Composer: Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Piece: A un giro sol (At a turning glance)

Date: 1603

Form: Italian Madrigal

Setting: Five voice (SSATB)

Texture: Polyphonic and Homophonic

Text: Eight line poem by Giovanni Guarini

This madrigal is an excellent example of Monteverdi’s late Renaissance vocal style, with its elaborate ornamentation and rich affective dissonance. The contrast between the high and low voices is quite different than the blended texture of the vocal polyphony of the high Renaissance (Palestrina’s music, for example). The piece is sectional with a distinct affect apparent in each section.

Monteverdi uses text painting to heighten the meaning of specific words. In the first half he musically paints motion and nature; turning melismatic patterns for a furtive glance; pulsing scale patterns for the laughing breeze; undulating lines for the calm sea; swirling, criss-crossing lines for the wind; and imitative ascending line for the radiant sky.

In the second half the focus is on the self. There is a shift to minor mode, the tenor drops out, and loneliness turns to pain with cascading dissonant suspensions which represent cruelty. The last section uses imitative polyphony to underscore the paradoxical ending statement (“...on the day you were born, so also was my death”). The madrigal concludes with a wry raised third, bringing the minor mode back to major in a preview of the commonly used picardy third of the Baroque.