On Saturday 21st, at the University of Southampton I shall be presenting my paper Mercè grido piangendo – A Set Theory Analysis. The abstract for the paper is below:
The music of Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, (1566 – 1613) is often violently chromatic and, although conceived modally, regularly disregards strict modal theory in a manner typical of his time. Yet, one aspect of his music that links this modal ambiguity with modal theory, and indeed to even his most chromatic passages, is his use of interval structure. Composing using patterns of intervals originating in modal theory and the sixteenth century understanding of ancient Greek music, Gesualdo gives a unity to his music through his use of interval structure. One way of elucidating these interval structures is by set-theory analysis.
Despite set-theory analysis being developed as a tool used for the analysis of twentieth and twenty-first century works, its efficacy in describing the interval patterns with which Gesualdo used to compose is evident when applied to Mercè grido piangendo (Book V, 11). This madrigal is the complaint of a rejected lover.
In spite of the fact that the madrigal is composed in the Phrygian mode, there are few indicators of this, until one looks at the interval structures and finds them characterised by Phrygian qualities. Then, in turn these interval patterns play a role in the construction of the chromatic passages right through to the final cadence, constructed almost entirely of semitones. The interval patterns define the entire madrigal giving a unity to the voice of the speaker’s protestations. Through the analysis of Mercè grido piangendo in this paper, I will give an example of how Gesualdo uses interval structure and discuss the implications it has for a hypothesis on Gesualdo’s compositional procedure.