Therefore, in selecting Armida’s abandonment and Tancredi’s insanity at the loss of Clorinda, Monteverdi could, on one hand, reflect a Golden Age when the West attempted to control or reject the “otherness” of the East.  On the other hand, the poetic language of the romance narrative allowed the young Monteverdi to compose in a hyperbolic manner that would impress his patron.

Similarly to Wert, Monteverdi combined various stanzas to create a mini-narrative and provide a great deal of emotional contrast. As other writers on Monteverdi have suggested, the young composer was deeply indebted to the style of Wert in his third book of madrigals.  Tomlinson links Wert’s setting of Tasso to what Monteverdi does as his “cycles embraced the special junction of harmonic stasis and frenetic rhythmic activity that had marked Wert’s Liberata settings.”[43]  Where Wert placed the significant coloration of “otherness” in the third person narration, Monteverdi has Armida state her own “otherness” in Vattene pur crudel (Example 4a).  He does this by a simple leap of a minor sixth in the opening motive that instantly distances the listener from Armida. Dean Mace argues, “Monteverdi’s leap of a minor sixth, by allowing the physical qualities of the word to be imitated, serves as a ‘naturalistic’ rather than ‘symbolic’ expression of meaning.”[44]  According to Gordon, this repetitive figure in the opening represents the “incessant quality” of a woman who “will not give up.”[45]  Through the three stanzas chosen by Monteverdi, he is given ample opportunity for extensive shifts in melody, rhythm, and harmony that contribute to the overall depiction of Armida’s “otherness”.  Tomlinson notes that the opening motive returns in the second part on “per nom’Armida” as her “otherness” proliferates the entire work.[46] 

Example 4a: Vattene pur crudel



However, “Armida cannot sustain her anger; it ultimately leads to defeat and physical collapse, which the narrator describes and embodies in a slow chromatic descent that begins at the second half of the ottava.” [47]  The musical texture here completely changes from the more kinetic first part to a sustained contemplative second section. It is here, especially, that the overarching narrative of the epic wrests control away from Armida and subdues the “exotic other” (Example 4b).  When she comes to, illustrated through a thickening of the texture, her power has been removed.  She is left to question the outcome of her life and her lingering love for Rinaldo. Near the cadence, Monteverdi inverts the minor sixth as if to demonstrate her loss of power.

Ex. 4b continued



Monteverdi’s setting of Vivrò fra i miei tormenti e le mie cure begins in the first person narrative, like Vattene pur crudel.  Where Vattene was in the mouth of Armida, the “exotic other,” here the words come from crusader Tancredi. He behaves similarly to Armida, captured in unrestrained grief and removed from his true epic.  David Quint’s discussion about the romance and epic dialectic helps in the understanding of this scene and of the knight’s actions: “This subordination [of the romance narrative] is also identical to the Western mastery—achieved by the Western male’s self-mastery—of a feminized East whose disorder tends towards self-destruction.”[48] Tancredi, completely engrossed in the divergent narrative, becomes entirely as feminized and irrational as the East—he searches for the tomb of Clorinda and not that of Christ. 

The rituals surrounding funerals in Gerusalemme liberata, according to Albert Ascoli, is linked “to the otherness of the pagan enemy, rather than to the Christian crusaders.”[49]  Using this interpretation of entombment, Tancredi, in Monteverdi’s setting, is connected with the tomb of the “exotic other” Clorinda.  Not only Monteverdi’s descending melodic structure captures Tancredi’s psychological bind, but also the words he chooses to emphasize at the end of the prima parte (Example 5a).  In an impassioned speech to the dead body of Clorinda, Tancredi claims he is “constantly fleeing” (sempre fuggendo) and “constantly following” himself (sempre me appresso).  It is here that Monteverdi sets up his moment of exegesis.  He composes two different motives for each phrase: fuggendo as dactyl and appresso in elongated half notes.  By setting the two words with contrasting motives, he creates a dialectical opposition between them-- either he must flee from his situation or he must remain alone in his sadness.  This tension created at the end of the first stanza, also reflects the dialectical tension Tasso created in his literary critique of romance and epic.  In Monteverdi’s setting, Tancredi begins to ask himself whether to flee from the romance narrative into the epic under the command of Godfrey or to remain constantly following his own emotions, thereby removing himself from the Christian goal. 

Example 5a: “sempre fuggendo, sempre appresso” from Vivrò fra I mieii tomrmenti e le mie cure



Whereas the end of the prima parte emphasizes the dialectic between romance and epic, the other two stanzas aurally depict Tancredi’s grief.  In the seconda parte, a descending motive, entering the canto in m. 6, on the words “Ahi sfortunato” dominates the texture of the work.  Juxtaposed over the text “in cui e le selve irritaron me prima” (whom the night and forest first betrayed me), the combination of the words and descending motive create an image of a character lost in his own torment.[50]  The terza parte pulls him out of this tormented state of mind (Example 5b). 

Example 5b: “Ahi sfortunato” from Ma dove, lasso me



The music slowly builds from the solo basso entering in the first measure to all voices joining together to symbolize Tancredi’s slow return to health. Monteverdi’s Tancredi does not resolve to return to the larger epic, remaining instead by Clorinda’s tomb, as the madrigal ends with the constant repetition of “onorata per me tomba e felice, / ovunque sia, s’esser con lor mi lice” (an honorable and happy tomb this would be for me, if only I may be with her there).  Here the music moves from its static texture to a driving imitative section, representing Tancredi’s search for Clorinda’s tomb (Example 5b).  In many ways, Monteverdi constructed a perfectly contained narrative in the last two stanzas, one in which Tancredi focuses on his love of Clorinda and not the larger epic.

Ex. 5b continued: “onorata per me tomba e felice” from Io pur verrò



Ex 5b conclusion: “ovunque sia, s’esser con lor mi lice” from Io pur verrò



Monteverdi’s poetic selection from Gerusalemme liberata not only allowed the composer to play with psychological states of mind, but also afforded him the opportunity to play with greater musical contrasts and certain vocal exaggerations in his melodic writing.  Such settings played well within the court culture of Monteverdi’s employment; they made references to a larger epic struggle of Christian forces again the “pagan other” while also maintaining a certain luxuriance of style that would please the listener.  However within the court culture where these works were composed, never are these divergent narratives ever brought together in a stage representation or in any other mediums available to artisans.  That is, why were there no attempts at the court to stage the epic battle as a play or ballet, perhaps, and the romance stories as intermedii?[51]  Instead, the Northern Italian courts turned away from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata for stage representations and focused on staging Battista Guarini’s Il pastor fido in the 1590s.[52] Wert and Monteverdi also began setting stanzas from Il pastor fido to please their patrons.  This play of shepherds and nymphs, represents the courts’ desire for an elusive Golden Age of utopian bliss, away from the “General Crisis” of the seventeenth century.[53]


(page 4)

Go to page: 1 2 3 4 5

works cited





(page 4)

Go to page: 1 2 3 4 5

works cited