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Renaissance Music


1532 Pizarro marches from Panama to Peru, kills the Inca chieftain, Atahualpa, of Peru (1533). Machiavelli's The Prince published posthumously.

1535 Reformation begins as Henry VIII makes himself head of English Church after being excommunicated by Pope. Sir Thomas More executed as traitor for refusal to acknowledge king's religious authority. Jacques Cartier sails up the St. Lawrence River, basis of French claims to Canada.

1536 Henry VIII executes second wife, Anne Boleyn. John Calvin establishes Reformed and Presbyterian form of Protestantism in Switzerland, writes Institutes of the Christian Religion. Danish and Norwegian Reformations.
Michelangelo's Last Judgment.

Guillaume Costeley, French - Scottish composer, born.
Orlando di Lasso, Dutch composer, born.
First Madrigals by Jacques Arcadelt and others printed in Rome.
Claudio Merulo, Italian composer, born.
Giovanni de' Bardi, Italian literary critic, writer, composer, born.
Fernando de las Infantas, Spanish composer and theologian, born.
Giaches de Wert, Dutch composer, born.
Pietro Vinci, Italian composer, born. 
First song book with lute accompaniment printed in Spain.
First conservatories of music are founded in Naples for boys, in Venice for girls.
Paul Hofhaimer, Austrian organist and composer dies.
Giovanni Maria Artusi, Italian composer, born. 

Anne Boleyn

Guillaume Costeley

Guillaume Costeley [pronounced Cotelay](1530, possibly 1531 – 28 January 1606) was a French composer of the Renaissance. He was the court organist to Charles IX of France and famous for his numerous chansons, which were representative of the late development of the form; his work in this regard was part of the early development of the style known as musique mesurée. He was also one of very few 16th century French composers of music for keyboard. In addition, he was a founding member of the Académie de Poésie et de Musique along with poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf, and he was one of the earliest composers to experiment with microtonal composition.




Costeley was born in Fontanges-en-Auvergne, coincidentally the same town as contemporary composer Antoine de Bertrand. Nothing is known of him prior to his arrival in Paris in or before 1554, at which time he met, and became acquainted with the music of, such diverse figures as Jean Maillard, Jacques Arcadelt, and Sandrin. It was through Sandrin, who had recently worked in Italy, that Costeley probably became interested in the latest trends in Italian scholarship, particularly the theories of Nicola Vicentino, some of which involved composition using microtones. Costeley's only microtonal composition, Seigneur Dieu ta pitié, was apparently written at exactly the time that Sandrin was in Paris.

During the late 1550s Costeley rose in prominence in Parisian musical life, being published by Le Roy and Ballard in 1559. Since Le Roy was closely connected to the royal court through the family of Catherine de Clermont, who was to become the Countess of Retz, it is probable that his influence was significant in Costeley's rise. By 1560 Costeley had been appointed to the royal court, as organist, music teacher to the ten-year-old monarch, and composer of chansons for the royal chamber.

In 1570 he published Musique de Guillaume Costeley, which contains almost all of his surviving works. In November of this same year King Henry III granted a charter for the formation of the Académie de poésie et de musique, of which Costeley was a founding member; there is, however, no evidence of any musical composition by Costeley between 1570 and his death in 1606. He was lauded by the group and took part in its activities (the king himself was probably a member, and attended some of their meetings, as did his successor Charles IX after 1574). Baïf himself, the founder of the Académie, wrote several poems in Costeley's honor.

However Costeley was no longer resident full-time at Paris. He had purchased a house in Evreux in Normandy, and married; the King only required him to be at court for the first three months of the year. Records of his property purchases indicate that he had become wealthy in service of the king. In 1581 he was made tax assessor at Evreux, and in 1592 his wife died and he married again. In 1597 he was named as an advisor to the king ("Conseiller du Roy"), and he seems to have remained in Evreux in semi-retirement until his death.

Music and influence

Costeley's surviving music amounts to about 100 chansons, as well as three motets and a fantasy for organ. Everything that he wrote can be dated to the period between 1554 and 1569.

