Murder, music, melancholy and madness: these are some of the strange bedfellows that have made the life of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, so endlessly fascinating. Infamous at the age of 24 for having violently murdered his beautiful first wife and her lover, whom he found in flagrante delicto , Gesualdo’s abiding passion was musical composition, where he became renowned for the use of shocking and unexpected dissonance. To what extent such dissonance is related to his murderous tendencies remains a moot point.

Gesualdo

What we do know is that the extreme harmonies that were to flower in his late masterpiece, the Responsoria of 1611, were already germinating in his six books of madrigals. Gesualdo was well placed to explore the artistic possibilities of the madrigal thanks to his second marriage, to Leonora d’Este, the niece of the music-loving Duke Alfonso II, whose court in Ferrara was one of the most musically adventurous in Italy. Through the publication of his music in Ferrara, Gesualdo rose to prominence...