Music director of The Full Monteverdi, Robert Hollingworth, will be talking on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday 31st January about why Monteverdi’s fourth book of madrigals is top of his list of all-time favourites:
At school in chemistry lessons, instead of writing up experiments, I used to list my all-time favourite cricketers. (Mr Morris encouraged my parents to let me give up chemistry.) On going to university to read music, my tutor John Milsom, perhaps recognising this penchant for lists, asked me what I thought were the greatest books of madrigals ever and while we argued about 2nd and 3rd place, there was never any question of what came first: Monteverdi’s 4th book of madrigals from 1603. It has an unequalled variety and a virtuosity that leaves you breathless, but what hit me as a 20 year old setting up my own solo-voice ensemble was its emotional power.
For years, I performed these pieces with I Fagiolini, noting the different audience reactions. Although I find UK audiences very sophisticated when it comes to listening to Renaissance polyphony in general, I was often disappointed when it came to their emotional reaction to Monteverdi which seemed to be more intellectual than emotional – although that was perhaps more how they expressed what they felt.
Anyway, when John La Bouchardière came along with his idea of dramatising an entire book of madrigals, that same 4th book, I was very interested, though quite skeptical as I didn’t think an audience would be able to listen to that much polyphony without some help along the way by means of pauses. We tried it out and the rest is history – but the thing that convinced me to go ahead with the project was that it would change the way some audiences heard and felt the music.
Sunday’s programme on Radio 3 looks at nearly all of Monteverdi’s 4th book, in performances by I Fagiolini and The Consort of Musicke along with the two top Italian ensembles, Concerto Italiano and La Venexiana. This comparison with the other groups should be interesting in itself and a non-dramatic introduction to the pieces worthwhile for anyone who has seen the film but not looked at the music on its own. For my part, I now find it quite difficult to sing the music without remembering what happened in The Full Monteverdi at that point…
To hear the programme and for more about the show:
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