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Qobuz - C 9404 Sigismondo d'India: Primo Libro de Madrigali, 1607

Sigismondo d'India is often mentioned today in the same breath as Claudio Monteverdi as one of the most important composers of secular vocal music at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Yet in contrast to the wealth of information about Monteverdi's life which survives in contemporary documents, comparatively little is known about the life of Sigismondo d'India. We do know that he was a nobleman from the Sicilian city of Palermo (the title pages of some of his works describe him as nobile palermitano), where he was born around 1582, making him some fifteen years Monteverdi's junior, and that during the first decade of the 17th century he travelled around Italy visiting various courts. In fact, d'India and Monteverdi probably met when d'India visited Mantua in 1606. It seems that his experience of the intense artistic world of the Gonzaga court made a great impression on the young d'India: his first book of five-voice madrigals was dedicated to the Duke of Mantua in October 1606, appearing just one year after Monteverdi's fifth book of madrigals, also dedicated to the Duke (see next page). A further connection between the two composers is Guarini's impassioned poem Crud'Amarilli [4]: Monteverdi's collection opens with a setting of this text, and d'India's setting of the same poem is the most heart-rending madrigal in his first book.

In 1611 d'India was appointed director of chamber music at the court of Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, and remained in Turin until May 1623. Towards the end of his life d'India again travelled around Italy, staying for a while at the Estense court in Modena. Although he appears to have been offered the post of Capellmeister at Maximilian's Bavarian court in the spring of 1628, it is unlikely that he actually went there as he died within the year, in Modena.

The bare facts offer little insight into d'lndia as an individual or his place in the circles within which he moved, but our picture of the composer gains some colour when we read of the effect he had upon his contemporaries. Vittoria Archilei, who along with Giulio Caccini was one of the most renowned singers at the Medici court, reacted to a performance d'lndia gave of some of his own songs during his visit to Florence in 1608 with the following encomium: ‘I have never heard a style that had such force and expressed so well the meaning of the text...', while Prince Alfonso III d'Este, an enthusiastic and intelligent patron of the arts, said of him in 1624: ‘...of his qualities and good manners [...] I cannot speak too highly, and I respect and love him as a quite exceptional member of his profession'.

The prefaces to some of d'India's publications reveal further details, for here the composer himself describes his approach to music. For instance, in his address to the reader in Le Musiche da cantar solo of 1609 d'lndia refers to his thirst for knowledge and his desire to learn the art of polyphonic composition and that of solo singing from the study of good examples. He goes on to say: I discovered that one could compose in the true manner with unusual intervals, moving with the greatest possible novelty from one chord to another, according to the varying meaning of the words...'.

This sums up the constant striving for novelty which is the hallmark of d'India's first book of madrigals, published in Milan in 1606 (this recording in fact uses the 1607 edition). D'India's firm grounding in the technique of polyphonic composition provided him with a basic framework which he crammed full of new ideas and effects, incorporating into the traditional five-voice texture the freedom of melodic line gained from his own skill as a solo singer. From the outset, the listener is struck by the sense of a form being stretched to its limits. No phrase of these pieces is left untouched by d'India's determination to portray every nuance, every mercurial shift of the poetic texts. If the conservative theorists of the day found much to object to in Monteverdi's madrigals, how much more must they have found in d'India's! At the time it was the convention that a young composer's first book of madrigals should be an exposition of his technical aptitude - but in d'India's case, his first collection, published when he was probably only in his mid-twenties, is a bold display not of mere technical competence, but of a precocious transcending of orthodoxy. The madrigals are bizarre, certainly, yet they are not aberrant forerunners of some more comfortable style (unlike the madrigals of Gesualdo, who is often cited as an influence), but perfect, self-sufficient creations. They certainly proved popular, since by 1610 this first book had been reprinted twice by the major Venetian firm of Gardano which also published his second book, in 1611.

The versions offered by The Consort of Musicke in this wonderful recording, made in their full power, will be a revelation to the listener.

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Qobuz - C 9404 Sigismondo d'India: Primo Libro de Madrigali, 1607

Cipriano de Rore: Il Quinto Libro di Madrigali, 1568

  • The Consort of Musicke - director: Anthony Rooley
  • Emma Kirkby, Evelyn Tubb, sopranos
  • Mary Nichols, alto
  • Andrew King, Paul Agnew, tenors
  • Alan Ewing, bass

Additional informations

  • Total timetotal 52:01
  • Booklet in English, Spanish and French, liner notes by Emma Wakelin.
  • Recording Forde Abbey, Dorset (UK), 1989-1990
  • Engineering and digital edition Barbara Valentin, Dietrich Wohlfromm & Karin Massen (WDR)
  • Musical producer Klaus L Neumann (WDR)
  • Executive producer Klaus L Neumann (WDR)
  • Series artistic producer Anthony Rooley
  • Texts supervision and translations Dr John Whenham, Avril Bardoni & José Carlos Cabello
  • Executive production for this edition, design and booklet coordinator José Carlos Cabello
  • Cover Jan Pourbus The Young, detail from "Portrait of a man" (ca. 1605), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia. All rights reserved.
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Qobuz - C 9404 Sigismondo d'India: Primo Libro de Madrigali, 1607