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Pomponio Nenna

1550 - October 1613
born in Bari, Italy, composed during the Renaissance period
Giovanni Battista Nenna, the composer's father, was inducted by Emperor Charles V in 1530 into the Order of the Golden Spur, which brought with it the hereditary title of "Cavaliere di Cesare." The inherited title certainly gave Pomponio some class advantage throughout his career, and he later included the title on the frontispieces to his collections. Raised in Bari, where his father was an official, his teacher was probably Stefano Felis. His first published works, a group of four villanelas, appeared in various collections in 1574. Eight years later, this was followed with the publication of his first collection of four-voice madrigals. Nenna went on to publish nine books of madrigals and two books of responsories in all. Nenna is historically connected with the more (in)famous composer/murderer Prince Don Carlo di Gesualdo in various ways. Nenna's first book of madrigals was dedicated to the lover of Gesualdo's wife, Fabrizio Carafa, Duke of Andria, whom he murdered with her in 1590. The dedication was made perhaps in gratitude for the fact that Carafa had nominated Nenna as governor of Andria a while before. Nenna may also have served Gesualdo in Naples from 1594 - 1599. Their interaction, and numerous similarities and parallels in their music, leads to dispute over just who influenced whom. A little older than the prince, it seemed at first more likely that Nenna had taught Gesualdo, but evidence stacks up suggesting that Nenna in fact imitated Gesualdo. One crucial junction in the debate is that Gesualdo's works seem to have been composed somewhat too early to have been influenced by Nenna. Nenna is also known to have lifted ideas from another composer, Giulio Cacinni, so the identical phrases in some of their madrigals could easily have been pure plagiarism on Nenna's part. The progress of Nenna's style is also revealing. The music in the later works, presumably after his exposure to Gesualdo's work, becomes increasingly chromatic and rhythmically contorted. In the end, they resemble nothing if not a diluted version of Gesualdo. When their settings of parallel passages of text are compared, the impression is definitely that Nenna was the follower. Nenna's own most interesting stylistic innovation, that unquestionably belongs to him, is found in his first five-voice book of madrigals. It is what can be called a cadence ostinato, consisting of a pattern of cadence-like chords that are repeated as many as ten times in succession. Although he maintained a degree of success throughout his life by adapting to whatever style was fashionable, his most popular collection was his seventh book of five-voice madrigals. Published in Rome in 1608, it went through four imprints before 1624. It is even found in a later version with English texts. The responsories on the whole are far more tame than the madrigals. Nenna is recorded taking part in chess games in 1606, in the Napalese house of Don Ferrante di Cardona. In 1607, he was out of Naples and arrived in Rome no later than 1608. In October 1613, a book of four-voice madrigals by composer Nicola Tortamano appeared, dedicated to the memory of Nenna, indicating Nenna had probably died not long before. ~ Donato Mancini, Rovi
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