His motets, his only known sacred works, are for four and five voices and show the influence of Jean Maillard. A connection between the two is assumed since they both set the same unusual text (Domine salvum fac regem desiderium cordis ejus), and their settings contain apparently deliberate similarities.

Costeley - La Prise De Calais - Hardi Françoys

Costeley's chansons were by far the most famous part of his output, and they are in the Parisian chanson style of the time, with vivid word painting, along with a tendency to think harmonically rather than polyphonically – as the age of purely polyphonic writing was coming to an end over most of Europe. The subject matter of the chansons is widely varied, as was true for most composers in the genre; some of the chansons are love songs, some are imitations of war or victory odes, and some are humorous or scatological.

A peculiarity of Costeley's style – and his notation – is that he specified the accidentals he wanted applied to his music with great care and precision, something which was unusual prior to the middle of the 16th century, but which began to occur thereafter. He was fond of unusual melodic intervals, such as the diminished third, and probably wanted to make sure they were performed correctly. Some of his chansons, for example the earthy Grosse garce noire et tendre, use this interval prominently: in this work he uses it in an imitative passage. In other pieces he uses augmented intervals, including seconds, fourths, fifths, and sixths. Even more unusual than his use of previously prohibited intervals, however, is his pioneering use of microtones. The chanson Seigneur Dieu ta pitié of 1558 made use of justly tuned enharmonic intervals which, if played on a keyboard instrument, would require nineteen keys per octave; Costeley specifies that tuning such an instrument in equal "thirds of a tone" would be necessary to perform his chanson. This amounts to a specification of 19 equal temperament for a keyboard version of this chanson.

While he was a member of Jean-Antoine de Baïf's Academie de musique et de poésie, few of his works show the influence of, or intent to contribute to, the newly developed genre of musique mesurée. Only two compositions in the collection entitled Musique, published in 1570, show the metrical freedom which characterizes the style.

One instrumental composition by Costeley has survived, and that only in a reconstructed version from a manuscript prepared by a non-musician. It is a short fantasie for organ (Fantasie [pour] orgue ou espinette faicte par monsieur Coteley [musicien] de la Chappelle du Roy), and is considered significant because it is one of the only surviving bits of keyboard music from late 16th-century France, other than pieces transcribed from vocal originals. The repertory of French keyboard players from the time seems to not have been written down, and certainly remained unpublished.

Fernando de las Infantas

Fernando de las Infantas (1534–ca. 1610) was a Spanish nobleman, composer and theologian.


Infantas was born in Córdoba in 1534, a descendant of Juan Fernández de Córdoba who had conveyed the two daughters, infantas (hence the surname), of Pedro I of Castile to safety after the Battle of Montiel in 1369. The family was still notable in Córdoba at the time of Fernando's birth and he enjoyed a privileged education, and later a patrimonio, or stipend, remitted to him in Rome from his family in Spain.

From 1572–1597 Infantas resided in Rome, voluntarily giving his services to a hospital for the poor. In 1577 Infantas came into conflict with Pope Gregory XIII and the composers Palestrina and Annibale Zoilo over the reversal of reforms in Gregorian chant, at one point causing his sponsor Philip II of Spain to instruct the Spanish ambassador in Spain to intercede with the Pope.

In 1584 Infantas took holy orders and served a small church on Rome's outskirts. He had returned to Spain by 1608 and presumably died around 1610.

Fernando de las Infantas - Ave Maria

Orlande de Lassus

Orlande de Lassus (also Roland de Lassus, Orlando di Lasso, Orlandus Lassus, Orlande de Lattre or Roland de Lattre; 1532, possibly 1530 – 14 June 1594) was a Netherlandish or Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance. He is today considered to be the chief representative of the mature polyphonic style of the Franco-Flemish school, and one of the three most famous and influential musicians in Europe at the end of the 16th century (the other two being Palestrina and Victoria).




Lassus was born in Mons in the County of HainautHabsburg Netherlands (modern-day Belgium). Information about his early years is scanty, although some uncorroborated stories have survived, the most famous of which is that he was kidnapped three times because of the singular beauty of his singing voice. At the age of twelve, he left the Low Countries with Ferrante Gonzaga and went to MantuaSicily, and later Milan (from 1547 to 1549). While in Milan, he made the acquaintance of the madrigalist Spirito l'Hoste da Reggio, a formative influence on his early musical style.

He then worked as a singer and a composer for Costantino Castrioto in Naples in the early 1550s, and his first works are presumed to date from this time. Next he moved to Rome, where he worked for Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who maintained a household there, and in 1553, he became maestro di cappella of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the ecumenical mother church of Rome and a spectacularly prestigious post indeed for a man only twenty-one years old. However, he stayed there for only a year. (Palestrina would assume this post a year later, in 1555.)

No solid evidence survives for his whereabouts in 1554, but there are contemporary claims that he traveled in France and England. In 1555 he returned to the Low Countries and had his early works published in Antwerp (1555–1556). In 1556 he joined the court of Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria, who was consciously attempting to create a musical establishment on a par with the major courts in Italy. Lassus was one of several Netherlanders to work there, and by far the most famous. He evidently was happy in Munich and decided to settle there. In 1558 he married Regina Wäckinger, the daughter of a maid of honor of the Duchess. They had two sons, both of whom became composers, and his daughter married the painter Hans von Aachen. By 1563 Lassus had been appointed maestro di cappella, succeeding Ludwig Daser in the post. Lassus remained in the service of Albrecht V and his heir, Wilhelm V, for the rest of his life.

By the 1560s Lassus had become quite famous, and composers began to go to Munich to study with him. Andrea Gabrieli went there in 1562, and possibly remained in the chapel for a year. Giovanni Gabrieli also possibly studied with him in the 1570s. His renown had spread outside of strictly musical circles, for in 1570 Emperor Maximilian II conferred nobility upon him, a rare circumstance for a composer. Pope Gregory XIII knighted him and in 1571, and again in 1573, the king of France, Charles IX, invited him to visit. Some of these kings and aristocrats attempted to woo him away from Munich with more attractive offers, but Lassus was evidently more interested in the stability of his position, and the splendid performance opportunities of Albrecht's court, than in financial gain. "I do not want to leave my house, my garden, and the other good things in Munich", he wrote to the Duke of Electorate of Saxony in 1580, upon receiving an offer for a position in Dresden.

In the late 1570s and 1580s Lassus made several visits to Italy, where he encountered the most modern styles and trends. In Ferrara, the center of avant-garde activity, he doubtless heard the madrigals being composed for the d'Este court. However, his own style remained conservative and became simpler and more refined as he aged. In the 1590s his health began to decline, and he went to a doctor named Thomas Mermann for treatment of what was called "melancholia hypocondriaca", but he was still able to compose as well as travel occasionally. His final work was often considered one of his best pieces: an exquisite set of twenty-one madrigali spirituali known as the Lagrime di San Pietro ("Tears of St. Peter"), which he dedicated to Pope Clement VIII, and which was published posthumously in 1595. Lassus died in Munich on 14 June 1594, the same day that his employer decided to dismiss him for economic reasons. He never saw the letter. He was buried in Munich in the Alter Franziskaner Friedhof, a cemetery that was cleared of gravestones in 1789 and is now the site of Max-Joseph-Platz.

Music and influence

One of the most prolific, versatile, and universal composers of the late Renaissance, Lassus wrote over 2,000 works in all Latin, French, Italian and German vocal genres known in his time. These include 530 motets, 175 Italian madrigals and villanellas, 150 French chansons, and 90 German lieder. No strictly instrumental music by Lassus is known to survive, or ever to have existed: an interesting omission for a composer otherwise so wide-ranging and prolific, during an age when instrumental music was becoming an ever-more prominent means of expression, all over Europe. The German music publisher Adam Berg dedicated 5 volumes of his Patrocinium musicum (published from 1573–1580) to Lassus' music.

