Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643)

His importance to the development of music cannot easily be overestimated.  With Beethoven, Wagner and Debussy he belongs to those composers of tremendously revolutionizing influence whose creative achievements altered the musical climate of their respective periods.  Growing up during the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque age, he alone was capable of leading music successfully from the obsolescent polyphonic tradition of the late Renaissance, through the primitive declamatory experiments of the Florentines, to the fertile new forms of opera, cantata and orchestrally inspired church music.  He is heir to the august assembly of Renaissance madrigalists, yet he discards the polyphonic madrigal after 1614 and excels in his later years in the new art of thorough-bass practice.  His opera "Orfeo", while eclipsing Peri's and Caccini's earlier efforts by its sheer musicality, is still in many respects a product of Grecian humanism.  His last, "Poppea", on the other hand, uses for the first time an historical subject and paves the way to the "bel canto" opera of Alessandro Scarlatti.

Although Monteverdi never wrote a single item of pure instrumental music, he revolutionized orchestral technique by the invention of tremolo and pizzicato, and by the introduction of an operatic orchestra into the sphere of ecclesiastical music.  In his later dramatic works, of which so few have survived, Monteverdi originated the grammar of a new style of dramatic characterization and symbolic musical expression.

(See also The Music of Monteverdi)