No 1: Incenerite spoglie, avara tomba
No 2: Ditelo, o fiumi, e voi ch'udiste Glauco
No 3: Darà la notte il sol lume alla terra
No 4: Ma te raccoglie, o ninfa, in grembo 'l cielo
No 5: O chiome d'or, neve gentil del seno
No 6: Dunque, amate reliquie, un mar di pianto
All three books may have been published during Monteverdi’s Venetian years, but Book 6 was certainly being planned, and its contents probably written, during Monteverdi’s years as choirmaster at the court of Mantua. In a letter of 26 July 1610, Bassano Cassola, Monteverdi’s assistant at Mantua, wrote:
[Monteverdi] is also preparing a collection of five-part madrigals, which will contain three laments: that one of Ariadne, with the usual melody throughout; the plaint of Leander and Hero by Marini; and the third, given to him by His Most Serene Highness, of a shepherd whose nymph is dead, to words by the son of the Lord Count Lepido Agnelli on the death of Signora Romanina.
Monteverdi’s setting of the plaint of Leander and Hero no longer survives, if indeed it was ever written. But his five-voice arrangement of the lament of Ariadne from his opera Arianna of 1608, and Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata (‘Tears of a lover at the tomb of the beloved’), cast in the virtuoso poetic form of a sestina, form the two main pillars of Book 6, the first at its opening, the second at its centre. The sestina is a lament for ‘the little Roman girl’ (‘Signora Romanina’)—the singer Caterina Martinelli, for whom the title role of Arianna was written.
Caterina Martinelli, who died from smallpox at the age of eighteen shortly before the first performance of Arianna, was a favourite of duke Vincenzo Gonzaga. The duke’s agents recruited her in 1603, and she was brought to Mantua, having first undergone a virginity test, and lodged in Monteverdi’s house, to be trained by him and perhaps also by his wife Claudia, herself a singer at court. When Caterina died, the duke had her body interred in a marble tomb in the Carmelite church in Mantua (now destroyed). As we learn from Cassola’s letter, it was the duke, too, who commanded Monteverdi to set the sestina in Caterina’s memory. The sestina text is a series of six six-line stanzas with the end-words of the lines of stanza 1 rotated in a prescribed sequence in the subsequent stanzas. The text is rounded off by a three-line envoi, included by Monteverdi in Part 6 of his setting, in which all the ‘end-words’ appear.
Monteverdi was clearly deeply moved by Caterina’s death, and his setting is by turns sombre and agonized. Sometimes the voices chant together, sometimes grate against each other as emotion breaks through. At these points Monteverdi occasionally casts aside Agnelli’s careful word order, as in Part 5, to create the climactic phrase ‘Ohimè! [chi vi] nasconde?’ (‘Alas, who hid you there?’) which quotes the opening music of Arianna’s lament, now hidden in the lament for its intended singer.
from notes by John Whenham © 2014