Orlando di Lasso - Missa pro defunctis


Sacred music

Lassus remained Catholic during this age of religious discord, although not dogmatically so, as may be seen from his more worldly secular songs as well as his imitation Masses and Magnificats based on secular compositions. Nevertheless, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which under Jesuit influence was reaching a peak in Bavaria in the late sixteenth century, had a demonstrable impact on Lassus' late work, including the liturgical music for the Roman Rite, the burgeoning number of Magnificats, the settings of the Catholic Ulenberg Psalter (1588), and especially the great penitential cycle of spiritual madrigals, the Lagrime di San Pietro (1594).


Almost 60 masses have survived complete; most of them are imitation masses (called parody masses) using as melodic source material secular works written by himself or other composers. Technically impressive, they are nevertheless the most conservative part of his output. He usually conformed the style of the mass to the style of the source material, which ranged from Gregorian chant to contemporary madrigals, but always maintained an expressive and reverent character in the final product.

Several of his masses are based on extremely secular French chansons; some of the source materials were outright obscene. Entre vous filles de quinze ans, "Oh you fifteen-year old girls", by Clemens non Papa, gave him source material for his 1581 Missa entre vous filles, probably the most scandalous of the lot. This practice was not only accepted but encouraged by his employer, which can be confirmed by evidence from their correspondence, much of which has survived.

In addition to his traditional imitation masses, he wrote a considerable quantity of missae breves, "brief masses", syllablic short masses meant for brief services (for example, on days when Duke Albrecht went hunting: evidently he did not want to be detained by long-winded polyphonic music). The most extreme of these is a work actually known as the Jäger Mass (Missa venatorum)—the "Hunter's Mass".

Some of his masses show influence from the Venetian School, particularly in their use of polychoral techniques (for example, in the eight-voice Missa osculetur me, based on his own motet). Three of his masses are for double choir, and they may have been influential on the Venetians themselves; after all, Andrea Gabrieli visited Lassus in Munich in 1562, and many of Lassus's works were published in Venice. Even though Lassus used the contemporary, sonorous Venetian style, his harmonic language remained conservative in these works: he adapted the texture of the Venetians to his own artistic ends.

Motets and other sacred music

Lassus is one of the composers of a style known as musica reservata—a term which has survived in many contemporary references, many of them seemingly contradictory. The exact meaning of the term is a matter of fierce debate, though a rough consensus among musicologists is that it involves intensely expressive setting of text and chromaticism, and that it may have referred to music specifically written for connoisseurs. A famous composition by Lassus representative of this style is his series of 12 motets entitled Prophetiae Sibyllarum, in a wildly chromatic idiom which anticipates the work of Gesualdo; some of the chord progressions in this piece were not to be heard again until the 20th century.

Lassus wrote four settings of the Passion, one for each of the Evangelists, St. MatthewMarkLuke and John. All are for a cappella voices. He sets the words of Christ and the narration of the Evangelist as chant, while setting the passages for groups polyphonically.

As a composer of motets, Lassus was one of the most diverse and prodigious of the entire Renaissance. His output varies from the sublime to the ridiculous, and he showed a sense of humor not often associated with sacred music: for example, one of his motets satirizes poor singers (his setting of Super flumina Babylonis, for five voices) which includes stuttering, stopping and starting, and general confusion; it is related in concept if not in style to Mozart's A Musical Joke. Many of his motets were composed for ceremonial occasions, as could be expected of a court composer who was required to provide music for visits of dignitaries, weddings, treaties and other events of state. But it was as a composer of religious motets that Lassus achieved his widest and most lasting fame.

Lassus's 1584 setting of the seven Penitential Psalms of David (Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales) is one of the most famous collections of psalm settings of the entire Renaissance. The counterpoint is free, avoiding the pervasive imitation of the Netherlanders such as Gombert, and occasionally using expressive devices foreign to Palestrina. As elsewhere, Lassus strives for emotional impact, and uses a variety of texture and care in text-setting towards that end. The penultimate piece in the collection, his setting of the De profundis (Psalm 129/130), is considered by many scholars to be one of the high-water marks of Renaissance polyphony, ranking alongside the two settings of the same text by Josquin des Prez.

Giaches de Wert

Giaches de Wert (also Jacques/Jaches de Wert, Giaches de Vuert; 1535 – 6 May 1596) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance, active in Italy. Intimately connected with the progressive musical center of Ferrara, he was one of the leaders in developing the style of the late Renaissance madrigal. He was one of the most influential of late sixteenth-century madrigal composers, particularly on Claudio Monteverdi, and his later music was formative on the development of music of the early Baroque era.





Campanile of Santa Barbara, at the Ducal Palace in Mantua: Wert was choir director here from 1565 until 1592.

Little is known about his early life, except that he was from Flanders, from either the vicinity of Ghent or Weert, near Antwerp. As a boy he went to Avellino in southern Italy, near Naples, where he became a choir boy in the chapel of Maria di Cardona, Marchesa of Padulla. Maria was the wife of Francesco d'Este, Marchese di Massalombarda, a captain under Charles V; Francesco was a son of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, and her husband Alfonso I d'Este. Francesco was often in France and adjacent areas on military campaigns, and as an adjunct to these adventures he brought musically talented youths back to Italy with him. Wert's association with the Este family was to endure through most of his life.

Sometime before 1550 he began his association with the Gonzaga family. Most likely around 1550 he moved to Novellara, a town in what is now the Province of Reggio Emilia, as a musician in the service of a branch of the Gonzagas; a previous suggestion that he may have been in Rome has not been securely established. Novellara in the mid-sixteenth century was a significant musical center under its local branch of the Gonzaga family. Alfonso I built a theatre and staged dramatic performances at his castle, with his young Flemish choirmaster in charge.

Relations between the Gonzaga and Este families were close, and in the early 1550s Wert traveled at least once to Mantua and Ferrara, centers of musical activity in the late sixteenth century, where he met the renowned madrigalist Cipriano de Rore, who was the most influential figure on his early musical style. While in Novellara, Wert married Lucrezia Gonzaga and raised a family, having at least six children. Wert stayed in Novellara until the early 1560s, at which time he accepted the position of maestro di cappella for the main Gonzaga chapel in Milan; however, he did not stay long there, moving in 1565 to Mantua where he became maestro di cappella at the chapel of Santa Barbara.

It was in Mantua that Lucrezia, Wert's wife, began an affair with Agostino Bonvicino, a Mantuan composer who was Wert's competitor at Santa Barbara. When this affair was found out in 1570, she was forced to leave Mantua, with Wert remaining behind. Wert persisted in his job, in spite of the censure of the choir for being a cuckold. However, Lucrezia's subsequent misfortunes exceeded those of Wert. On returning to Novellara, she became sexually involved with Claudio, an illegitimate son of Count Francesco of Novellara, and took part in a plot to murder his uncle on the death of his father as an attempt to gain his inheritance and title; while Claudio escaped justice, Lucrezia was caught with some of the other conspirators, and she died in prison in 1584.

While Wert endured the humiliating situation in Mantua through the late 1560s, he kept his job: he was to remain at least nominally maestro di cappella in Mantua until 1592. The 1560s were productive years for Wert musically, as he produced his first four books of five-voice madrigals during this time, and his first book for four voices. The dedications are significant: one is to Gonzalo Fernández de CórdobaDuke of Sessa, and in the dedicatory preface Wert thanks him for the opportunity to lead his choir. (Fernández de Córdoba was Governor of Milan from 1558 to 1560.) During the late 1560s Wert had several offers of employment elsewhere, but turned them down. The most significant came in Augsburg in 1566, where Wert's spectacular ability to improvise counterpoint engendered an offer to join the imperial court in Prague, serving Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor. The next job offer he refused came from Parma the next year, the home of the Farnese family. However he became increasingly close to the Este court in Ferrara during the 1570s and 1580s, without actually becoming employed there. While the two courts were closely connected by marriage and mutual interchange of musicians, Ferrara was a place with a profoundly different outlook than Mantua: Ferrara was progressive, while Mantua was supportive of the Counter-Reformation; the progressive tendencies of Ferrara better fitted Wert's musical inclinations. Wert had a good time there; so much so that his employer in Mantua sent a strongly worded letter on 22 December 1584 demanding his immediate return to his post. Wert, however, had fallen in love with the widowed Tarquinia Molza, the most famous female singer and poet in Italy, who was a lady-in-waiting at the Este court, so he endeavored to spend as much time as possible in Ferrara. This was the same year that Lucrezia, Wert's wife, died in prison in Novellara.


