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In this programme, we will explore the music of the Italian composer, Claudio Monteverdi, including his first surviving opera, L’Orfeo, and one of his most famous madrigals, Zefiro Torna. Through Monteverdi’s music, we will learn about four important musical forms:
1. Toccata 2. Aria 3. Ritornello 4. Ostinato


Who was Monteverdi?

Monteverdi was an Italian composer of the late Renaissance, born in Cremona in 1567. He learned about music by singing in the cathedral choir and studying with the director. His first job was in the court of Mantua and then as Maestro di Cappella at Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. He is famous for composing madrigals like ‘Zefiro Torna’ and for being one of the first composers to write what we would now call Opera. L’Orfeo, written in 1607, is his oldest surviving operatic work.

Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and his descent into the Underworld, as he attempts to bring his bride, Euridice back from the dead.





The term Toccata often refers to a virtuosic keyboard piece, but from the late 14th through to the late 18th century, it also referred to an exciting processional fanfare for trumpets and drums, which was often played at important state occasions.

Toccata from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

L’Orfeo opens with a toccata which heralds the arrival of the Duke of Mantua. It is dramatic and startling, and calls the audience to attention with the quick scale-like passages.

Learn about the structure and rhythmic patterns of the Toccata through body percussion.

  • We will learn about the structure and rhythmic patterns of the toccata through the performance of its rhythmic elements, using body percussion.


  • We will learn the rhythmic values of Ta, Tadi and Ta-ka-di-mi, and you will learn how to recognise these rhythmic patterns aurally, kinesthetically and through stick notation.

Sestina Music: Exploring Monteverdi Part 1 - Toccata

Sestina Music: Exploring Monteverdi Part 1 - Toccata

Play Video



An aria is a song in an opera which is sung by one character and reflects upon their point of view in the story.

Via Ricorda O Boschi Ombrosi from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

In this aria Orfeo sings about how unhappy he was before he met Euridice, and how his life has changed for the better since knowing her.

Learn about changing metre by singing an Italian aria with movement.

  • In this aria, there are 2 musical ideas: a new instrumental ritornello which alternates with solo verses sung by Orfeo.


  • We will learn the repeated refrain (ritornello) which is highlighted in bold. First we will learn how to pronounce the text, and then we will learn the melody before putting this together with the movement.


  • We will learn about changing metre, and how to move a hemiola pattern within the music.

Video part 1


A recurring musical idea or refrain that is heard between contrasting sections.

Ritornello from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

The ritornello in L’Orfeo is a recurring musical passage that happens between scenes in the opera. The passage we will be working with has four musical phrases that act like a musical conversation.

Learn about phrasing and structure through movement.

A juggling scarf or small bouncing ball.

  • We will learn about phrasing by using scarves or balls.

  • The passage we will work with has four musical phrases. In the first phrase we hear a musical fact, which is interrupted and contradicted by the second phrase, which is in turn interrupted by a clarifying third phrase. The final interrupting phrase is a resolution of the musical conversation.