Carlo Gesualdo – The Mad Musician of Italy

24 May,2017    By

“I die, alas, in my suffering,
And she who could give me life,
Alas, kills me and will not help me.
O sorrowful fate,
She who could give me life,
Alas, gives me death.”

-Moro, lasso, al mio duolo (1613)

Those words of Carlo Gesualdo are ironic when considering his personal story. He came from a privileged family, and early in life showed a lone interest in music. In his twenties he married his first cousin, and this is where his problems began. His reclusive personality emerged which led to a decline in the marriage, and his wife taking on a lover. Gesualdo walked in on them one evening during an intimate moment, and promptly murdered them both in a gruesome way. He even went back after doing the deed, just to make sure they were really dead and to mutilate their corpses. His privilege led to him being cleared of all charges, and after a brief period of musical success in Ferrara, he retreated to his family’s castle in the town of Gesualdo.

castle in gesualdo, italy

He took refuge in the castle for many years as his life spiraled further out of control. His obvious mental illness manifested itself greatly here, and he dabbled in masochism, often having his servants beat him. His love for music continued, but he only wrote for himself – writing the score then hiring musicians to play for him in the castle. He seemed somewhat cognizant of his madness, even trying to procure his dead uncle’s bones in hopes of finding a cure. Yeah, that works every time. Whereas some men struggle to find a girlfriend, Gesualdo managed to get married again during this time. This quickly faded, and he died a lonely man, with some rumors persisting that his second wife unintentionally invoked some justice by murdering him. Gesualdo never saw his music reach its pinnacle of appreciation, as like most artists this happened after his death.

Castello di Gesualdo

I visited the castle of Gesualdo and experienced something…different. The castle was open to the public, but with no ticket counter, guided tours, or informational placards. It looked to still be in use, maybe for classes and conferences, but there was a serious need for housecleaning. I felt like I had just woken up after a zombie apocalypse, and was investigating the ruins of an abandoned building. Every time I carefully opened a door, it invoked images of ‘The Walking Dead’. At times it felt like I was exploring a construction site, with cracked floor tiles and a room full of rubbish.

castle in gesualdo, italy

castle in gesualdo, italy

On the lower level there was a foreboding basement area, that I declined venturing into for fear that it was now home to stray and possibly rabid animals.

castle in gesualdo, italy

There were some frescoes still intact, including what I assumed was the crest of the Gesualdo family.

castle in gesualdo, italy

castle in gesualdo, italy

Despite the weirdness of my surroundings, the real attraction were the views from the castle.

castle in gesualdo, italy

castle in gesualdo, italy

Gesualdo town centre

Right outside the castle was the main square. I decompressed with a glass of wine at a local cafe as I watched locals play cards for cigarettes. This area was small but nice, with a pleasant looking church, a World War I monument, and some stunning views of the hills in the distance.

church in gesualdo, italy

war monument in gesualdo, italy

great view in gesualdo, italy

great view in gesualdo, italy

Ristorante Da Peppino

I ended up eating here twice during my stay. It was the first time I’ve eaten lamb in many years, as that meat is prevalent in the Avellino region, though not so much as you get closer to Naples. My favorite dish was the mozzarella appetizer, which looked almost like cheese pancakes. I’m still getting used to the very thin crust pizza in Italy, but the one I had here was really tasty…and colorful!

mozzarella pancakes in gesualdo, italy

pizza in gesualdo, italy

In summary

It’s hard to justify recommending Gesualdo for anything more than a brief stop while passing through. It might be worth an overnight stay one day, but only if the castle reaches its potential and is transformed into a tourist destination to eliminate some of the spookiness.

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