Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices (1995) - full transcript

Works, legend and murders of Carlo Gesualdo, a notorious Italian composer and murderer from the 16th century.

This is the castle
where Carlo Gesualdo

spent the last 16 years of his life.

He lived the last years of his life
in complete and utter solitude.

In complete and utter agony.

He was virtually hounded
by demons and furies.

In any case,

he was
an artist of the greatest distinction.

In fact, we can detect

a certain element of genius in him.

This, of course, allowed him
to anticipate an artistic movement

that emerged
at the beginning of this century.


As a matter of fact,

he was able to express,

using the art form that came
most naturally to him, the madrigal,

his inner world in its entirety.

His solitary and tormented world.

In short, a world of persecution

by demons and furies.

- Did he die here?
- Yes. He died here in Gesualdo.

There are two accounts
regarding his death.

As the first would have it,
Carlo Gesualdo died of asthma.

The second, on the other hand,

tells us that he died
as a result of excessive flagellation.

And he did in fact
have about 20 domestic servants

who ended up flogging him
over and over again most savagely.

The injuries that resulted
from this flogging

caused infections
that eventually led to his death.

So it is possible
that he was a masochist?

I can't give you
a definitive answer to that.

However, legend has it
that one of his servants

would lie with him at night
so as to cover his back

in order to keep him warm
while he slept.

"Abandon all hope ye who enter".

- Do you work here?
- Yes, I work here.

- Alone?
- Alone. No one wants to work here.

This castle is cursed.

There seems to be a woman here,
a madwoman of Venosa,

hiding somewhere in this castle.

Come along, I'll show you.

- Signore?
- Yes?

- What are you doing here?
- I come here once a week.

These cracks in the walls...
An evil spirit lives here.

It must stay here in Gesualdo.

And these cracks...
this spirit must not leave this place.

- Whose ghost is it?
- The ghost of Gesualdo.

- Hello.
- Hello, come in, come in.

Have you looked at the menu
for Gesualdo's wedding celebration?

Yes, I looked at it a bit last night,
and I still am.

I'll tell you what,
for this wedding he...

This Gesualdo
was a real miracle-worker.

Who was this Gesualdo anyway?
Was he a devil?

He had the means to do it
and was a bit of a perfectionist.

- He was rich.
- This I can say...

And there were 125 courses.
How absolutely fantastic!

He was a devil, this Gesualdo.
A real devil.

I looked at some recipes
and found some dishes.

He invited maybe 1,000 guests.
It doesn't say here.

A 120-course meal.
Not 120 plates, but trays.

Imagine, they prepared 2,000 oysters
and arranged them on trays.

- All cleaned...
- All cleaned.

And garnished
with a little slice of lemon,

with a small bunch of parsley.

And he served lots of fish.

- I made you some eel.
- Oh, that's hot!

I did it in a tomato sauce.
He did it in "pastella reale".

- But I don't know...
- What that is?

Well, I could... It's difficult for me
to know exactly what it was.

He also had quail on the menu.

There were 25 trays of eel.
Just imagine the quantity.

- A real devil, that one.
- Imagine all that eel.

- 25 trays for a hundred...
- What a wedding!

- This is the quail.
- I reproduced the quail dish.

- He made loads...
- Gesualdo, what a devil!

- For 100, 150...
- He loved them.

He had 15 trays of quail prepared.
They were fried in batter.

They prepared 120 young goats.
Roasted goat!

- They served them on 25 trays.
- What a devil!

Gesualdo's wedding
was a real spectacle.

Did this Gesualdo
have horns by any chance?

- Well, his wife was horny...
- Is that so?

So she was a devil too.
What a devil!

There were 25 loins of veal.

Laid out and presented on 25 trays.

- Loins of veal.
- It's the lower part of the...

- He slaughtered...
- This part here?

Right here, the haunch.

He had another foible,
this Gesualdo.

- And he sure was a devil.
- He also liked...

He enjoyed dance.

- Song.
- Gesualdo liked to dance.

And he absolutely adored music.

During the intervals
between each course

Gesualdo provided entertainment.

The performers included dancers,
musicians and court jesters.

Like I said, he was a devil.

He had Bolognese jesters
and Parmese... How do you say it?

- Parmesan.
- Yes, from Parma.

Good evening,
is this where Gesualdo lived

when he was in Naples?

Yes, this was Gesualdo's residence
when he came to Naples.

Well, the first place he lived in
was that house on the ground floor.

And that is where he committed
the two murders.

Where he killed
his wife and her lover.

What happened that night?

