This is the class blog for Music 30: 1000 Years of Musical Listening (University of Pennsylvania, Fall 2013).
Claudio Monteverdi (by Anup Singh)
Of what we have talked about thus far in class, I found it interesting to learn about the famous Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. He is someone who we could have talked about more in depth during class. Simply put, he was one of the most interesting and influential figures in music. He was a musical prodigy and is best known for his creation of the first opera, known as L’Orfeo. While the plot of the opera is simply based on a Greek legend, the time at which it was first performed (1607) was during the transition period between the Renaissance Period and the Baroque Period. These two periods are widely regarded as two of the most famous musical eras and L’Orfeo stood as a combination of Renaissance musical style (e.g. madrigal) as well as aspects of later periods (e.g. the emphasis on text within the music). Emphasizing the text within the music meant that the opera singers had to be able to act as their characters rather than simply make the vocal sounds that epitomized traditional music of the time. Looking back on that impact, I find it remarkable how a single opera could have such influence on the musical styles of the time. I believe its influence was probably similar to that of Elvis or the Beatles, if not greater.
While L’Orfeo stands as the first example of a composer assigning specific musical instruments to various parts within the opera, the common practices during that time period were that each performance had the freedom of using their opera’s orchestra in their own ways. The performances for L’Orfeo must have all sounded very different if each performance used different instruments (there were believed to be about 41 instruments used in total) at different times! Imagine having songs from nowadays and changing up when certain instruments play while leaving the lyrics in the same place. It could lead to some really interesting new types of songs. Such is the beauty of improvisation.
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