In recent decades scholars have tended to gauge Gesualdo’s “modernity” or “conservatism” according to the relation in which his music stands to contrapuntal rules and their transgression. It is striking, however, that no consensus has ever existed on this issue. Interestingly, the same types of judgments proposed by modern critics (notably Lowinsky and Dahlhaus) can also be found also in the writings of such contemporaries of Gesualdo as Vincenzo Giustiniani, Pietro Della Valle, Giovanni Battista Doni, and Severo Bonini. In the first half of the seventeenth century Gesualdo’s music, though almost always presented as “modern” or “new,” was depicted as both a model of good counterpoint and an example of compositional rule breaking. Severo Bonini’s Discorsi e regole (ca. 1650)—a text that Gesualdo scholars have not taken into account until now—is particularly enlightening for the study of this apparent contradiction. This article analyzes the various phases of the reception of Gesualdo’s madrigals during the first half of the seventeenth century, as well as the way that the modernity of his music—often regarded as an alternative to early baroque accompanied monody—has been continually redefined.
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