Torquato Tasso, possible friend of Wert at Ferrara, and poet whose verse he often set to music.

Tarquinia, unlike Wert, but like Lucrezia, was a member of the nobility, and when her affair with Wert was found out in 1589 – their affair was plagued with spies, and their love-letters opened – she was banished to Modena. Wert may have been previously married to nobility, but in Ferrara he was still a servant, and his affair was considered as scandalous there as was Lucrezia's in Mantua.

Wert first became ill with malaria in 1582, and ill-health was to bedevil him for the rest of his life. Even so, he remained musically productive, writing a coronation mass for Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in 1587, and numerous madrigals for the concerto delle donne, the renowned group of musical ladies of Ferrara, who were virtuoso singers. In 1592, Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi took over his post as maestro di cappella in Mantua, and in August 1595 he dedicated his last book of madrigals. Wert died in 1596 Mantua, in his house near the ducal palace; his tomb is near to that of his contemporary Francesco Rovigo, in the crypt of Santa Barbara, beneath the church where he worked for many years.


Music and influence

Secular music

While Wert wrote both sacred and secular music, as well as a handful of instrumental fantasias, his madrigals were by far the most famous portion of his output during his lifetime. He wrote approximately 230, which he published in sixteen separate books spread across a half-century, from 1558 to the final posthumous collection in 1608. His madrigal books are almost all for five voices, although he published one book in 1561 for four, and the posthumous collection of 1608 includes pieces ranging from four to seven voices.

Wert's early style was heavily influenced by Cipriano de Rore, the renowned mid-century madrigalist active at Ferrara. Wert's first three books show some features typical of Rore's writing, such as chromaticism, word-painting, and, according to Alfred Einstein, an "indifference to everything merely formal and ... [a] striving for the most intense expression." In the manner of Adrian Willaert's madrigals, he also explored distant tonal regions, while avoiding jarring harmonic progressions. In addition, he showed a preference for a declamatory, homophonic style, which he refined later in his career into a seconda prattica manner influential on Monteverdi, and he also showed a liking for high voices – something which turned out to be a defining characteristic of the music-making at the Este court in Ferrara. The poems he chose to set for his early books include examples by Pietro BemboPetrarch and Ariosto.

Wert's style at mid-career began to change away from the Rore manner towards one more closely aligned with the Venetians, such as Andrea Gabrieli. Pure homophony became more common in his works, and he began to exploit registral and textural contrasts rather than switch from polyphony to homophony; in addition, his lines became more lyrical. His preferred poets changed as well: while early in his career he had used Bembo and Petrarch, and later Ariosto, he shifted to Guarini and Torquato Tasso. In his sixth book of madrigals for five voices (1577), he included three madrigal cycles, an innovation which was to become a prominent musical subgenre near the end of the century. The cycles include two canzoni by Petrarch and a capitolo by Ariosto; they are set in a declamatory manner, thereby including a treatment of vocal lines which foreshadowed monody, and Wert's own later works.

Once Wert made the acquaintance of the virtuoso singing ladies of Ferrara, the concerto delle dame, he began to write madrigals for them in an appropriate style – with elaborate parts for three high voices, often containing separate blocks for high and low voices, and the most virtuosic singing required in the topmost part. His music during this period was influenced by the other composers working in Ferrara, including Luzzasco Luzzaschi, and his favorite poets of the time were those most closely associated with Ferrara – Tasso and Guarini. In his tenth book of madrigals (1591), six of the compositions may have been intended for a solo singer with instrumental accompaniment, in the manner of the monodies which were one of the forerunners of opera. The late music is tonal, anticipating the changes in musical language of the early Baroque, during which functional tonality crystallized out of the pre-tonal universe of the late Renaissance; in addition these late compositions are mainly homophonic, with only occasional polyphonic passages appearing as an animating contrast. An influence from the Venetians is his occasional use of the concertato style, with groups of voices in dialogue.

