A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Merulo, Claudio

1684370A Dictionary of Music and Musicians — Merulo, ClaudioJames Robert Sterndale-Bennett

MERULO, Claudio, or Claudio da Correggio, organist and distinguished teacher, born at Correggio, in 1533.[1] At the age of 24, after competition with nine other candidates, he took his place at the 2nd organ of S. Mark's, Venice. This early success points to a first-rate education, received probably at Venice itself, but possibly at Brescia, where he had been appointed organist in the previous year (Sept. 17, 1566). Venice was rich in great musicians at the time, and Claudio's duties would bring him into daily intercourse with Willaert, Cipriano di Rore, Zarlino, A. Gabrieli, Annibale Padovano, and Costanzo Porta. It is delightful to be carried back[2] to a May evening more than 300 years ago, to find Zarlino waiting on the Piazza of S. Mark till vespers are over, that he may present 'M. Claudio Merulo soavissimo organista del detto tempio' to Francesco Viola,[3] who was visiting Venice, and then to follow them all to the house of old Adrian Willaert, kept at home by the gout, yet holding a grand reception, and ready to discuss with them the subjects of Zarlino's famous book. Claudio satisfied his employers as well as his colleagues, and while they increased his salary from time to time,[4] they repeatedly expressed their appreciation of his services, and their anxiety to retain them.[5] But his income was never a large one, and it was probably for this reason that he set up as a publisher in 1566,[6] and 12 years later (in his 46th year) as a composer of motets and madrigals,[7] neither attempt succeeding very well, or lasting more than 3 years.

After 27 years service Claudio left Venice, went first to Mantua, and thence to Parma, in May 1586, as organist of the Steccata, or ducal chapel. Here he lived 16 years, was knighted by the Duke, and died at the age of 71, May 4, 1604. The following letter was written at the time by one of his pupils to Sig. Ferrante Carli.[8]

According to your wish I send you some particulars of Sig. Claudio's death. On Sunday, the 25th of April, S. Mark's Day, after playing the organ at Vespers in the Steccata, he enjoyed an evening walk before going home. In the night he was aroused by a pain in his right side, succeeded by great fever and violent sickness. The fever continued from day to day, giving him no rest even for a few minutes. The doctors, Sig. Cernidore and Cerati, his son-in-law, after using many remedies with little or no success, determined at last to give him a medicine with strong ingredients—rhubarb, etc. This was on Sunday, May 2nd. When the poor old man had taken the draught he cried out, 'Alas I how cruelly these doctors have treated me'; for they had given him to understand it was merely a syrup. The effect was so severe that he died just as the clock struck 12 on the 4th of May. The Duke arranged the funeral, and had him crowned with laurel and ivy, these marks of respect giving great consolation to all. He was dressed as a Capuchin monk, music books were placed on his coffin, at each corner of which one of his scholars, clothed in black, held a lighted candle. They were D. Chris. Bora, M. Ant. Bertanelli, M. And. Salati. the fourth scarcely venturing to add his name, for he had only been under the good old man's care for a month, thanks first to his own gentleness and kindness, and next to that of our Sig. Chnstophero, who introduced me and entered me at S. Claudio's great school.… The Monday following, May 10th, the service took place in the Cathedral, when he was buried next to Cipriano [Rore], near the altar of S. Agatha.… We sang the mass with double choir, one placed near the organ, the other on the opposite side.…

Your affectionate servant,
Alessandro Volpius.

Parma, May 14, 1604.

As for Claudio's Organ [9]Toccatas and Ricercari, given to the world late in life, all indeed but one book posthumous, we do not think the composer's greatness is to be gauged by them at all. They cannot bring back to us the wonderful power of his playing, which could fascinate the most orthodox musicians, and attract students from all parts of Italy, Germany, and the North of Europe. As a faint resemblance of the living man (perhaps the little organ at Parana on which he played could recall him to us as strongly) these organ pieces are very welcome. They compare favourably with other works of the period. As historical examples they are also valuable. In them we have classical instrumental music quite distinct from vocal, we have again chord as distinct from part-writing, the greatest result the organists had achieved and the ultimate death-blow to the modal system. Claudio lived close on the borders of the new tonality. In his compositions he does not abandon himself to it, but he no doubt went much further in his playing than on paper, and had he lived a few years longer, Frescobaldi's bold and apparently sudden adoption of the tonal system would not perhaps have come upon him unawares.
  1. Entered in baptismal register of S. Quirino on April 8 as son of Antonio and Giovanni Merlotti, which was the true form of his name.
  2. Dimonstrationi Harmoniche (Zarlino, Venice 1571). See Introduction.
  3. Chapelmaster to the Duke of Ferrara, and an old pupil of Willaert's.
  4. Catelani, 'Memorie della Vita … di C. Merulo' (Milan, Ricordi).
  5. They had learnt a lesson from Jachet de Buus, who, having appealed in vain for an increase of salary, ran off from S. Mark's on pretence of a holiday, and found the Emperor glad enough to take him on his own terms.
  6. Editing madrigals by Verdelot, and, as a partner with Betanio, a set of the same by Porta. Betanio only joined him for a short time, perhaps owing to an unexpected pressure of work at St. Mark's by the resignation of the other organist and delay in appointing another. Claudio published one set of madrigals (à 5) of his own.
  7. Between 1578 and 81. Gardane printed 2 books of Sacræ Cantiones (à 5) and 2 books of Madrigals (à 4 and à 5). The 1st and 2nd books of Motets (à 6) were not printed till 1583 and 93 respectively. To the various collections Claudio did not contribute much till late in life. 2 Masses (à 8 and à 12) and Litanies (à 8), published some years after his death, complete the list of his vocal works.
  8. G. Tiraboschi, 'Biblioteca Modenese,' tom. vi. pt. i. (Modena 1786).
  9. 'Toccata d'Intavolatura d'Organo di C. di M.' etc., lib. 1. (Rome 1698). An early example of copper-plate engraving. Another book of Toccate and 3 books of Ricercari were posthumous.