That night was quite an unhappy night.

Because a whole load
of things happened.

There was even a monk

who passed and ravished
the cadaver of Gesualdo's wife.

- And, well...
- Here?

And, Gesualdo, as we all know...

As we say, he was...

Let's just say he was a bit of demon.

He was an alchemist.

But, more than anything else, a demon.

At that time
that's what they called people

who were
a bit more intelligent than others.

Did he experiment on humans?

Yes, he experimented on human bodies
and there are still skeletons...

He injected a serum,
a substance, into the cadavers' veins

and these skeletons
are still in San Severo Chapel.

Here, in the cellar behind me.

And, still today, no one knows

what it is that preserves
those skeletons.

The only thing we know,

or what's said, is that
his wife's and her lover's skeletons

are the two skeletons
in San Severo Chapel.

This is Carlo Gesualdo's castle.

This is where
Prince Carlo Gesualdo resided.

Come with me, I'll show you

what he did...

after he murdered his wife.

Take a look at this garden.

It is full of vegetation.

This whole valley was like this,
full of vegetation.

He cut down everything

after murdering his wife.

Because he basically went raving mad.

- It was as lush as this garden?
- Nothing but green all around.

The other side too.
It was completely wooded.

The other side too.

And he cut down all of it.

- All alone?
- Yes, all alone.

- Without anyone's help?
- No help whatsoever.

- How long did it take him?
- About two or three months.

As the story goes,
it was here that Carlo Gesualdo,

realizing he had a child,

his second son...

Believing this son was
the fruit of his wife's affair,

he decided that the boy had to die.

So he ordered his servants
to hang him in a cradle

from the balcony.

Back there?

He let him rock
there for three days and three nights.

And he also brought in a choir

to sing.

- Where was this choir?
- Over there.

At the base of...

Over there in the archway
at the end of the corridor.

They sang

until the baby died.

The baby died?

Yes, he died.

And they sang a madrigal
which told of the beauty of death.

- A madrigal about the beauty of death?
- Yes.

Pardon me, signora.

Who are you?
What are you doing here?


I am Maria d'Avalos.

I am
the reincarnation of Maria d'Avalos.

I belong to this place.

My room is upstairs.

Our kitchens are downstairs.

Was it from Carlo Gesualdo?
The song, that is.

Oh, you mean the music.

Oh, yes, he composed it.

Shortly before the murder.

He no longer wished to talk.

All he did
was make foreboding remarks.

The last thing he said to me,

it was
about ten days before the murder,

he said:

"Death kills, nothing else."

From that moment on

he refused to speak to me.

He just sang strange songs.

Would you like to hear one?

One moment, that's not it.

Wait, one second.



What strange music.

Could you give us
an address, a phone number?

We'd like to learn more about you.

Well, I live in Heaven.

But you can find me

by taking a helicopter

around the chandelier at La Scala.

There is a small box

in the second row.

Near the column.

It is completely covered
in red damask.

That is where I live.

Shall we get going?

- Let's go.
- Come, Francesco.

- Hello.
- Hello.


- There it is.
- The horse?

There's the horse.

- Should we go over there?
- Yes.

- What was that?
- It was there.

Hold on a bit.

Without stirrups, Francesco.
We'll put them on later.

Do you know what we have to do now?

We have to hug the horse.
Show us how good you are at that.

Now lower yourself towards the front.
Lower, as low as it goes.

Hug the horse really really tight.

- He likes you. Do you like him?
- Yes.

The horse. Yes?
Okay, let's go, Gianni.

Listen to me, Francesco.

- We'll ride in a circle like this.
- Legs back so his shoes don't dig in.

Put your head down
and relax, Francesco.

- Do you feel how warm the horse is?
- Yes.

It is warm, isn't it?

- The horse is soft too, isn't it?
- Yes.

- It's warm and soft.
- Yes.

That's great, Francesco.

Right down.
Feel all of its movements.

How it walks, how it moves.

Huh, Francesco,
what do you say to that?

Right down,
lean your head against my hand.

Come on, Francesco.

As you can see,
there are new ways to treat

the mentally ill.

But I can't let you film
everything we do here.

I have to protect
the privacy of my patients.

But to answer your question,

whether there was a woman here
who thought she was Maria d'Avalos?

I think there was,
but it was years and years ago.

She was an opera singer.
But I didn't work here yet then.

But the interesting thing
is that we have a patient here

who says that he is Carlo Gesualdo.

And we have yet another patient

who says he too is Carlo Gesualdo.

I have to keep them apart.

