Carlo Gesualdo Murders His Wife And Her Lover

Stories like this make me feel a profound disappointment with Hollywood. They’ll make and remake anything with brand recognition, but a crazy, dramatic true story like this gets ignored.

Today is October 16, 2017, and on this date, 427 Years Back, in 1590, Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa, murdered his wife and her lover.

Carlo Gesualdo, in addition to being a nobleman, was also a renowned Renaissance composer. In fact, he was such a progressive composer that his influence has had a lasting effect throughout musical history. He was very experimental in his compositions, and pushed the bounds of acceptability for music of that era. And that is why he is remembered… well, that and the fact that he killed his wife and her lover in a rage.

Gesualdo’s wife, Donna Maria had been having an affair with Fabrizio Carafa. On October 16, 1590, Carlo Gesualdo caught the two in the act in a palace in Naples. In his rage he hacked away at the bodies, chopping them to bits. After leaving the room, he soon returned, as it is said, because he wasn’t certain as to whether the pair were dead or not.

It was a grisly scene, and local officials saw the gore firsthand during their investigation of the occurrence. Because of the circumstances, the court found that no crime had been committed.

One would be forgiven for thinking that this is where the story ends, but amazingly it is not. Gesualdo continued to be controversial for the rest of his life. His second wife accused him of some very depraved forms of abuse. Beyond that, he fell into a deep depression and delved into sadomasochistic practices including having himself beaten by his servants. While the line between fact and fiction has long since become blurred, there have even been rumors of Gesualdo participating in witchcraft or other occult activities, or even being possessed. Though it is far more likely he simply suffered from a mental illness.

In a 2011 piece written for The New Yorker, Alex Ross summarized Gesualdo’s legacy as follows.

If Gesualdo had not committed such shocking acts, we might not pay such close attention to his music. But if he had not written such shocking music we would not care so much about his deeds. Many bloodier crimes have been forgotten; it’s the nexus of high art and foul play that catches our fancy.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back tomorrow for a flood that a lot of people might wish they could’ve been there for.

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