Claudio Monteverdi is considered to be a revolutionary composer in the musical world, yet so much of his life is a mystery. Even though biographers have made many convincing speculations and correlations about the events of Monteverdi’s life, they cannot be considered completely factual (Redlich, Preface). Most biographies are comprised of legends and unauthorized assumptions (Redlich, 1-2). There are some aspects of his life that are known with certainty, and the most relied upon source for information on Monteverdi is a series of 121 letters from himself to various musicians, patrons, friends, etc (Redlich, Preface, 44). Monteverdi’s letters do provide great insight into his life, but the fact remains that the most important biographical documents and dates are missing (Redlich, 1-2). Even information on his ancestors and immediate family is sparse because most of them are unknown, the exact dates of his father and mother’s birth and death are even unknown (Redlich, 2-3). The most startling secret of Monteverdi’s existence is that his body is lost; his remains are known to be in a public tomb of the Chapel of Sant’ Ambrogio in the “dei Frari” Church, but no one can identify his remains from the remains of all the other people that were put to rest there (Molipiero, 386). While much of Monteverdi’s biographical information may be lost, his letters and influential music provide a wealth of information on his life (Redlich, Kamien).
Monteverdi’s life is known to have begun in Cremona, Italy, but the exact date of the birth is not known (Kamien, 117-118; Redlich, 4). His birth has been established to be in the early part of May 1567, and the baptismal records at the Church of S. Nazaro and S. Celso in Cremona confirm this time. The church records reveal Monteverdi’s birth date to be May 15, 1567 (Redlich, 4). While the Church register of baptisms does provide a birth date for Monteverdi, it also creates confusion about the spelling of Claudio’s last name (Redlich, 4). The church records provide the spelling ‘ Monteverdo,’ which contradicts the spelling: ‘Monteverdi’ that is present on all of the original 121 letters (Redlich, 4). The confusion about the name is completed by the spelling that is in printed collective editions of his works, which reads ‘Monteverde’ (Redlich, 4). The spelling ‘Monteverdi’ takes precedence because Claudio was known to have not overseen all the printed editions (Redlich, 4). While Monteverdi’s name and life was a confusing composition of secrets, his family’s lives were not any more revealing.
Monteverdi was the first born of five children, and biographers only mention one of the siblings, Giulio Cesare, as having any significant presence in his life (Redlich, 3). Monteverdi was probably the closest with his brother that was six years younger than him because they shared the ambition to have musical careers (Redlich, 3). Cesare first appeared in 1607 as the publisher of Monteverdi’s Scherzi Musicali and as the author of the Dichiarazione, which was strongly influenced by Monteverdi (Redlich, 3). The relationship between Monteverdi and Cesare is implied to be a happy one, which can be illustrated by Monteverdi’s inclusion of two small original compositions of Cesare’s in his volume of the Schertzi (Redlich, 4). Cesare held an organist’s post in Castelleone, and he was later Maestro di Cappella at Salo Cathedral in 1612 (Redlich, 3-4). He seems to have had an intimate relationship with Monteverdi during the Mantuan period of Claudio’s life, yet he is not mentioned after the year 1612. His parents are completely different in the amount of information that is known about them; his mother’s maiden name and Christian name are unknown, and she is mentioned very little in any sources on the topic of Monteverdi’s life (Redlich, 1-2). Baldesar, Monteverdi’s father, is much more evident in Claudio’s life (Redlich, 3); Baldesar was a doctor, which provided his...
Cited: Kamien, Roger. Music: an Appreciation. 5th ed. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006. 92-121.
Malipiero, G. Francesco, and Berta Gerster-Gardini. "Claudio Monteverdi of Cremona." The Musical Quarterly 18 (1932): 383-396. 16 Mar. 2007 .
Redlich, Hans Ferdinand. Claudio Monteverdi: Life and Works. London, New York, Toronto: Oxford UP, 1952.
Shrade, Leo. Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 1950.
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