Gesualdo Fragments (download)


Organ solo–20′

A 3-movement fantasy based on tunes from madrigals and responsories by Don Carlo Gesualdo.

Listen to a performance by Stephen Self on the Blackington organ of Benson Great Hall, Bethel University, St. Paul, Minn.:

Preview the score:


Gesualdo Fragments (download)

Organ solo – 20′
(1990, 2006)
Premiere—1993, by Dean Billmeyer, Minneapolis, MN.

  1. Ah, disparata vita! (Ah, Life without hope!)
  2. Et amara valde (And bitter indeed it will be)
  3. Par che transformi (Her heart transformed)

Program Note

I am struck by the stylistic affinity between the more chromatic, adventurous passages in Carlo Gesualdo’s music and my own music. A natural structure suggested itself, in which Gesualdo’s music would provide the basis for ornamentation and transformation, with each movement of the triptych taking as its point of departure a single fragment from the Madrigali or Responsoria. I am not the first composer to want to shake hands with the unhappy prince (1561-1613), who is also noteworthy as one of the few composers who murdered both his wife and her lover. Stravinsky created his own Monumentum Pro Gesualdo late in his career, but its three movements are arrangements, rather than new compositions.

My work opens with a sighing, descending motive (“Ah, life without hope!”), developed in juxtaposition with toccata figuration. In the second movement, (“And bitter indeed it will be”), the fragment is not directly stated, but provides a harmonic backdrop, with prominent unresolved sevenths and cross-relations. The finale’s subject, which curiously resembles the theme from Strauss’s Till, is derived from an ascending, rather bluesy, chromatic sequence (“Her heart seems transformed”). The resulting introduction and double-fugue features brilliant episodes and an ambiguous, questioning epilogue which recalls earlier material.

Gesualdo Fragments was composed in the spring of 1990 and is dedicated to Dean Billmeyer, who gave the work its premiere on November 14, 1993 at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis under the title Fragments and Tangents: Homage to Gesualdo. The score was revised in 2006.


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