“Il divino Claudio”

Nicknamed “the divine,” Monteverdi knows what he is worth. He offeres his works to the high and mighty of the world, with no less than the Emperor and the Pope among his dedicatees.

Born in Cremona in 1567, Monteverdi arrives at the court of Prince Gonzago of Mantua as a violinist, and is soon promoted to Maestro della Musica. His madrigal books cause a sensation, and with L’Orfeo, his first contribution to the brand new genre of the opera, he takes his place as the most prominent composer of his generation in Italy.

But he does run into problems. With his employer, who treats him unfairly. Then his wife dies and he is forced to look after the education of his two sons. Monteverdi’s plan is for his eldest son to study at the Pontifical University in Rome, while he intends to present himself to Pope Paul V as the greatest living musician. He dedicates his Vespers for the Blessed Virgin to the Pope, a piece that confidently opens, in the choir, with the Toccata from his Orfeo, as if to say: listen here, it’s me, the famous Monteverdi from Mantua!

The plans for Rome come to nothing, but his music is soon all the rage in Venice. He is appointed Maestro di Cappella at St Mark’s Basilica and composes wonderful sacred music as well as further operas. Unfortunately only two of the final operas have survived. But these two - Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea - are the most groundbreaking works in the history of the genre. Seventy-six years old, but by no means tired of composing, “Il divino Claudio,” as he is known throughout Europe, passes away.

© Gustav Danzinger, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • 1582: Only 15 years old, he publishes a volume of three-voice motets in Venice.

  • 1607: L’Orfeo is not only Monteverdi’s first opera, but also the very first modern score.

  • A sacred version of the well-known Lamento d’Arianna was also published as Il Pianto della Madonna.

  • Subscribing to Plato’s ideas about art, Monteverdi sought to touch the listener by expressing every emotion.

  • One of Monteverdi’s important contributions to music history is the Stile concitato, which conveys great emotional excitement.

  • Monteverdi’s Seconda prattica is an innovative and expressive treatment of the solo voice, with only a bass line supported by chords as instrumental accompaniment.

  • 1638: Monteverdi dedicates his extensive Eighth Madrigal Book to Emperor Ferdinand III on the occasion of his coronation, sending it to him in Vienna.

  • 1642: With his final opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea, Monteverdi creates the first realistic portrayal of a neurotic emperor.

Did you know?

  • The introductory Toccata to L’Orfeo is used as the signature theme for every concert and opera broadcast of the EBU (European Broadcasting Union).

  • A girl with a wonderful voice, Caterina Martinelli, lives in Monteverdi’s household. He writes the opera part of Arianna for her, but she dies of smallpox shortly before the performance at the age of eighteen.

  • Benedictine monk Angelo Grillo on Monteverdi’s Sixth Madrigal Book: This music is “for our ears, part of human happiness and resembles heavenly bliss.”

  • On a journey from Cremona to his new post in Venice, Monteverdi is attacked by bandits and robbed.

  • In the opera L’incoronazione di Poppea, one of the characters is a page in love, who would serve as the model for Mozart’s Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro.

  • At the same time as Monteverdi lived another giant of the arts: William Shakespeare was born just three years before him.

  • Monteverdi’s grave is located in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.



Associated Collections

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450 Years Monteverdi