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Ivan Kaiser

Essay: Chromatic Late Renaissance
Both Palestrina and Gesualdo write very passionate, moving music for choir, but there are
selective differences which create very contrasting genres of choral music when comparing the
two. For the most part, the textual content of Carlo Gesualdos Moro Lasso, deals heavily with
human emotions. The term Madrigal is defined as a poetic and musical form, which fits
perfectly when analyzing Gesualdos lines that state O grievous fate, The one who can give me
life, Alas, gives me death (meas. 34-36). The textual evidence in Palestrinas Sanctus and
Benedictus is more religious and deals with glory and praise of Christ- Let us sing the eternal
gifts of Christ (measures different in varying versions). Gesualdo elevates his textual
importance by layering his words between the upper and lower parts, while changing the speed
of certain parts to create an overlapping feel that is easily a product of heavy polyphony.
Palestrinas moves as well, the parts never seem to race one another, they are somewhat in synch.
In terms of form and style, Gesualdos piece varies in its placement of imitation. The first
verse, Moro Lasso, is repeated with the same chords a second time (meas. 16) but then
proceeds to move at a slower pace almost instantaneously than compared to how the piece
continued at the start. The vocal layers are also seemingly improvised, because each part moves
at a different pace and does not always follow the common speed of the other parts that are sung
in unison measures. Palestrinas piece uses imitation as more of a canon, since the parts echo one
another sometimes a fourth or greater interval apart, leaving some room for variation (meas. 1-3
of Sanctus and 1-3 of Benedictus). It seems that Palestrina repeats certain phrases, while

Gesualdo imitates small ideas here and there (being the 8th notes followed by 16ths right after
darvitas). These motifs alternate around back and forth through the parts and are often what
causes a sense of tempo change. Although Palestrina is occasionally dissonance as well, the shift
to a new text always lines the voices to clearer show that another section is beginning.
The harmonies and motions of both pieces differ the strongest out of any of the other
factors. Due to the fact that Palestrinas pieces were not even 50 years before Gesualdos, the
counterpoint and chromatic motion was much more intense and I can easily see how this would
make for much controversy during that musical era. The first three chords in Moro Lasso (meas.
1-2) display intense chromatic motion when compared to Palestrinas pieces. The majority of
Gesualdos dissonance is in these slow moving passages (meas. 16-18 also), accompanied by
heavy use of rubato and fluctuations in tempo, which create an uneven flow of the music when
compared to that of Palestrina. Both Sanctus and Benedictus include dissonance, but the intervals
are much closer and seemingly more choreographed and expected than that of Gesualdo. They
resolve in a more natural common-practice style (meas. 39-40 and 47-48) and the parts always
eventually line up when coming closer to the end of the piece.