Luca Marenzio Biography

(Composer & Singer)

Birthday: October 18, 1553 (Libra)

Born In: Coccaglio, Italy

Luca Marenzio was an Italian composer best known for composing madrigals in the late renaissance era. Born into a financially poor family, Luca took early music lessons from Giovanni Contino, who became his pillar of support in the years to come. Luca stayed and worked in Rome for the most part of his life and was most noted for composing madrigals with his unique artistic voice. During his career spanning more than 2 decades, he composed 400 madrigals and 80 villanelles. He also published 23 books and several sacred works, such as 75 motets. Some of his most acclaimed compositions that survive to this day are Hor pien d'altro desio, I must depart all hapless and Iniquos odio habui. Apart from Italy, his work was also appreciated in England and the Netherlands, where he inspired many cardinal composers to compose music in a variety of tones and styles. Along with working for cardinals, he also worked independently and became one of the best composers of the late renaissance era. He passed away at the prime of his composing career in 1599.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In October

Also Known As: Luca Marentio

Died At Age: 45

Born Country: Italy

Composers Italian Men

Died on: August 22, 1599

place of death: Rome, Italy

Childhood & Early Life

Luca Marenzio was born on October 12, 1553, in Coccaglio, Italy. However, the exact time of his birth is debated. He was born into a poor family with his father being a small-time notary clerk.

It is widely believed that he took his early musical education from Giovanni Contino, the maestro di cappella at Brescia Cathedral church. Again, there is no solid proof that Luca was in fact trained by Contino, but some sort of a relationship between the two was clear. Since Luca was quite young at that time, it is mostly assumed to be a master-pupil relationship.

In 1568, Contino moved to Mantua where he began serving the esteemed Gonzaga family. Contino took Luca with him and stayed there for around five years, as mentioned by Luca himself later.

In the late 1570s, Luca began working with Cristoforo Madruzzo, the cardinal. It was well known that Cristoforo was the employer of Contino earlier, which somehow implies that Luca got this job because of his teacher’s goodwill with the cardinal.

While serving the Gonzaga family, it is believed that Luca came in touch with one of the best-known madrigalists in Italy, named Giaches de Wert. He was the maestro of the basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua. Luca was still a music student and his work on the madrigals later in his life suggested that he was in a lot of ways inspired by Wert.

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Cardinal Madruzzo passed away in around the mid-1570s, after which Luca was hired at the court of Cardinal Luigi d'Este. Luigi knew Madruzzo, hence it was assumed that the latter put in a good word about Luca’s skills that helped Luigi make a decision regarding Luca’s employment.

Luigi was not too big on music and had hired only a handful of musicians. Luca was made maestro di cappella as he himself mentioned in one of his books. Luigi was highly impressed with Luca and attempted to secure a place for him at the Papal Court, but he couldn’t do it. The real reasons for this failure were not known but they were most likely political reasons.

In the 1580s, Luca got a big opportunity to visit Ferrera, which was known as the centre of secular music in the late 16th century. Many esteemed musicians lived there and Luca performed at a big wedding in the city. He also wrote two books on madrigals.

However, despite Luigi being in awe of Luca’s talent, Luca was heavily underpaid. On the other hand, Luigi gave Luca ample free time to work on his own music. Luca also performed as a freelance singer or instrumentalist to make the ends meet. He also tried getting jobs at different churches, but he failed every time. Luigi came very close to sending Luca to France to be in service of King Henry III, but that plan never came through.

Working for Luigi, Luca mostly worked towards composing madrigals based on religious texts, a few masses and motets. Composing madrigals was Luca’s main interest. He produced a massive output of madrigals during his lifetime. They varied in tone, style and technique.

Towards the end of his career, his influence as a composer had reached wide and he was known as one of the most popular madrigalists in Europe. His books on madrigals were known as the main inspiration for the new school of madrigals in England.

Throughout his career, he produced about 23 books of madrigals. One of his most popular books was titled madrigali spirituali. This was his only book that was published in Rome. Most of his books were published in Venice.

The 1580s was the decade when Luca produced some of his most powerful work when it comes to madrigals. The seventeen books of madrigals that were written during this period were mostly for five voices. They were expressive in nature and varied in style and left a long-lasting impact on the madrigal composers for generations to come. Apart from madrigals, he also composed canzonette and villanelle in secular forms. Most of his compositions were very close in text and music. About 500 of his total compositions survive to this day. It is believed that the actual volume of work that he had produced during his lifetime was much higher.

His composition style mostly favoured serious tones. However, he had mastered the art of smoothly shifting the mood of his compositions, sometimes within the same sentence. Despite that, his music always seems unified. He became bolder as he aged and experimented with a lot of chromaticism in his music. He mostly used poems by well-known Italian poets such as Petrarch and Dante. His use of text painting further gave a distinct style to his music, which was hugely admired by his contemporaries and the musicians that followed him in the coming decades.

In his lifetime, he became extremely popular in England. English madrigal composers used his style, word-painting and textural contrast in their own compositions. In the late 1580s, an English publisher Nicholas Yonge published Musica transalpine, a collection of Italian madrigals. Luca had the second most madrigals on the list. In the second collection that was published, Luca had the most number of madrigals in there. Some popular English singers that took direct inspiration from Luca’s madrigals were Thomas Morley, John Wilbye, and Thomas Weelkes.

By the time Luigi passed away in 1586, Luca had already become an internationally recognized composer. His work was published not only in Italy and England but in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe as well. After Luigi’s death, who was also his patron, Luca worked as a freelancer in Rome for some time.

A year later, he moved to Verona, where he joined  Accademia Filarmonica, an esteemed association of humanists and musicians.

In late 1587, he moved to Florence and began working in the service of Grand Duke  Ferdinando I de' Medici. It is also said that perhaps Luca was working for Medici when he was still living in Rome and Luca followed him when he returned to Florence. However, in 1589, he returned to Rome and worked there for a few patrons, while mostly composing music independently.

In 1595, he moved to Warsaw, Poland to serve as the maestro di cappella in the court of Sigismund III Vasa. However, Warsaw wasn’t suiting his health. Hence, he returned to Rome, where he kept composing until his death.

Personal Life & Death

Luca Marenzio’s marital status remained unknown.

Luca’s health was damaged beyond repair when he visited Warsaw, Poland. He spent his last days in Villa Medici on Monte Pincio, where his brother cared for him. He passed away on August 22, 1599.

Soon after his death, his contribution was largely forgtotten. However, his reputation was re-established 2 centuries later when his work was rediscovered.

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