Anima mea, perdona &
Che se tu se’il cor mio

Claudio Monteverdi

The sixth and seventh numbers in Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals (1603) comprise a complementary pair of madrigals or, more properly, a single madrigal in two parts. Both are based on lyrics by Guarini describing a lover’s torment. In the first, she begs forgiveness for outward behaviour that belies her inner passion.

Anima mia, perdona

My soul, pardon

a chi t’è cruda sol

[the one] who is so cruel toward you

dove pietosa esser non può

to whom I can show no mercy

perdona a questa

pardon one who

nei detti e nel sembiante

while in words and countenance

rigida tua nemica

[is] your severe enemy

ma nel core

but in her heart

pietosissima amante.

[is] your most tender lover.

E se pur hai desio di vendicarti,

And if you should wish to avenge yourself,

deh, qual vendett’haver puoi tu maggiore

oh, what greater revenge could you have

del tuo proprio dolore?

than your own sorrow?

Monteverdi’s especially poignant opening has the highest (canto) part beginning two beats later and a third above the next–highest (quinto) voice, with Anima mia (“my beloved”, literally, “my soul”); when the singers begin quietly and gradually increase their volume, the top voice seems to emerge out of nowhere, becoming a soft wail coming to rest at the first cadence on perdona (“forgive”). The high voices continue their supplication for pardon as the tenor echoes the canto’s opening phrase.

Monteverdi, Anima mea (excerpt)

The madrigal proceeds phrase by phrase, usually repeated here by the upper voices, there by the lower, in different registers and keys, with intervening homophonic passages, where repeated notes help build tension. The shifting between major and minor that we have seen also is again used to great effect. The repeating passages grow longer until reaching the climax of the verse, and of the madrigal, at del tuo proprio dolore (“of your own suffering”), where Monteverdi uses some deliberately confusing chromaticism in conjunction with longer note values to emphasize the words.

Monteverdi, Anima mea (excerpt)

The section is repeated with much the same scheme of dissonance before the final cadence.

The companion Che se tu se’il cor mio continues the sentiment of the first madrigal.

Che se tu se’il cor mio

And if you are my heart [i.e. my love]

come se’ pur malgrado

as you are despite

del ciel e della terra

heaven and earth

qual’hor piangi e sospiri

now crying and sighing

quelle lagrime tue

these your tears

son il mio sangue

are my blood

quei sospir il mio spirto,

these sighs my breath

e quelle pen’e quel dolor che senti

and these pains and this sorrow you feel

son miei, non tuoi tormenti.

are my, not your, torments.

The lovers metaphorically exchange places both in Guarini’s verse, each taking on the suffering of the other. This is echoed in the music by a chain of suspensions beginning at E quelle pen’e quel dolor che senti son miei (“And these pains and sadness you feel are mine”).

Monteverdi, Che se tu sei (excerpt)

It was a well–worn device for such an emotional passage, but heated to extremes by his unorthodox resolutions, the proximity of the voices to one another, and the repeated delay of the expected cadence. The structure brilliantly mirrors that of the first verse and of the musical setting at the parallel passage noted above, beginning at E se pur hai desio di vendicarti (“and should you wish to avenge yourself”).

The period when Monteverdi was writing was rife with all sorts of experimentation and new ideas, as we have seen. Some were conservative, others bordered on the outlandish — see for example, works by Gesualdo. Indeed, there is speculation that the delay between the publication of Monteverdi’s third and fourth books of madrigals — a period of some eleven years — was in part due to his hesitancy and reluctance in the face of so much turmoil, musically speaking. That in part explains the differences in the content of the two books; his genius explains the rest.

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