Seconda Pratica Dissertation Orfeo

Associate Professor, Music & Dance
Graduate Coordinator School of Music and Dance Music History Coordinator School of Music and Dance




Preferred: (408) 924-4634

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MUS 107, Monday/Wednesday, 10:30-12:00


  • Doctor of Philosophy, Univ Of Cal-Los Angeles, 2008
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Musicology, Univ Of Cal-Los Angeles, 2008
  • Bachelor of Arts, Music, Univ Of Cal-Los Angeles, 1998
  • Master of Arts, Musicology, Univ Of Cal-Los Angeles, 2000


Gordon comes to the San Jose faculty from the University of California, Los Angeles where he completed his doctorate in musicology with his dissertation, "Beyond the Seconda Prattica: Claudio Monteverdi and the Poetics of Genre after Orfeo" under the direction of Susan McClary. His article "'In grembo a Citerea': The representation of ingenium and ars in Claudio Monteverdi's 'Tempro la cetra'" appears in the Monteverdi issue of the journal Early Music. While his study focuses on the music and culture in the late sixteenth- and the early seventeenth-centuries, Gordon's other research and teaching interests include film music, gagaku (Japanese court music) and American Musical Theater. Gordon now serves as the Graduate Coordinator and Coordinator of Music History in the School of Music & Dance, as well as directing the Collegium Musicum, the School's early music ensemble.

At UCLA Gordon was one of the founding members of Musica Humana, the Early Music Collective, for which he was director for 3 years. Gordon is also one of the founding editors of echo: a music-centered journal, an on-line interdisciplinary music journal. In 2001 Gordon was the first recipient of the Ciro Zoppo Research Fellowship for his work with the music of the seventeenth-century English composer Nicholas Lanier, and in 2005 Gordon was the recipient of the Ingolf Dahl Award in Musicology, sponsored by the Northern California and Pacific-Southwest chapters of the American Musicological Society. In 2004, the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Teaching awarded Gordon the Distinguished Teaching Assistant Award in recognition of his dynamic and innovative approach to working with students.


Monteverdi and the Birth of Opera

09 May 2017

Claudio Monteverdi, Opera, Vocal

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Considering the scope of human history, the majority of classical music falls within a relatively narrow time frame. During the span of just a few centuries, western music emerged from the primordial soup of the middle ages, developed polyphony and counterpoint, absorbed new and more complicated forms, survived a century of atonality, and stands today as an art form nearly unrecognizable from its humble origins. The ultimate test of the classical composer is not whether their music can achieve fleeting fame during their lifetime, but whether it can stand the test of time and reach people across a temporal divide of decades or centuries.

Few composers meet this standard as well as Claudio Monteverdi, a composer born nearly four and a half centuries ago, which by way of comparison is only three years after Shakespeare’s birth and over 200 years before Beethoven’s. Monteverdi was the earliest champion, most notable innovator and practically the inventor of the modern opera. At the same time, his secular vocal works over the course of his career single-handedly demonstrate the progression from the late Renaissance to the early Baroque era.

One of Monteverdi’s greatest contributions to music came in the form of eight books of madrigals published between 1587 and 1638 (an additional volume was published posthumously in 1651). The most radical of these was the fifth book (1605), mostly as a result of the remarkable preface that Monteverdi provided. After years of criticism from his colleagues for his unconventional style, the young composer decided to definitively defend his style of composition by providing a theoretical grounding that others could understand and follow.

In one of music history’s landmark dissertations, Monteverdi divided the musical landscape into two streams. The first, which he called prima pratica, essentially described the prevailing style of Renaissance polyphony, while seconda pratica made the case for a more emotional style of writing in which the text dictates the musical content and contrapuntal rules can be broken for the sake of drama. He supplemented these overarching themes with other innovations, including the introduction of the basso continuo and an unprecedented level of functional tonality. Monteverdi’s preface on seconda pratica was essentially laying out the rationale for what would become the avant-garde of the 17th century.

The single most revolutionary work by Monteverdi was his 1607 opera L’Orfeo, which recounts the Greek myth of a man named Orpheus who descends into the underworld in an attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice. The legend is a perennial favorite for composers and artists alike, since Orpheus is recounted as a musician of remarkable ability, capable of charming humans and even animals with his lyre. L’Orfeo was not the first opera ever composed: Italian composer Jacopo Peri holds that honor with Dafne, finished in 1598. However, after experiencing a revival in the 19th century, L’Orfeo is still regularly performed on stages today, a remarkable feat for a work over four centuries old.

The success of early Italian opera composers, including Monteverdi, was largely responsible for Italian preeminence in the genre for hundreds of years. Even composers outside of Italy wrote in the shadow of composers such as Monteverdi and many, most famously Mozart, wrote operas in an explicitly Italian style with an Italian libretto. Monteverdi’s influence also extended far beyond opera and his home country. By facilitating many of the most essential developments in early baroque music, he paved the way for subsequent exponents of seconda pratica from George Frideric Handel to Johann Sebastian Bach, and forever changed the course of classical music.

Matt Adomeit
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