Chromatic Dragon

Ever heard of Carlo Gesualdo? An experimental 16th Century composer who used the sort of chromatic language that wouldn’t be heard again until Wagner, word paintings, and other wild stuff. An Expressionist three centuries before his time, basically. He was also a notorious murderer. He wife was a once-in-a-generation sexpot whose first two husbands died of “an excess of connubial bliss”, and who may also have been the model for the Mona Lisa. At some point during their marriage she took a lover – a cross-dressing aristo with legendary sexual stamina. Carlo heard word and set a trap, caught them in flagrante delicto (in the house of Raimondo di Sangro – the Neapolitan Dr. Faustus – whose Cappella Sansevero contains five of the most remarkable statues in Italy – three of marble; two biological, possibly – and which you should totally hit if you ever visit Naples) and tore them to pieces. When he was done, he walked out, exclaimed, “I can’t believe she’s dead!”, went back into the room, and stabbed her twenty-eight more times. Then dragged the bodies into the street in front of the house, where a passing monk is supposed to have defiled the wife’s corpse. In the wake of these horrors, Carlo fled the city for his castle outside the city – and chopped down every tree surrounding it for miles, so he could more clearly see if anyone was approaching for vengeance. Doubting the paternity of his second son, he supposedly had the child swung from a rope out a window until he starved to death. At some point, Carlo remarried, got access to an even richer/more cultured court, and went on to produce his famous madrigals, Tenebrae, etc. He also got embroiled in the witchcraft trial/execution of two of his servants. And probably died of infections from the prodigious daily flagellations he kept twelve men on staff for at the castle. This is his tomb in Gesù Nuovo. When we went to the church asking about it, the volunteer seemed totally confused. Finally, she understood who we were after and her eyes got big. “Ahh! You mean the guy who killed those people!” and pointed us in the right direction. As if we were talking about something from the news last week instead of 1590. Naples.

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3 Responses to “Chromatic Dragon”

  1. beingcompiled Says:

    It is said he intended the sharp dissonance and shocking chromatic juxtapositions to slowly torture the singer’s vocal chords.

    O dolorosa sorte, chi dar vita puòm ahi, mi dà morte.

  2. wchambliss Says:

    Have you read the first of Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels? I am reminded of the human organ played in the palace of Melniboné.

  3. The Experimentalist | Chamblissian Says:

    […] *For more on the nightmarish, but very talented, Carlo Gesualdo, see my previous post, “Chromatic Dragon“. […]

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