Tasso Madrigals is a piece devoted to Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, an epic poem from the 16th century about the First Crusade (1095-1099). This work (and particularly the love stories therein) was a favorite of composers of the 17th-19th centuries. These are fictional additions to the main plot, much the way Hollywood has inserted apocryphal romances into a Biblical narrative to make it more successful at the box office.
Prior to composing my madrigals, I had written a paper for a conference presentation on the work of Vicentino and some of his contemporaries. And, though I knew Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, a setting of part of Tasso’s poem, as well as other dramatic musical works of the 17th Century that used stories from it, I had not read the entire poem for myself. So I had the pleasure of reading Ralph Nash’s fairly recent English translation. I then made plans to compose my own settings of selected portions that would be informed by both the Vicentino paper and my reading of Tasso. As it turned out, these settings came to form yet another layer of a larger chamber work featuring a dialogue between clashing tuning systems.
I also wanted certain layers to be detachable. For instance, the opening snare drum part can be played as a detached solo. As such it is a fitting emblem of a military action endowed with the highest of purpose: wresting the holy city from the pagans. Tasso's poem details numerous distractions away from the high purpose of the crusaders, including the seductions of the pagan warrioress, Armida.
One may ask: Why should a composer be interested in the poem in the 21st century? Jerusalem and the conflicts surrounding it continue to be central to the issues of sovereignty and peace on earth. And religious institutions continue to function as a kingdom over kings in connection with the city, the way they did during the first crusade. A summary of the action in each of the 5 madrigals is as follows:
I mss. 1-33 Godfrey is sought as captain of the crusaders in their mission to besiege and rescue the holy city. (Canto I:12 from poem)
II mss. 34-107 Armida makes Godfrey's men fall in love with her. (Canto IV:86-88)
III mss. 108-169 In retaliation for his slandering him, Rinaldo slays Gernando (Canto V:28-32)
IV mss. 170-277 Solyman's beloved young page is slain by the experienced Argillan (Canto IX:81-85)
V mss. 278-end The battle for Jerusalem (Canto XX:30 with excerpts from William of Tyre's history of the event)
2 Harps (Harp 2 with special tuning)
5 Madrigal Singers (Soprano, 2 Altos, Tenor, Bass)
Percussion 1 (snare drum, large tam-tam, bass drum)
Percussion 2 (extended glockenspiel, tambourine, bongos (mounted), claves
flute / piccolo
2 Contrabasses (Contrabass 2 with special tuning)
13 performers total