Madrigal: "Io parto" e non piu dissi
Carlo Gesualdo (1561-1613)
It is difficult to write about Mr. Gesualdo without first mentioning his Wagneresk style or his sense of domestic justice. Those points aside, the high quality of this madrigal is enough to make any musician nostalgic for centuries past. The achievement here is not Mr. Gesualdo's alone. This piece is the result of centuries of singing. First singing single lines, then lines together, then chords, then expressive chords. From the examples we have in this survey, much of the credit for this tradition (starting with the early prejudice of instrumental music) goes to Christianity. Although I have no answers, I do wonder what else Mr. Gesualdo and his well trained performers heard.
For its day, this piece seems unique in the use of dynamics. I think, at this point in history, composers are not writing dynamic indications to the performers. However, Mr. Gesualdo has clearly shaped his piece with loud and soft motions in mind. Affecting the labored breathing of one suffering under the yoke of love, this piece frequently pauses in silence. Between these pauses the singers are given musical phrases that are unmistakably swells of sound.
What I like about this piece is the variety of ways that these swells are accomplished. Sometimes they are accomplished through a long sustained pitch, sometimes staggered entrances, sometimes the counterpoint, and often they are accomplished by a combination of techniques. The variety is such that we are surprised by the brevity of this deep expression.