Monteverdi's Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci (1614) is often viewed as an outlier in his secular output. His Fourth and Fifth Books (1603, 1605) were firmly embroiled in the controversy with Artusi over the seconda pratica, while his Seventh (1619) sees him shifting style in favor of the new trends that were starting to dominate music in early seventeenth-century Italy: the Sixth Book falls between the cracks. But it also suffers—in modern eyes, at least—for the fact that it reflects the composer's first encounters with the poetry of Giambattista Marino, marking what many see as the start of a fundamental reorientation, if not downward spiral, in his secular vocal music. The problems are exposed by one of the Marino settings in the Sixth Book, “Batto, qui pianse Ergasto: ecco la riva,” in which an unnamed speaker tells Batto how Ergasto has been abandoned by Clori. The text has often been misunderstood. Uncovering the sources for the story—and the literary identities of Batto, Ergasto, and Clori—forces a new reading of the poetry and more particularly of Monteverdi's music. It also answers some profound questions in terms of how best to address issues of narration and representation, and of diegesis and mimesis, in this complex repertory.
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