Composer. The Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, Naples, he was a musical prodigy, and became highly skilled at singing, lute, and harpsichord while still a child. In 1586 he married his cousin, the beautiful (and twice-widowed) Princess Donna Maria d'Avalos; but he preferred musicmaking to lovemaking, and after producing the required male heir lost all interest in her. Donna Maria then began a clandestine affair with Don Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria. The ellicit lovers bribed their servants into silence and it was two years before Gesualdo discovered the truth. On October 16, 1590, Gesualdo set a trap by telling his wife that he was leaving on an overnight hunting expedition. He returned that evening instead---and found Donna Maria and the Duke asleep in her bedroom. An historian of the time described what happened next: "Shaking off the dejection into which this miserable spectacle had plunged him, Don Gesualdo slew them with innumerable dagger thrusts...". The bodies were then displayed on the steps of the local church. Because of his rank Gesualdo was not charged with the murders, but he slowly went mad from guilt and performed his own brand of penance. He cut down the forest around his castle so it could not hide the shame of what had happened there, and he had himself whipped three times a day for the rest of his life. He also began to compose. Gesualdo's six books of madrigals, written between 1594 and 1606, are among the most astonishing works of early Baroque music. With their subjective, emotional tone, chromaticism, and rapid shifts of tempo, they anticipated techniques of the Romantic movement by more than two centuries. Gesualdo eventually married again, unhappily, and died of asthma. His life has been the subject of novels, poems, plays, and operas; the infamous Castle Gesualdo still stands, and a theatre in his hometown is named for him.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards