Early years[ edit ] According to biographer Leonardo Cozzando , writing in the late 17th century, Marenzio was born at Coccaglio , a small town near Brescia , as one of seven children to a poor family. His father was a notary clerk in Brescia. Luke, whose feast day is on October He may also have gone with Contino to Mantua in when Contino began serving the Mantuan Gonzaga family; later in his life, Marenzio mentioned having spent five years in Mantua in the service of the Gonzaga family, but was unspecific as to when exactly this happened. Since Madruzzo had been the employer of Contino in Trent, this may have been arranged by Contino.

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Titian: Concert Champetre, c. As an interested observer of the musical scene, you naturally seek out the company of musicians. One evening in a London tavern the talk turns to madrigals. Life and Times Given the slow speed at which news travelled in those days, our convivial English drinking companions may not have known in that by then Luca Marenzio had died in Rome, an event that occurred on 22 August , just over two months short of his probable 46th birthday.

Luke, which would make his birth-date 18 October [2]. It seems highly probable that Contino introduced Marenzio to the court, the evidence of a surviving letter in the Gonzaga archives suggesting that the young musician spent some time working there. Assuming that to be the case, Marenzio could hardly have avoided coming into contact with one of the foremost madrigalists of the day, Giaches de Wert, maestro of the basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua, whose works would have made a powerful impression on the adolescent Marenzio.

Unfortunately, no documentary evidence relating to the period Marenzio was in the service of Madruzzo c. Complex internal politics eventually thwarted the attempt, an episode dealt with in detail by Bizzarini [4]. Such subservient flattery was of course customary in an era in which the relationship between patron and artist was above all designed to bring reflected glory to the recipient of a dedication, which also frequently bore some form of political relevance to either artist or dedicatee.

The Ferrara of Duke Alfonso II was one of the undoubted cultural centres in Italy, a city in which the arts, especially music and literature, flourished.

Neither was the glittering artistic roster at Ferrara confined to musicians. The effect on the 27 year-old composer of entering this extraordinary hothouse of artistic endeavour can only be guessed at, but it must have been considerable.

Possibly it provided at least some of the inspiration for the two books of madrigals produced in quick succession around the time Marenzio left Ferrara. Bizzarini suggests that this may have been a point of honour with the cardinal, intended to show his brother that he was the patron of a rising young star.

The notion is certainly plausible, given that Luigi kept only a small musical establishment that hardly warranted being termed a capella. During this time he published no fewer than seven books of madrigals for between four and six voices, a volume of Madrigali spirituale dedicated to the pope, five books of three-voice canzonets lighter pieces than madrigals , and a book of four-part motets.

In addition to his functions as a now fully-fledged composer, there is substantial evidence that Marenzio was frequently called on as a singer by some of the numerous confraternities in Rome.

The confraternities were lay associations that met for spiritual and charitable purposes, often mounting elaborate devotional gatherings during Holy Week and other major religious festivals. Significantly, the cardinal replied that he was not in the habit of ordering his musician to go anywhere and that he was free to choose whom he assisted. This doubtless made the extra income that could be earned from the confraternities, especially that of SS.

Marenzio was involved in all the collections published during the s, which indubitably formed the basis of those publications north of the Alps that helped disseminate his name.

Although Marenzio remained in Rome throughout most of the s, there were several occasions on which he might have left. As we have seen, Marenzio probably served in Mantua as a teenager and he is known to have kept close contact with the court over the succeeding decade. Even before this, in , moves were made to attract Marenzio to Mantua, but they had coincided with the period when it was thought he would be sent to Paris.

Considerable documentation exists regarding the negotiations of and [6], but suffice it to say here that in the end Gonzaga and Marenzio were unable to reach agreement over pay and terms. More importantly from our viewpoint, these negotiations provide rare insight into the character and personality of our subject, who in many respects remains a somewhat shadowy figure.

To sum up, he shows nobility of spirit, and does not find it easy to abase himself for anything: and yet he never fails to be modest and courteous towards whomever he is dealing with [7].

That Marenzio was able not only to exist for such a period, but also make a visit to Verona, suggests that he was now able to command substantial free-lance earnings. The visit to Verona is linked to a publication that stands out as a landmark in his career. That this change of emphasis was conscious is evident from the dedication to Count Mario Bevilacqua, the patron of the Accademia Filarmonica of Verona, a text sufficiently important to be quoted here in abbreviated form: … since I have been unable till now to respond to them [favours bestowed by Bevilacqua] except with pure and simple affection, it seemed to me fitting on the occasion of my passing through Verona to present to you these madrigals composed by me very recently in a style very different from that of the past, inasmuch as I have aimed, through the imitation of the words and the propriety of the style, at a sombre gravity so to speak , which will perhaps be far more pleasing to connoisseurs like you and to your most virtuoso ensemble.

The publication was not a success, failing to achieve more than one edition. Nonetheless it marks an important turning point, since while Marenzio did not entirely abandon the gracious elegance that marked his earlier work, the madrigals of his final decade are characterised by a new seriousness of approach and a degree of experimentation reflected in a choice of poets that now includes such names as Tasso and Guarini.

It is not known exactly when Marenzio arrived in Florence, the earliest documented evidence we have dating from the end of February The brilliant phalanx of musicians the new duke had gathered in Florence were there to serve a special purpose, an occasion that would enter history as one of the most spectacular of the sixteenth century.

The overall musical direction was entrusted to Cavalieri. Following the wedding festivities, Ferdinando had little need for such a large number of costly musicians and Marenzio was one of those not retained. By the end of he was back in Rome, where he took up service in the palace of Virginio Orsini, the young Duke of Bracciano, whom the composer had come to know in Florence.

Marenzio was now at the height of his fame, evidence for which comes with his appointment in the service of Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini, a member of a family that had seen a meteoric rise to distinction culminating in the election of Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini as Pope Clement VIII in Cinzio was his nephew, appointed secretary of state by the new pope.

Luca Marenzio, one of the foremost musicians of our times, are so agreeable, and so respected by the virtuosi of this divine art of music, that they are collected and greatly prized not only in Italy but also in Flanders and all other parts of the world.

It called for Marenzio to take over the work of revising the Graduale started by Palestrina who had died early the same year and Annibale Zoilo, a Roman-born composer and sometime member of the Sistine Chapel who had died in According to Peacham it was this indiscretion that directly led the pope and Cardinal Aldobrandini to send Marenzio to Warsaw to take over as maestro di capella to the Polish king, Sigismund III.

The story has never been substantiated and its close examination by Bizzarini, including the presentation of recently discovered documentation, can only lead to the conclusion that there is little likelihood of it being accurate, at least as it stands [8]. It seems more likely that Sigismund simply sought advice from Rome about a replacement for his maestro Annibale Stabile, a pupil of Palestrina Nonetheless, Marenzio, whose constitution was reported to be not of the strongest, is hardly likely to have regarded the prospect of a post in such an inhospitable climate and unsettled territory with much pleasure.

A Te Deum cannot firmly be ascribed to Marenzio, but a polychoral Mass can, in addition to which Bizzarini identifies three polychoral motets almost certainly composed in Poland. By that time Marenzio had finally returned to Rome, but little more than three months later he was dead, most likely as a result of a fatal weakening in Poland of an already poor constitution. His death occurred on 22 August in the garden of the Villa Medici in Rome, a location that suggests he had resumed contact with the Medicis following his return.

At the heart of this large corpus lies the eighteen published books of madrigals, ten of which are scored for five voices, the most favoured medium of the day, while six call for six voices, one four voices and attention has already been drawn to the unique seminal collection that includes madrigals scored for four, five and six voices.

Included in this list is the Madrigali spirituali of , which differs from overtly secular works only by virtue of the religious content and moralizing nature of its texts. In addition there are five books of pieces scored for three voices, all dating from between and , and designated either as villanelle or canzonette alle napolitana. Of a lighter character than the madrigals, they also differ in being set to strophic verses rather than through-composed and displaying a greater degree of homophonic as opposed to contrapuntal writing.

Finally, we must note the two intermedi contributed by Marenzio to the spectacular Florentine wedding celebrations, his only music that can securely be placed within a dramatic context. Indeed, it would be possible to put in a valid claim that Marenzio remains one of the most neglected of all great composers. Here comment on particular publications and individual madrigals is therefore restricted to those readers at least have a chance of hearing, although not all the recordings on which they appear are currently available.

In short, the gentle, subtle eroticism of Liquide perle announces the arrival of an already fully equipped madrigal composer. It is a form that makes special demands on a composer, since the more open texture is less forgiving than composing in five or six parts.

The abject misery of the abandoned lover is graphically illustrated from the outset in Ahi, dispietata morte! Its novelty lies in a new concentration on serious texts in which effects are often created by the subtlest of musical means. The 4-voice Piango che Amor, for instance, takes up the familiar theme of the affliction of new, thwarted love. One notes, too, the extreme clarity of word setting, with a forward-looking concentration on the upper voice that suggests that while Marenzio never formerly adopted the principles of the seconda prattica, he was not unaware of developments taking place.

Such trends are particularly apparent in 6-voice madrigals such as O fere stelle, where the top line dominates in both the opening and closing sections. Here every possible kind of kiss, its effects and results are explored in a work providing conclusive evidence that Marenzio had far from abandoned his ability to seduce ear and mind.

Completely absent is the reliance on historic writers such as Petrarch, who are replaced by contemporary poets in general and Guarini in particular. In the predominating serious pieces one is aware of a heightened use of dissonance deployed in a manner designed to surprise, but never shock in the manner of Gesualdo, or even Wert. Also apparent is a greater of level of virtuosity in the inner parts, the astonishing skill with which supreme contrapuntal mastery is juxtaposed with the striking harmonies of the homophonic passages, and the contrast of colour achieved by the variety of vocal scoring, a trait particularly notable in the play of high against low sonorities in a work like Hor chi, Clori beata.

Finally, we must note two further late books, the sixth and last book for 6-voices of particularly for the inclusion of Se qual dolor. The publication was dedicated to Margherita Gonzaga, the wife of the Duke of Ferrara, and includes a number of lighter or sumptuous works that some authorities believe predate the s.

With hindsight it is tempting to see this book as a valedictory epistle, yet there is no evidence to suggest that Marenzio was expecting his early death in But Marenzio does not forsake the modern poets he had turned to early in the decade and we also find here three Guarini texts. In another sense, too, one might see the madrigals of the final book as Janus-faced, since there is here a renewed concentration on strictly contrapuntal techniques allied to a highly contemporary approach to declamation and rhythm.

One notes, too, a greater tendency to sectionalise and treat episodes more expansively; several of the madrigals fall into two parts and are among the longest of his settings.

Hard law of love! Solo e pensoso, a profoundly philosophical text by Petrarch, also drew an outstanding setting for five-voices from Giaches de Wert in his seventh book of , a madrigal with which Marenzio would surely have been familiar. As scholars have noted, the motet book can be seen as a corollary of the book of 4-voice madrigals published in the same year, works that take a madrigalian approach to such matters as word painting.

The volume was dedicated to Scipione Gonzaga, the man who would the following year be in charge of negotiations with Marenzio over his mooted move to Mantua. Otherwise, we are left with a posthumous collection of motets published in and sundry other works that appeared in various other collections or remain unpublished. Among the latter are two impressive polychoral works in parts divided into three choirs, Super flumina Babylonis and Lamentabatur Jacob, neither of which can be assigned to Marenzio with total security.

Epilogue There is evidence to suggest that Marenzio remained known to at least some extent for two centuries following his death, valued for the poetic sensibility, poise, grace and purity of a small, familiar part of his output. Appreciation of Marenzio in England found new impetus with the revival of interest in the madrigal in the eighteenth century.

As yet this revival remains at best partial, scant reward for a composer of such real stature. For the most part intended for connoisseurs, the madrigals, particularly the great works of the s, remain music for the refined ear. Yet the rewards for those prepared to enter this rarefied world, a world in which the most profound and intense human passions are laid bare, are incalculable.

This article first appeared in Goldberg Early Music Magazine no. James Chater Aldershot, is an invaluable introduction to the composer. I acknowledge my considerable debt to Bizzarini in the preparation of this article. See Goldberg 27 for a review of the book. The CD is now unavailable. Also in Bizzarini, Marenzio, p. From O. Strunk, Source Readings in Music History, rep. New York,


Luca Marenzio



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Solo e pensoso (Marenzio, Luca)


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