And I absolutely cannot allow them
to meet one another.

So here in our museum
at Venosa Castle

we have many interesting
and very valuable artefacts.

But there's one
that'll certainly interest you.

It is this disc here
at the centre of the vitrine

which most certainly belonged
to Prince Carlo Gesualdo.

It was his personal property.

And, as proof
that it actually belonged to him,

we have this document here
that I would like to show you.

The document consists of a letter

signed personally

by Prince Carlo Gesualdo himself.

And it is addressed to his alchemist,

whom he promised a fortune,

an enormous sum of money at that time,

to help him decipher

the meaning of all of these signs.

To decipher all of the markings
that are carved into this object.

The Prince

spent entire days and nights

trying to unlock
the secret of this object.

And he lost himself in a labyrinth

of notions,
conjecture and suppositions.

But he never got to the bottom of it.

This disc does indeed remind us

of the Phaistos Disc.

Even if
no archaeological connection exists.

This is
from the third or fourth century,

whereas the Phaistos Disc
is from 1500 BC, i.e. The Minoan Age.

But, like the Phaistos Disc,

this object too
has remained a mystery to this day.

There isn't a computer,
there's no archaeological method

or other scientific technology

that is capable of assisting us
in deciphering its mystery.

The very mystery
that caused Carlo Gesualdo

many sleepless days
and nights throughout his life.

Hello, we've been expecting you.

This is
Prince d'Avalos's summer palace.

Please, follow me.

This is the Red Parlour.

This is the ballroom.


The picture gallery.

Now I will show you
to His Highness the Prince's chamber.


Continuing on.

Here we are.
This is the Prince's studio.

Prince, you are
the head of the House d'Avalos.

How are you related to Maria d'Avalos?

Well, at the moment I am only really

head of myself and my son,
because we are all that is left.

So there's just
my sister, my son and myself.

And I am related to Maria d'Avalos...

Here I have a family tree
that shows that we descend from...

As it were, I am descended from...

My line goes back to this fellow here,
a certain Alfonso.

And Maria descended
from one of Alfonso's sons,

Carlo d'Avalos, who married
Sveva Gesualdo, as we see here.

She was their daughter
and married Carlo Gesualdo.

Who was in fact
a first cousin of Maria's.

- And where are you?
- I am on the last branch.

Moving ahead in time a good bit.
This one here...

Going ahead a bit more.
Here I am.

Francesco. And here is my son, Andrea.
Then there's my sister.

- Prince, you too are a composer.
- Yes.

And you wrote and opera
about Maria d'Avalos's life.

What kind
of a character did Maria have?

Well, she was a very proud woman.

She was a proud woman
and proud of her name.

This is extremely evident
from the way she carried herself.

And, in a certain sense,
she was a woman...

It sounds odd today, but she wanted
to display her love for all to see.

Prince, Carlo Gesualdo's music,

it almost seems as if he were
a composer from the 20th century.

I wouldn't go so far as to say 20th,

but there is certainly
a close affinity between him

and the music
of the late 19th century.

At the turn of the century.
In his use of chords, for example.

Particularly his madrigals
for five voices in Book 6.

Yes, for example in "Moro, lasso".

It contains a passage
with a peculiar progression of chords.

- With very distant chords.
- Very dissonant?

Not dissonant, but with only
a very tenuous tonal relationship.

Here they are, in the first part.

This, for example.

This is a passage that is extremely...

The tonality of the chords
is very distant, random.

That's what I mean.

Bruckner and Strauss
used this as well later on.

We have to go ahead to that period.

It would be difficult
to find that in Mozart.

The rest of the family archive
is in these cabinets.

Now I'll show you something
that is quite interesting.

Something special.

This archive holds centuries of weight
that now rests on my shoulders.

The chapel will be reconstructed here.

There's an altar
that has to be put back up right here.

These rooms here
are earmarked for the archive.

After everything has been removed.

You see this bed here.

This is a very special bed.

No, pull him up.

- Try it. Go on and try.
- Carmine, are you ready?

Take it easy, no worries.

Come on, what are you going to do now?
Let's do this!

"In spite of Satan!"

"Of all of hell!"

What meagre voice
does dare mention my name?

My kingdom?


Who are you?

And so farewell, people of Gesualdo.

Please be quiet for a moment.

I'm an angel come from Heaven.

Everything's fine here.

Yeah, I saw it but not like that.
It's not the same.

There's a difference, right?

Mum, listen, I already told you.

I'll take the jockey
and the horse home first.

No, in half an hour.
The Gesualdo film is finishing up.