GESUALDO: Death for Five Voices

a film by Werner Herzog about italian composer Don Carlo Gesualdo

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Carlo Gesualdo, known as Gesualdo da Venosa (March 8, 1566 – September 8, 1613), Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was an Italian music composer, lutenist and nobleman of the late Renaissance. He is famous for his intensely expressive madrigals, which use a chromatic language not heard again until the 19th century, and also for committing what are amongst the most notorious murders in musical history.

The subject matter that Herzog had to play with fed straight into his sense of the absurd. Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices starts off as a straight-up documentary about a demented renaissance composer, but Herzog’s twists are what make it memorable. Strange characters appear in Gesualdo’s ruined castle. People begin to speak straight into the camera at odd moments. And Herzog’s fine eye for the peculiar is at it’s best here. His use of technology throughout the film is interesting.

Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa (1560-1613), was not only insanely jealous (he murdered his unfaithful wife and her lover); he was insane. In this brilliantly directed documentary with expertly sung music, Werner Herzog explores Gesualdo’s madness through his biography, visits to the sites of key events in his life, paintings, still-active gossip, and above all the music he composed–madrigals whose death-haunted texts and abrasive harmonies still have the power to shock.

Music is only a part of this disc’s attractions, but it is powerful and well-integrated into the flow of the film, and it puts the viewer directly in touch with Gesualdo’s tortured soul. Two vocal groups exemplify different views on how it should be performed. Il Complesso Barocco uses instruments, very discreetly, to support the voices; the Gesualdo Consort has five unaccompanied voices. Both sing with the expressive intensity the music requires.
(taken from Wikipedia)