Lamento d’Ariana / The Turn

Composer: Claudio Monteverdi (b. 1567 - d. 1643)
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Composer: Claudio Monteverdi (b. 1567 - d. 1643)

Performance date: 02/07/2019

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1567-1643

Duration: 00:35:14

Recording Engineer: Gar Duffy, RTÉ

Instrumentation Category:Vocal Ensemble

Instrumentation Other: s, m, t, b

Artists: Fieri Consort (Hannah Ely, Lucy Cox [sopranos], Nancy Cole, Helen Charleston [mezzo-sopranos], Tom Kelly, Josh Cooter [tenors], Ben Mckee, Ben Rowarth [bass]) - [vocal ensemble]

Very often I find myself subconsciously influenced by the textures and harmonies of sixteenth-century choral music. Having experienced development of harmony through to its total disintegration in serialism in the early twentieth century, composers such as myself find ourselves inspired by the directness of sixteenth-century harmony but nevertheless search for effects that stretch out and develop these sounds. This is, of course, exactly what Monteverdi did. Following in the footsteps of Rore and Wert in the court of Mantua, he tore apart sixteenth-century principals of texture and dissonance, unashamedly enjoying held un-prepared suspensions or false relations and unusual progressions of enharmonic sequences that continue to raise the twenty-first-century musician’s eyebrows.

Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna started life as a lament scene in the midst of an opera, the remains of which are sadly lost. Rather than merely extending Arianna’s lament, the four new movements take an entirely different angle by looking from the point of view of Teseo, guilt-ridden, sailing away from the island. All four movements take place in one split-second moment as Teseo, unable to ignore Arianna’s cries, looks his lover in the eye. In this moment, he realizes his mistake but as he does so, she, driven insane with rage, turns her eyes away and leaves him, spurned and broken hearted, to sail away.

The first movement exposes the two main methods of conveying the idea of sound travelling over water: the first being the physical passing of the sound around the performance space, the second being a harmonic and melodic reflection of the way pitch seems to bend as it moves away from the source, commonly known as the Doppler Effect. This remains throughout the movement and the entire work in the form of the constant semi-tonal contrast between Teseo and Arianna that is itself also very much reflective of that first moment of pain experienced in the semitone clash in the very first two notes of Monteverdi’s work. 

At the end of this first movement, Teseo’s maddening lament ceases as the tension rises and he finally, unable to take any more of Arianna’s cries, looks back and meets her eyes, taking us properly into ‘the moment’ in which the rest of the piece takes place. Movement two takes this idea of time standing still within a single moment by going slowly backwards through the previous cadence of Monteverdi and then accelerating forward through it again.

Benjamin Rowarth