Claudio Monteverdi

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Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Giovanni Monteverdi (Cremona, baptized on May 15, 1567 – Venice, November 29, 1643) was an Italian composer, gambista and singer. He marked the transition between the polyphonic and madrigalist tradition of the sixteenth century and the birth of lyric drama and opera in the seventeenth century. He is the most important figure in the transition between Renaissance and Baroque music.

He started his music studies with Marco Antonio Ingegnieri, maestro de capilla of the Cathedral of Cremona, and at the age of 15 he published his first works. Between 1587 and 1638 he published eight collections of madrigals, in which he shows his mastery of the madrigalist technique. It combines homophonic and contrapuntal writings, where it freely uses harmonies and dissonances. In 1599 he married Claudia de Cataneis, who died in 1607 and in that same year he premiered Orfeo, favola in musica , his first musical drama, considered the first opera in history, as we understand it today day. His next opera Arianna (1608), whose music has been lost, except the famous “Lamento”, consolidated his fame.

In 1613 he was choirmaster and director of the Cathedral of San Marcos in Venice, city in which he composed the majority of his sacred work. To inaugurate the first theater of this city, he composed more operas. In his religious music he used a great variety of styles, ranging from the polyphony of his Mass of 1610 to the operatic vocal music of great virtuosity and the antiphonal choral compositions of his Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, also from 1610. The work Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1640, is a huge compendium of sacred music. In 1637 he composed a new series of operas, of which we only know Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1641) and L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642).

Claudio_Monteverdi’s Biography

Claudio Monteverdi around 1597. He represents Monteverdi at about 30 years old and is his first known portrait.

Born in Cremona in a humble family, the son of a barber who practiced medicine illegally. He studied music with the famous Veronese theorist Marco Antonio Ingegneri, he was a maestro de capilla in the cathedral, who agreed to teach the child and his brother, Giulio Cesare, the keys to Renaissance polyphony. Claudio soon revealed an immense talent. At age 15, in 1582, Monteverdi composed his first work, a set of tripartite motets, and in 1605 he had already composed five books of madrigals, which shows an evolution from soft textures in the first two books (1587 and 1590) with influences of Luca Marenzio, to a more dissonant and irregular approach that enhances the meaning of each word in the third and fourth books (1592 and 1603) influenced by Giaches de Wert, who died in 1596, whom he met while working as a singer and gambista , for the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo I Gonzaga in 1592. Monteverdi became interested in the experimental musical dramas of Jacopo Peri, musical director at the court of the Medici family, and similar works by other composers of the time. In 1599 he married Claudia de Cataneis, daughter of a viola interpreter.

First works

Claudio Monteverdi.

In 1607 Orfeo premiered, favola in musica, work that marked the transition to the Baroque, his first musical drama emerged from the collaboration of the musician with Alessandro Striggio, author of the text and official of the court of the Duke of Mantua. This opera, superior in style to the ones written so far, represents perhaps the most important evolution of the history of the genre, imposing itself as a cultured form of musical and dramatic expression. Through the skilful use of vocal inflections, Monteverdi tried to express all the emotion contained in the actor’s speech, reaching a chromatic language of great harmonic freedom. The orchestra, very extended, was used not only to accompany the singers, but also to establish the different environments of the scenes. Orfeo’s score contains fourteen independent orchestral parts. The public applauded this opera with great enthusiasm and its following opera Arianna, of 1608, whose music has been lost, except the famous Lament of Ariadna, consolidated the fame of Monteverdi as composer of operas.

The harmonic language of this composer had already aroused strong controversies. In 1600 the Bolognese canon and composer Giovanni Maria Artusi published an essay attacking, among others, two of his madrigals for exceeding the limits of balanced polyphony, an objective of the Renaissance composition. Monteverdi defended himself in a writing published in 1607, in which he argued that, while the old style, which he called prima prattica, was suitable for the composition of religious music (and he did so for many years), the seconda prattica, where “words are owners of harmony, not slaves”, was more appropriate for madrigals, composition in which it was vital to express the emotional lines of the text. Monteverdi’s great achievement as an operas composer was to combine the chromatism of the seconda prattica with the monodic style of vocal writing (a florid vocal line with a simple harmonic bass) developed by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini.

Venice, the consecration

In 1613 he was appointed choirmaster and director of the Cathedral of San Marcos in Venice, one of the most important positions of that time in Italy. He was also appointed music teacher of the Serenissima Republic of Venice. From that moment he composed numerous operas (many of them have been lost), motets, madrigals and masses.

To compose religious music, Monteverdi used a variety of styles ranging from the polyphony of his Mass of 1610 to vocal music of great virtuosity and antiphonal choral compositions (derived from the predecessors of Monteverdi in Venice Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli ) of his Vespers, also of 1610, perhaps his most famous work today.

Last years

Portrait of Claudio Monteverdi in Venice, 1640, by Bernardo Strozzi.

The work Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1640, is a huge compendium of sacred music where the full range of styles used by Monteverdi can be appreciated again. In his sixth, seventh and eighth books of madrigals (1614-1638) he moved further away from the polyphonic Renaissance ideal of balanced voices and adopted newer styles that emphasize melody, bass line, harmonic support and personal or dramatic recitation. .

In 1637 the first opera house in San Cassiano was inaugurated. Monteverdi, stimulated by the enthusiastic reception of the public, composed a new series of operas, of which we only know Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to the Fatherland) of 1641 and L’incoronazione di Poppea (The coronation of Poppea) of 1642. These works, composed at the end of his life, contain scenes of great dramatic intensity where the music reflects the thoughts and emotions of the characters. These scores have influenced many later composers and still remain in the current repertoire.

Monteverdi died on November 29, 1643 in Venice, leaving an extensive work that would influence all subsequent music. After solemn funerals were celebrated simultaneously in the Cathedral of San Marcos and in Santa Maria dei Frari, his remains were buried in the latter.

His works are usually classified according to the Stattkus catalog.


Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked mainly on his Madrigals, of which he published nine books.

  • Book 1, 1587: Madrigali a cinque voci (Madrigales with five voices).
  • Book 2, 1590: The second book of madrigali a cinque voci (The second book of madrigals with five voices).
  • Book 3, 1592: Il terzo book from madrigali to cinque voci (The third book of madrigals with five voices).
  • Book 4, 1603: The fourth book of madrigali a cinque voci (The fourth book of madrigals with five voices).
  • Book 5, 1605: The fifth book from madrigali to cinque voci (The fifth book of madrigals with five voices).
  • Book 6, 1614: Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci (The sixth book of madrigals with five voices).
  • Book 7, 1619: Concerto. Settimo libro di madrigali (Concert, Seventh book of madrigals).
  • Book 8, 1638: Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi with alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo, che saranno per brevi episodi fra i canti senza gesture. (Madrigal warriors and love, with some small works of representative genre, which will be interpreted among the songs without action [theatrical]). To this book belongs Lamento de la nyfa, one of his most famous works.
  • Book 9, 1651: Madrigali and canzonette a due e tre voci (Madrigals and light songs with two and three voices).

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