The University of York has held a conference to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of the Renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo. In a wide-ranging weekend of events – from a forensic analysis of the murder of Gesualdo’s first wife, to madrigal performances, workshops, concerts by I Fagiolini and the university’s own vocal ensemble, The 24 – the conference offered both practical and academic routes into the life of a composer whose colourful music, as well as colourful life, attracts considerable research attention.

Consultant forensic psychiatrist, Dr Ruth McAllister, a Gesualdo enthusiast, gave a forensic analysis of the murder of his first wife, Donna Maria d’Avalos,  and concluded that there was no evidence to prove he killed her himself.

The conference also included a paper by James Wood, discussing his recent reconstructions of Gesualdo’s Sacrae Cantiones à 6, Bo Holten talking about his opera Gesualdo his Shadows, which will be performed in Copenhagen next year, and John Milsom, on how Gesualdo conceived his compositions and, he asked ‘whether a performer or audience needs to know how a composition was made, or is our intuitive response to the finished work all that matters?’

Singing workshops were led by Bo Holten and Justin Doyle and attracted, the organisers said, not only academics and students but amateur singers from the area as well.

Robert Hollingworth, anniversary reader at the University of York, directed both the weekend’s concerts: I Fagiolini’s ‘Strange Harmony of Love’ and the university’s own vocal ensemble, The 24, as well as impromptu performances by students.

The conference was run in conjunction with The Royal Musical Association, Gesualdo Domani and the North East Early Music Forum.

I Fagiolini, directed by Robert Hollingworth, will perform ‘Strange Harmony of Love’, Renaissance music of sweet and strange beauty, on 30 January 2014 at The Great Hall, Lancaster University.;


(Image credit: Eric Richmond)


  1. Robert Hollingworth 11.12.13 11:10am

    Delighted for the weekend to have been written up. Thank you. One point though.

    Ruth’s talk was about Gesualdo’s personality and how it related to his music as far as she could ascertain it from a forensic examination of the witness statements of the murder. The conclusion as written up above was not really part of her talk. (Gesualdo employed armed men to do the killing for him but went in afterwards to stab her body saying, ‘I do not believe that she is dead’.)

  2. Dr RH McAllister 11.12.13 12:53pm

    ‘Consultant forensic psychiatrist, Dr Ruth McAllister…gave a forensic analysis of the murder of his first wife, Donna Maria d’Avalos, and concluded that there was no evidence to prove he killed her himself.’

    I’m dismayed if anyone thinks that was my conclusion; there’s no doubt Gesualdo was responsible, even if his servants struck the fatal blows.

    The talk was about clues to Gesualdo’s personality, from the murders and from contemporary accounts of him, with reflections on the music.

  3. Rhian Morgan 12.12.13 10:01am

    Apologies to both Robert Hollingworth and Dr McAllister for some less than completely accurate writing. Dr McAllister indeed made it clear in her fascinating talk that Gesualdo was responsible for the murder of his wife, albeit through employing others to carry out the killing.

  4. Ruth McAllister 12.12.13 1:07pm

    Thanks – and I’m glad you enjoyed the talk.

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