September 8, 2007

September 8 | Gesualdo

March 8, 1566? - September 8, 1613: Age 47?

Don Carlo Gesualdo was the Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. He was a brilliant musician and composer. He was also a sexual sado-masochist, manic depressive, and murderer. He was really nuts.

He married a young widow whose first husband’s untimely death was said to have been caused by too much sex. Gesualdo was her fourth husband. After four years of marriage, he surprised her in bed with another man and murdered them both on the spot, stabbing them repeatedly and then displaying their naked bloody corpses on the steps of his palazzo as a lesson in morality for passers-by. Some say he also murdered his own child by this woman, but this is disputed.

As a nobleman, Gesualdo could not be prosecuted; but as an in-law, he was vulnerable to revenge at the hands of his wife’s family, so he turned over a new leaf, moving to another city and marrying his cousin. Unfortunately he couldn’t escape from the intense remorse he felt for his violent behaviour, and his life degraded into a cycle of sexual excess, sado-masochism (he insisted on being beaten three times daily), and ill-health (he was asthmatic). He died in 1613.

His music, however, is brilliant, and he wrote a lot of it, most famously many madrigals (songs) that are intensely sad and disturbing yet strangely beautiful. The most famous is Moro lasso:

Moro, lasso, al mio duolo,
E chi può dar mi vita,
Ahi, che m'ancide e non vuol darmi aita!

O dolorosa sorte,
Chi dar vita mi può,
Ahi, mi dà morte!


I die, alas, in my suffering,
And she who could give me life,
Alas, kills me and will not help me.

O sorrowful fate,
She who could give me life,
Alas, gives me death.

Sources: Musicweb-International, Wikipedia, Choral Public Domain Library

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