Monteverdi’s Last Years in Mantua
Having faithfully discharged his duty to the House of Gonzaga with the creation and production of Orfeo, Arianna and the Ballo delle ingrate, Monteverdi returned in June 1608 to his father’s house in his home town of Cremona exhausted and depressed. Not only had he lost his wife, he was bitterly disillusioned after his treatment at the hands of his employers, who seemed oblivious to the financial difficulties that resulted from their cavalier attitude towards keeping their promises. Worse, they had demanded that he supply suitable musical extravagance for their own celebrations with apparent unconcern for his own emotional turmoil.
His father appealed to Monteverdi’s masters to be released from their employ — one didn’t just walk away from a job in those days — but was refused. Instead, Monteverdi’s pay was raised and a promised pension finally materialized. Nevertheless, it is almost certain that he was looking for work elsewhere, but his hard–earned fame now worked against him. Suitable appointments for one of his stature were scarce, and it was because of his very acclaim that the Gonzagas demanded so much of him.
In 1610, Monteverdi travelled to Rome seeking a seminary scholarship for his son Francesco, and presented his Missa in illo tempore and Vespro della Beata Vergine to the Pope. He was apparently counting on some influence on his behalf through cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga, but that must have failed. Monteverdi continued to work on sacred music, presenting a Dixit Dominus and a pair of motets to prince Francesco Gonzaga in 1611.
Then in February of 1612, Vincenzo Gonzaga died. Francesco assumed his father’s place in July and immediately dismissed a number of court servants, including Monteverdi and his brother Giulio Cesare, presumably in an attempt to limit the harm caused by his father’s spendthrift ways. Or perhaps he was annoyed with what he perceived to be Monteverdi’s somewhat insubordinate demeanour. In any event, the brothers Monteverdi once again made their way to Cremona. Claudio spent time visiting friends, without any immediate plans. Despite being in a poor way financially, he was likely happy to be free of the Gonzaga yoke.
When the council of Venice’s Basilica
San Marco went in search of a successor to maestro di capella Giulio Cesare Martinengo following his death in
July 1613, they deliberately cast a wide net. They felt that the musical renown of Saint Mark’s had suffered decline in recent years, especially
San Marco, Venice
(Wikimedia Commons) under the financially incompetent Martinengo, who had let discipline among the choir and instrumentalists slip drastically. The council sent letters throughout Italy, and one, in particular, to Milan, which mentioned Monteverdi by name.
The next month, Monteverdi presented some sacred music, following rehearsals at San Giorgio, that required a complement of almost two dozen musicians in addition to the regular salaried forces of Saint Mark’s. Spectacular it must have been indeed, for he was appointed almost immediately thereafter and presented with a generous retainer. After briefly returning to Cremona to arrange his affairs, he arrived in Venice to assume the most prestigious commission of the day.