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Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

Sunday 22 June 2008 17:00-18:30 (Radio 3)

In a programme made as part of the 2008 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, Robert Hollingworth and his group I Fagiolini explore the background and music to Monteverdi's operatic scena, The Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda, for which the composer claimed to use a new form of musical expression.


1 hour 30 minutes

The Text of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata

Translated by Edward Fairfax in 1600

The Text on which Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is based


He deem'd she was some man of mickle might,
And on her person would he worship win,
Ouer the hilles the nimph her iourney dight
Towards another port, there to get in:
Theme of the horse
With hideous noise fast after spurr'd the knight,
She heard and staide, and thus her words begin:

"What haste has thou? ride softly, take thy breath, What bringest thou?

He answerd:

"Warre and death.."

"And warre and death.."

Quoth she:

".heere maist thou get
If thou for battle come"

With that she staid:
Tancred to ground his foote in haste downe set,
And left his stead: on foote he saw the maid,
Their courage hot, their ire and wrath they whet,
And either champion drew a tranchant blaid:
Togither ran they, and togither stroke,
Like two fierce buls, whom rage and loue prouoke.
The actions were and woonders of that fray,
Which sable night did in darke bosome drowne,
Woorthie of royal listes and brightest day,
Woorthie a golden trompe and lawrell crowne.
Yet night, consent that I their actes display,
And make their deeds to future ages knowne,
And in records of long enduring storie,
Enroll their praise, their fame, their woorth & glorie.
Beginning of the battle
They neither shrunke, nor vantage sought of ground,
They trauerst not, nor skipt from part to part,
Their blowes were neither false nor faigned found,
Their night, their rage, would let them vse no art,
Their swords togither clash with dreadfull sound,
Their feet stand fast, and neither stir nor start,
They moue their hands, stedfast their feete remaine,
Nor blow nor foine they stroake or thrust in vaine,
Shame bred desire a sharp reuenge to take,
And veng'ance taken gaue new cause of shame:
So that with haste and little heed they strake,
Fuell enough they had to feed the flame.
At last so close their battell fierce they make,
They could not weild their swords, so nie they came,
They vs'd the hilts, and each on other rusht,
And helme to helme, and shield to shield they crusht.
Thrice his strong armes he fouldes about her waste,
And thrice was forst to let the virgine goe,
For she disdained to be so embraste,
No louer would have strain'd his mistresse soe:
They tooke their swords againe, and each enchaste
Deepe wounds in the soft flesh of his strong foe,
Till weak and wearie, faint, aliue vneath,
They both retirde at once, at once tooke breath;
Each other long beheild, and leaning stood
Vpon their swords, whose points in earth were pight,
When day breake rising from the Eastren flood,
Put forth the thousand eies of blindfold night,
Tancred beheild his foes out streaming blood,
And gaping wounds, and waxt proud with the sight,
O vanitie of mans vnstable minde,
Puft vp with euerie blast of friendly winde!
Why ioi'st thou wretch? O what shall be thy gaine?
What trophie for this conquest ist, thou reares?
Thine eies shall shed (in case thou not be slaine)
For euerie drop of blood a sea of teares:
The bleeding warriors leaning thus remaine.
Each one to speake one word long time forbeares,
Tancred the silence broake at last, and said,
(For he would know with whom this fight he maid

"Euill is our chance, and hard our fortune is,
Who here in silence and in shade debate,
Where light of sunne and witnes all we mis,
That should our prowess and our praise dilate:
If words in armes finde place, yet grant me this,
Tell me thy name, thy countrey and estate,
That I may know (This dangerous combate donne)
Whom I haue conquerd, or who hath me wonne."

Quoth she:

"What I nill tell, you aske in vaine,
Nor mou'd by praier, nor constrained by powre:
But thus much know, I am one of those twaine
Which late with kindled fire destroi'd the towre."

Tancred at her proud words sweld with disdaine:

"That has thou said in euill howre (quoth he),
Thy vaunting speeches, and thy silence both,
(Vnciuill wretch) hath made my hart more wroth."

Ire in their chafed breasts renewed the fray,
Fierce was the fight, though feeble were their might,
Their strength was gone, their cunning was away.
And furie in their stead maintain'd the fight:
Their swords both points and edges sharpe embay
In purple bloud, where so they hit or light,
And if weake life yet in their bosomes lie,
They liud because they both disdain to die.
But now alas, the fatall how're arriues.
That her sweete life must leaue that tender hold.
His sword into her bosome deepe he driues,
And bath'd in lukewarm blood his iron cold,
Betweene her brests the cruell weapon riues
Her curious square, emboss with swelling gold,
Her knees grow weake, the paines of death she
Feeles, and like a falling Cedar bends and reeles,
The Prince his hand vpon her shield doth streach,
And low on earth the wounded damsell laith,
And while she fell, with weake and woefull speech,
Her praiers last, and last complaints she saith,
A spirit new did her those praiers teach,
Spirit of hope, of charitie, and faith;
And though her life to Christ rebellious weare,
Yet she died his childe and handmaide deare:

"Friend thous hast wonne, I pardon thee, nor saue
This bodie, that all torments can endure,
But suae my soule, baptisme I dying craue,
Come wash away my sinnes with water pure"

His hart relenting nigh insunder raue,
With woefull speech of that sweete creature,
So that his rage, his wrath and anger dide,
And on his cheekes salt teares for ruthe downe slide,
With murmur lowd downe from the mountaines side
A little runnell tumbled neere the place;
Thither he ran and fild his helmet wide,
And quicke return'd to do that worke of grace;
With trembling hands her beauver he vntide,
Which done he saw, and seeing, knew her face,
And lost therewith his speech and moouing quight,
O woefull knowledge, ah vnhappie sight!
He died not, but all his strength vnites,
And to his virtues gaue his hart in gard,
Brideling his greefe, with water he requites
The life, that he bereft with iron hard;
And while the sacred words the knight recites,
The Nymphe to heau'n with joy her selfe prepard;
And as her life decaies, her ioyes increase,
She smild and said:

"Farewell, I die in peace."

Edward Fairfax (1600)

The Lirone

A modern reconstruction of a Lirone,
made by Owen Morse-Brown

Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

Listen to the programme



Tempro La Cetra (Madrigals Book 7, No 1)

Hor Che'l Ciel e La Terra (Madrigali Guerrieri e Amorosi - Madrigali Guerrieri, No 3)

Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

I Fagiolini

Director Robert Hollingworth

Narrator Nicholas Mulroy

Tancredi Eamonn Dougan

Clorinda Clare Wilkinson

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