Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, has become notorious for the eccentricities of both his life and his music. The gruesome murder of his first wife and her lover in flagrante, his mistreatment of his second wife, his isolation at his family seat and his penchant for masochism and flagellation have all fuelled the myth of Gesualdo as madman, deviant and tortured pariah, qualities seen to be replicated in his rule-defying music.
Yet his work was admired by his contemporaries, one of them remarking that he was ‘inferior to no other composer, having discovered new inventions of composition adorned with thought and caprice so that all musicians and singers of the world have been given to marvel’. Marking Gesualdo’s 450th birthday year, this idiomatic and committed reading by Rory McCleery and The Marian Consort of the composer’s five-voice motets invites us to marvel afresh – at their pictorial immediacy, their surprising chromaticism, their melodic word-painting and unique blend of melisma and homophony.
Gesualdo turned his prodigious compositional talent to the creation of a collection of pieces that betray his obsession with his own personal sin, remorse and need for absolution. Today, they speak to us as strongly as ever.