Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), Italian musician, composer, and choir master at the Basilica di San Marco of Venice, is our Hero of the Week. It is to him that we owe the musical genre of the opera.
But not only that. Monteverdi was a musical genius and prolific creator of a wealth of music, both sacred as well as secular productions. His creativity spanned a full 50 years, his first publication of a set of sacred songs—Sacrae cantiunculae—issued when he was only 15 years of age followed by a great number of madrigals, major religious works, as well as operas, of which only three survive. Most of his work, however, is no longer extant and its existence only reconstructed from correspondence and historical documents.
For a full three decades, from 1613 to 1643, Monteverdi was the choir master of San Marco in Venice where he trained the singers, built the musical repertoire, and composed numerous pieces and masses that became known beyond Italy as visitors heard the most exquisite performances during religious services in San Marco.
When the ravages of the plague befell Venice and other Italian cities in the early 1630s, causing 45,000 deaths in Venice alone, Monteverdi wrote a Mass for deliverance from the plague, and at this late stage of life was ordained a priest.
Culturally, Claudio Monteverdi lived during a transitional time between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, and in more ways than one became an innovator of the musical practice and theory of the day. Even his madrigals were radically different by virtue of their genere concitato—representing human emotion and “affections”—that prefigured the new genre of opera that Monteverdi would introduce.
His first opera, La favola d’Orfeo, was performed in 1607 and tells the Greek mythological story of Orpheus, who descends to the underworld to bring back his beloved Eurydice.
Orpheus himself stands for the power of music whose songs were able to move the elements, speak to the animals, and bring the dead back to life. This is what we recognize and celebrate through our choice of Hero of the Week.
Watch the full opera Orfeo by Monteverdi in this excellent production by Jordi Savall.
More on the life and works of Claudio Monteverdi on Wikipedia.