Carlo Gesualdo was regarded as the avant-gardist of his time. But even now it is difficult to obtain reliable editions of his works. The Gesualdo Complete Edition will change this.
Carlo Gesualdo, the “Prince of Venosa” (1566–1613), is not only one of the greatest composers of European music history, but also one of the few of his time who still continue to surprise present-day audiences and touch them emotionally as listeners were back then. He has been compared with Schoenberg and described as a visionary who anticipated the new music of the 20th century. Stravinsky declared him to be his role model and dedicated his famous Monumentum pro Gesualdo to him in 1960. Following in Stravinsky’s footsteps, in the ensuing years an increasing number of artists and intellectuals became fascinated by the princely composer – from Werner Herzog via Alfred Brendel and Claudio Abbado to composers such as d’Avalos, Schnittke, Ligeti, Sciarrino, Francesconi and Holten. The scholarly literature on Gesualdo is now immense, and interpreters have increasingly made his works more accessible through concerts and recordings. And yet as far as the sources are concerned, a great deal of research is still required. Musicians who want to perform Gesualdo still have to rely on the 1957–1967 edition of the Sämtliche Werke edited by Watkins and Weismann and published by Ugrino-Verlag, which has been out-of-print for many years. This worthy edition was naturally a product of its time and no longer meets our present-day demands. And so, given the lack of autograph manuscripts, the obvious thing now seems to be to draw on the first printed edition of each of the books of madrigals; by comparison the Ugrino edition is based on the famous Partitura delli sei libri de’ madrigali, which the lutenist Simone Molinaro probably published in Genoa in 1613 without any supervision from the composer. These limitations and the lack of an available complete Gesualdo edition have given scholars at various universities the impetus in recent years to embark upon a new edition of these works.
On the occasion of being awarded an honorary doctorate at the Università della Basilicata in 2003, Claudio Abbado declared his passion for Gesualdo’s music and suggested the idea of a new edition of his compositions. This was the impulse for me to support a national edition of the complete works of Gesualdo da Venosa. As two other institutions – the Faculty of Musicology at the University of Pavia-Cremona with Maria Caraci Vela as coordinator, and the Istituto Italiano per la Storia della Musica in Rome, directed by Agostino Ziino – had suggested a similar project, it was natural to unite these three initiatives into a collective project. It was also an obvious idea to invite Glenn Watkins, the eminent Gesualdo expert and editor of the first edition, to become director of an advisory board comprising some of the leading scholars in the realm of Italian Renaissance music: Iain Fenlon, Anthony Newcomb and Philippe Vendrix, together with the three representatives of the Italian institutions responsible for the editorial work on this project (Caraci, Fabris and Ziino). Ten volumes of this edition are envisaged, together with an extensive annotated bibliography on each source and an overview of all archival documents. To a large extent Italian scholars have been entrusted with the editorial work, and the reasons for this were convincingly cited by Glenn Watkins in a recent paper given at a conference: “It is with great pleasure that we see how the Prince’s music is returning to the hands of his compatriots, whose linguistic and musical competence will not only stand them in good stead, but they will also have the opportunity for easy and direct access to the original sources”. Bärenreiter has expressed its willingness to be involved in this musicological undertaking of exceptional cultural importance, which will make Gesualdo’s music available to many future generations.
The basis of this new edition comprises, as mentioned earlier, the examination of the six books of five-part madrigals, starting from the first edition issued by the Ferrara printer Baldini (1594–1596) and – for the last two books – the Neapolitan printer Carlino (1611). However, the score prepared by Molinaro in 1613, a unique document of great historical and interpretative importance, remains indispensable for purposes of a collation. Whilst the part books from the first printed edition, corresponding with performance practice based on the “tactus” principle, do not contain any bar-lines, Molinaro’s score contains the unusual division into “caselle”, that is into units divided by lines; in order to allow both performers and scholars a convenient way of comparing both principles of division, in the new edition the dividing marks introduced by Molinaro are printed above the top line of music. Also, with regards to alterations, the variant readings of the first printed edition have been restored. As well as these sources, the new critical edition is based for the first time on an examination of all the later surviving copies of Gesualdo’s compositions.
With the three books of Gesualdo’s sacred music which Carlino issued from 1603–1611 (Sacrae Cantiones and Responsoria), there are no comparable problems of collation, as in this case a printed edition overseen by the composer is the only source. Though Watkins correctly remarks about these works: “they must nevertheless be examined afresh and published as a collection with the same philological care as the madrigals”. The texts set are offered in a double version, corresponding with the latest editorial conventions as applicable to Renaissance music: the reconstruction of the literary text is given in the critical apparatus and another one is inserted into the score to enable both literary analysis as well as the correct rendition by the performers. Further pieces which only survive in composite manuscripts, together with the few autograph manuscripts with instrumental music are published together in one volume, which also contains the sole surviving part book of the posthumous Madrigali a sei (1626). The missing parts in the second book of Sacrae Cantiones, printed in 1603 in Naples by Carlino, pose a tricky problem: with the twenty motets for six or seven parts, the part books are missing for bassus and sextus. Stravinsky partially added these parts for the Ugrino edition, and various other attempts at reconstruction followed. One of the most important has been made by the Atelier Virtuel de Restitution Polyphonique des Centre Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance in Tours, with whom a fruitful collaboration is developing in regard to the new edition of Gesualdo’s works.
And so a modern edition is being created which offers a philologically correct reconstruction of the original texts. At the same time, it provides an immediately performable and clearly-legible score for both specialists in historical performance practice as well as students and other music lovers; all information on the history of the works’ reception is referred to in the critical apparatus. We are certain that this edition represents an important contribution to music philology and that it will provide useful stimuli for a dialogue between musicologists and performers of early music.
(from: t[a]kte 2/2015)