John Eliot Gardiner, Founder and Artistic Director of the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras, presents eight podcasts that explore Monteverdi’s role at the centre of seismic shifts and tumultuous advances in all the arts and sciences during the early 1600s, spearheaded by his contemporaries - Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Shakespeare, Caravaggio and Rubens.
With the help of specially recorded musical illustrations and a handpicked team of experts, Gardiner guides listeners through an in-depth investigation into the development of the early-modern mind.
The window of opportunity closes
Monteverdi’s swan-song, L’Incoronazione di Poppea (1643), is a high-water mark of the new genre of public opera, Shakespearean in its contrasts of high and low-life characters, political chicanery and outrageous theatricality. It coincides with the death of the last two in this constellation of genius - Galileo in 1642 and Monteverdi a year later - and marks the end of this extraordinary period of innovation that shaped the modern world.
Celebrating the self
The focus is now on the growing awareness of the physical, mental, and psychological attributes of the individual, and the development of a new philosophy which leads ultimately to Descartes’ formulation: cogito ergo sum. The first public opera house opens in Venice in 1637. Monteverdi, now maestro di cappella at the Basilica of St Mark, is perfectly placed for one final, extraordinary push into this brand-new dramatic world.
“More beautiful than the truth”
Visual art – and especially the work of Caravaggio and Rubens (in different but complementary ways) now aimed to intensify sensory experience and drama. What Monteverdi called the “natural path to imitation” was a radical bid to represent, magnify and even ‘improve’ upon nature through song and music theatre.
The anatomy of melancholy
A window of opportunity opened for women artists and musicians at the start of the 17th-century, allowing a temporary escape from paternalistic dominance, before closing again by mid-century. Monteverdi’s empathy with his female protagonists and performers is examined; the actress Dame Janet Suzman finds a resonant truthfulness in Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, and we hear how the painter Artemisia Gentileschi dealt with her real-life experience of rape and processed it in her creative work.
How music catches up
Music can help us to grasp the true modernity of this enormous shift in human consciousness. Monteverdi’s first opera, L’Orfeo (1607), is almost a manifesto for the power of music now elevated to a level of virtuoso craftsmanship and universal human emotion. John Eliot Gardiner guides listeners through two centuries of musical and poetic evolution which laid the foundations for this remarkable achievement.
The new art of science
Bacon’s formulation of the inductive method - the study of the empirical fact of antecedents and consequences - gave voice to the scientific advances being made by Galileo and Kepler in the face of widespread incredulity, opposition and persecution. The mind of Europe was now poised for a new venture of thought by this exceptional generation, one dominated by mathematics and physics but paralleled by striking developments in the arts.