For his final madrigal book published in his lifetime, the eleventh, he set passages from Guarini's Il pastor fido, one of the most popular texts for musical setting of the era. The final collection published under Wert's name came out posthumously in 1608, and contained pieces for four to seven voices. One of its madrigals was a setting of Guarini's notorious Tirsi morir volea, an obscene poem that Einstein called "worthless, indeed contemptible", and "...more obscene than the coarsest mascherata, the most suggestive canto carnascialesco, or the most impertinent chanson ... could not be more removed from true poetry" but yet which was the most-often set individual poem of the late sixteenth century. It portrayed a nymph and a shepherd attempting, by speeding up and slowing down, to achieve simultaneous orgasm, with multiple double entendres on "death" and "dying"; the popularity of this poem was enormous. Wert wrote his setting in 1581.

Sacred music

Wert wrote a considerable amount of sacred music, but little of it was published during his lifetime. He published only three books of motets, in 1566, 1581 and 1581; a few of his works, such as the Missa Dominicalis appeared in anthologies with the music of other composers. His other six masses remained in manuscript, as did the majority of the music he wrote for Santa Barbara in Mantua. Most likely this was because he was commissioned to write that music, such as his cycle of 127 hymns, specifically for that institution, and his publisher was in Venice.

The style of his sacred music varies from simple homophony, designed for absolute clarity of textual expression in conformance with the dictates of the Council of Trent (as Mantua was a center of the Counter-Reformation, this was to be expected), to motet settings similar in expressive intensity to his madrigals including passages of surprising chromaticism not unlike that of Gesualdo. 


Pietro Vinci

Pietro Vinci (c. 1535 – after 14 June 1584) was an Italian composer of late Renaissance music.

Vinci was probably born in Nicosia, Sicily. He was active in Bergamo and then in various Sicilian cities as Maestro di cappella. He published several books of madrigals and church music from 1561 to 1584.

De Wert

Giovanni Maria Artusi

Giovanni Maria Artusi (c. 1540 – 18 August 1613) was an Italian theoristcomposer, and writer.


Artusi was one of the most famous reactionaries in musical history, fiercely condemning the new style developing around 1600, the innovations of which defined the early Baroque era. He was also a scholar and cleric at the Congregation San Salvatore at Bologna, and remained throughout his life devoted to his teacher Gioseffo Zarlino (the principal music theorist of the late sixteenth century). When Vincenzo Galilei first attacked Zarlino in the Dialogo of 1581, it provoked Artusi to defend his teacher and the style he represented.

The most famous episode of Artusi's career, and one of the most famous episodes in the history of music criticism, occurred in 1600 and 1603 when he attacked the "crudities" and "license" shown in the works of a composer he initially refused to name. (It was Claudio Monteverdi). Monteverdi replied in the introduction to his fifth book of madrigals (1605) with his discussion of the division of musical practice into two streams: what he called prima pratica, and seconda pratica: prima pratica being the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing counterpoint, prepared dissonance, and equality of voices; and seconda pratica being the new style of monody and accompanied recitative, which emphasized soprano and bass voices, and in addition showed the beginnings of conscious functional tonality.

Artusi's major contribution to the literature of music theory was his book on dissonance in counterpoint. He recognized that there could be more dissonance than consonance in a developed piece of counterpoint, and he attempted to enumerate the reasons and uses for the dissonances, for example as settings of words expressing sorrow, pain, longing, terror. Ironically, the usage of Monteverdi in the seconda pratica largely agreed with his book, at least conceptually; the differences between Monteverdi's music and Artusi's theory were in the importance of the different voices, and the exact intervals used in shaping the melodic line.

