A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Marenzio, Luca


MARENZIO, Luca. The oldest account we can find of this great Italian composer is given by O. Rossi,[1] in 1620. It tells us of Marenzio's birth at Coccaglia, a small town on the road between Brescia and Bergamo, of the pastoral beauty of his early surroundings, and the effect they may have had in forming the taste of the future madrigal composer, of the patronage accorded him by great princes, of his valuable post at the court of Poland, worth 1000 scudi a year, of the delicate health which made his return to a more genial climate necessary, of the kind treatment he received from Cardinal Cintio Aldobrandino at Rome, of his early death in that city, and burial at S. Lorenzo in Lucina. The same author gives an account of Giovanni Contini, organist[2] of the cathedral at Brescia, and later in the service of the Duke of Mantua, under whose direction Marenzio completed his studies, having for his fellow-pupil Lelio Bertani,[2] who afterwards served the Duke of Ferrara for 1500 scudi a year, and was even asked to become the Emperor's chapel-master.

Donato Calvi, writing in 1664,[3] anxious to claim Marenzio as a native of Bergamo, traces his descent from the noble family of Marenzi, and finds in their pedigree a Luca Marenzo. He adds further details to Rossi's account, how the King of Poland knighted the composer on his departure, how warmly he was welcomed by the court of Rome on his return, how Cardinal C. Aldobrandino behaved like a servant rather than a patron to him. We also learn that he died Aug. 12, 1599, being then a singer in the Papal chapel, and that there was a grand musical service at his funeral.

In the next account Brescia again puts in a claim, and Leonardo Cozzando[4] asserts that Marenzio was born at Cocaglio, that his parents were poor, and that the whole expense of his living and education was defrayed by Andrea Masetto, the village priest. To Cozzando we are also indebted[5] for a special article on Marenzio's great merits as a singer, and after reading of him under the head of Brescian composers, we find him further mentioned under 'Cantori.'

A fourth account, qxiite independent of these, and one of the earliest of all, is that given by Henry Peacham, published in 1622.[6] Of the composers of his time, Byrd is his favourite, Victoria and Lassus coming next. Then of Marenzio he says:—

'For delicious Aire and sweete Invention in Madrigals, Luca Marenzio excelleth all other whosoever, having published more Sets than any Authour else whosoever: and to say truth, hath not an ill Song, though sometime an over-sight (which might be the Printer's fault) of two eights or fifts escape him; as betweene the Tenor and Base in the last close, of, I must depart all haplesse: ending according to the nature of the Dittie most artificially, with a Minim rest. His first, second, and third parts of Thyrsis, Veggo dolce mio ben che fæ hoggi mio Sole Cantava, or sweete singing Amaryllis,[7] are Songs, the Muses themselves might not have beene ashamed to have had composed. Of stature and complexion, hee was a little and blacke man: he was Organist in the Popes Chappell at Rome a good while, afterward hee went into Poland, being in displeasure with the Pope for overmuch familiaritie with a kinswoman of his (whom the Queene of Poland, sent for by Luca Marenzio afterward, she being one of the rarest women in Europe, for her voyce and the Lute:) but returning, he found the affection of the Pope so estranged from him, that hereupon hee tooke a conceipt and died.'

The above accounts agree in all important points, and even the descent from a noble Bergamese family is not inconsistent with the parents' poverty and their residence at Coccaglia. Marenzio certainly died at a comparatively early age, in 1599, and we may therefore place his birth about 1560, though not later, for he began to publish in 1581. On the 10th of April in that year he was in Venice, dedicating his first book of madrigals (á 6) to Alphonse d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. He was in Rome, Dec. 1, 1582,[8] on April 24,[9] and Dec. 15,[10] 1584, was chapel-master to the Cardinal d'Este in the same year,[11] and was still in the same city on July 15, 1585.[12]

We do not think he went to Poland just yet, but we have no more publications for some years. Marenzio probably received his appointment soon after the accession of Sigismund III. (1587), and is said to have kept it for several years.

He was back in Rome in 1595, writing to Dowland, July 13,[13] and to Don Diego de Campo, Oct. 20,[14] and in the same year is said to have been appointed to the Papal chapel.[15] It was now that he lived on such familiar terms with Cardinal Aldobrandino, the Pope's nephew, and taking this into account Peacham's tale may have some truth in it, and Marenzio may have fallen in love with a lady belonging to his patron's family. If, however, he died of a broken heart, as is suggested, it must have been caused simply by the Pope's refusal to allow a marriage. That Marenzio did nothing to forfeit his good name[16] is proved by the certain fact that he retained his office in the Papal chapel till his death.

Marenzio's principal works are:—9 books of madrigals (á 5), 6 books (á 6), each book containing from 13 to 20 nos., and 1 book (á 4) containing 21 nos.; 5 books of 'Villanelle e Arie alla Napolitana,' containing 113 nos. (á 3) and 1 (á 4); 2 books of four-part motets, many of which have been printed in modern notation by Proske;[17] 1 mass (á 8), and many other pieces for church use. The first five books of madrigals á 5 were printed 'in uno corpo ridotto,' in 1593, and a similar edition of those á 6 in 1594. These books, containing 78 and 76 pieces respectively, are both in the British Museum. Marenzio's works were introduced into England in 1588, in the collection entitled 'Musica Transalpina' (1588); and two years afterwards a similar book was printed, to which he contributed 23 out of 28 numbers.[18] His reputation here was soon established, for in 1595 John Dowland, the lutenist, 'not being able to dissemble the great content he had found in the profered amity of the most famous Luca Marenzio,' thought the mere advertisement of their correspondence would add to the chance of his own works being well received. Burney does not hesitate to say that the madrigal style was brought to the highest degree of perfection by Marenzio's superior genius, and that the publication of the 'Musica Transalpina' gave birth to that passion for madrigals which became so prevalent among us when our own composers so happily contributed to gratify it.[19]

Thus it came to pass that Luca Marenzio became bound up in our own musical history, and few foreign musicians of the 16th century have been kept so constantly before the English public. The Madrigal Society became a home for his works nearly 150 years ago, and they are continually sung by much younger societies. 'To guard faithfully and lovingly the beautiful things, and to reverence the great masters, of olden times, is quite a part of the English character, and one of its most beautiful traits.'[20]
  1. Elogi Historici di Bresciani Illustri di Ottavio Rossi. (Brescia, Fontana, 1620.)
  2. 2.0 2.1 For list of works see Eitner.
  3. Scena Litteraria de gli scrittori Bergamaschi. Donato Calvi. (Bergamo, 1664.)
  4. Libraria Bresciana. Leonardo Cozzando. (Brescia, Rizzardi, 1685.)
  5. 'Vago e curioso ristretto, etc., dell' Hlstoria Bresciana.' Leonardo Cozzando. (Brescia, Rizzardi, 1694.)
  6. 'The Compleat Gentleman.' by Henry Peacham, Mr. of Arts. (London. 1622.)
  7. The proper titles of these, which are given in the above confused manner in Peacham's book are—'Tirsi morir volea (à 5)'; 'Veggo dolce mio bene (à 4)'; 'Che fa hogg' il mio sola (à 5)'; and 'Cantava la piu vaga (à 5),' the English words 'Sweete Singing Amaryllis' being adapted to the music of the last.
  8. See dedication to the Philharmonic Academicians of Verona of 3rd Book of Madrigals (á 5). (Venice, Gardane. 1582.)
  9. See 'Madrigali spirituali á 5 di L. M.' (Rome, Gardano, 1584.)
  10. Dedication of 'Il quinto lib. de Madrigali á 5.' (Vinegia, Scotto, 1585.)
  11. Title-page of 'Primo lib. de Madr. á 6.' (Venice, Gardano, 1584.)
  12. Dedication of 'Madr. á 4 di L. M.' Lib. primo. (Venetia, Gardano, 1692.)
  13. '1st booke of Songres or Ayres of 4 parts by John Dowland.' (Short, Bred St. hill, 1597.)
  14. 'Di L. M. il 7mo lib. di Madr. á 6.' (Venetia. Gardano. 1585.)
  15. We cannot find any old authority for the date of appointment, but it is too probable to doubt it.
  16. The only thing worth setting right in the story. As to the rest of it, the sequence of events cannot be fitted into his life; Burney considers the whole account savours of hearsay evidence and absurdity, and gives no credit to it.
  17. 'Musica Divina,' etc. Carl Proske. vol. ii. (Ratisbon, 1853.)
  18. '1st part of Italian Madrigals Englished,' etc. Published by Thomas Watson (1590).
  19. Gen. Hist. of Music, vol. iii. pp. 201. 119.
  20. Ambros. Geschichte der Musik, iii. 460.