Techniques | Monteverdi’s Innovations | Early & Middle Baroque | Opera
Claudio Monteverdi was a great innovator who achieved the quantum leap of musical style that largely freed opera from its Medieval and religious origins. To achieve this, he broke some rules, put his own interpretations on others and made changes that, in seventeenth-century terms, were revolutionary. The recitative, for example, was already an established pattern in singing, but Monteverdi used it in a new way, as a lead-in to an aria.
Orchestras in the seventeenth century were relatively small, which limited their dramatic impact. Monteverdi expanded the size of his orchestra to some 40 instruments, thus broadening and deepening the sound. It was common practice, too, for music to be played by any available combination of instruments. Monteverdi sought more precise effects by allocating certain passages of music in his operas to instruments of his choice. A further innovation, again uncommon in seventeenth-century orchestration, was Monteverdi’s frequent changes of harmony and key. This variability increased an opera’s dramatic feel, alerted the audience to new musical developments in the score and generally kept their attention at a peak of interest.
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