From a musical point of view, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, was a lutenist and composer. His madrigals used an intense chromaticism that was a distinctive part of his style and which did not appear again until the late 19th century. However, he is perhaps best known for his murderous past; his discovery, in 1590, that his wife had been having a two‐year affair had deadly consequences for both the woman and her lover. Being a nobleman, Gesualdo was, of course, immune from prosecution.
The Tenebrae Responsoria was written for Christian liturgical use in Holy Week. The text is derived from entire sections of the Passion (notably according to St Matthew) and psalm verses. Distinctive qualities of the work are the Gregorian chant, frequently used in Gesualdo’s time, which is prevalent in the work, acting as a uniting force for the roles of the Evangelist, Jesus and other characters. The work, intended to evoke the emotions of the events described, combines a rich spirituality with more secular, madrigalesque aspects, emitting an intense energy and combining contrasting styles and harmonies.
There is remarkable use of word painting throughout, such as the sinister harmony used to depict the elders that wish to kill Jesus, and the slow modulations that represent the desolation of Jesus as he speaks his final words.
Francesco Cera is one of Italy’s foremost interpreters of early music. He has performed as an organist and harpsichordist throughout Europe, and regularly gives masterclasses on his specialist subject, Italian organ music. Here he directs Ensemble Arte Musica, a group dedicated to Italian cantata repertoire of the 18th century and the works of Gesualdo.