Artusi's compositions were few, and in a conservative style: one book of canzonette for four voices (published in Venice in 1598) and a Cantate Domino for eight voices (1599).


Sacrae Cantiones by Giaches de Wert

Claudio Merulo

Claudio Merulo (8 April 1533 – 4 May 1604) was an Italian composer, publisher and organist of the late Renaissance period, most famous for his innovative keyboard music and his ensemble music composed in the Venetian polychoral style. He was born in Correggio and died in Parma. Born Claudio Merlotti, he Latinised his surname (meaning little blackbird) when he became famous in Venetian cultural clubs.

He lived in Parma until his death. During this period, he made several trips in Venice and Rome, where he published his famous two volume Toccate per organo.

Merulo died in Parma on 4 May 1604 and was buried in Parma Cathedral near to the tomb of Cipriano de Rore. 

Merulo is famous for his keyboard music. His Toccatas, in particular, are innovative; he was the first to contrast sections of contrapuntal writing with passageworks; often he inserts sections which could be called ricercars into pieces which otherwise are labelled toccatas or canzonas. (In the late 16th century, these terms are only approximately descriptive; different composers clearly had different ideas of what they meant). Often his keyboard pieces begin as though they are to be a transcription of vocal polyphony, but then gradually add embellishment and elaboration until they reach a climactic passage of considerable virtuosity. Sometimes, especially in his later music, he develops ornaments which acquire the status of a motif, which is then used developmentally; this anticipates a principal generative technique in the Baroque era. Often Merulo casually ignores the "rules" of voice-leading, giving the music an expressive intensity more associated with the late school of madrigalists than with keyboard music of the time. His keyboard music was hugely influential, and his ideas can be seen in the music of Sweelinck, Frescobaldi and others; because of the immense influence of Sweelinck as a teacher, much of the virtuoso keyboard technique of the north German organ school, culminating in Johann Sebastian Bach, can claim to be descended from the innovations of Merulo.

Even though the fame of his instrumental music has overshadowed much of his a cappella vocal output, Merulo was also a madrigalist. Since he was a member of what is known today as the Venetian School, he also wrote motets for double choir in the manner of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. He published two books of Madrigali a 5 voices (1566 and 1604), one of Madrigali a 4 (1579) and a 3 (1580).


Claudio Merulo - Toccata quarta del sesto tono

Giovanni de' Bardi

Giovanni de' Bardi (5 February 1534 – September 1612), Count of Vernio, was an Italian literary critic, writer, composer and soldier.

Giovanni de' Bardi was born in Florence.

While he received a deep classical education, becoming proficient in Latin and Greek as well as learning the craft of music composition, his early years were largely spent as a soldier.

Bardi is mainly famous for being host, patron, and inspiration to the group of composers, music theorists and scholars who made up the Florentine Camerata, the group which attempted to restore the aesthetic effect of ancient Greek music to contemporary practice. The group included Vincenzo Galilei (father of the astronomer Galileo), Giulio Caccini, and Pietro Strozzi, and derived its inspiration from a correspondence with Girolamo Mei, the foremost scholar of ancient Greek drama and music at the time. The result of the association was the invention of monody, and shortly thereafter, opera; in addition, the innovations brought to music by the Camerata under the guidance of Bardi were one of the defining characteristics of what we now know as Baroque music.

Although he was also a composer, relatively few of his works survive: only a handful of madrigals. He also either organized or wrote parts for various intermedi in Florence, the popular court entertainments which took place between the acts of spoken dramas (and which included acting, singing, dancing, and mime — thus being another important precursor to opera). 
Vincenzo Galilei thought highly of Bardi, and dedicated his famous Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna to him. In the Dialogo, Galilei condemns polyphony, praises monody, and expresses the wish that the musical practice of the ancient Greeks would be restored; corrupt and incomprehensible contemporary music would be replaced with an idealized version of the supposed music of the ancient time. 


Michelangelo. Last Judgment.

last judgment
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