An Italian composer, famous for his madrigals, Luca Marenzio’s compositions include no less than 500 madrigals, 80 villanelle as well as sacred musics and motets. He lived in an age when Rome was the centre of amateur madrigal signing, which provided him an audience for a stable flow of madrigal books, which he started publishing from 1580 onwards. Such an atmosphere enhanced his fluency and expertise in setting light pastoral verse to music. In the later phases of his life, Marenzio’s music was characterized by more serious and morbid texts. He even wrote in a style which was considered to be austere and intense, making use of dissonant and chromatic harmonies. Known as the pioneer of ‘word painting’, Marenzio’s madrigals laid enormous impact on England and its madrigalists. The fact that his madrigals are being published and reprinted even today bears the testimony to his influence.
Childhood & Early Life
If 17th century biographer Leonardo Cozzando is to be believed then, Marenzio was born on 18th October, 1553 in a poor family at Coccaglio, a small town near Brescia. He was one of the seven children of a notary clerk. As a child, Marenzio received musical training from Giovanni Contino. He went to Mantua with Contino in 1568 where he started serving the Mantuan Gonzaga family.
After spending a few years in Brescia and Mantua, Marenzio moved to Rome where he was appointed as a singer by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo where he worked till 1578. As Madruzzo was also the employer of Contino, it is assumed that Marenzio’s appointment was arranged by Contino. After the death of Cardinal Madruzzo, Marenzio served at the court of Cardinal Luigi d'Este, who was a companion of Madruzzo. While writing his first madrigal book, Marenzio was the choir director at the court though Luigi’s musical establishments included only a handful of musicians. Even though, Luigi tried to appoint Marenzio in the papal choir, but, it couldn’t happen due to some political reasons.
During his seven year term with Cardinal, Marenzio published his first four books of madrigals for five voices, the first three volumes of madrigals for six voices and the first three books of villanelle, in addition to pieces for anthologies and the first of his five volumes of motets.
Marenzio also got a chance to travel with Luigi during in 1580-1581 to Ferrara, which was the home of Este family and the centre of progressive secular music of the late 16th century. Here, Marenzio also had the opportunity of listening to the music of Concerto delle Donne, the female singers who influenced the course of madrigal composition at the end of Renaissance. While in Ferrara, Marenzio wrote and dedicated two complete books to Alfonso II and Lucrezia d'Este. Though, Luigi gave him considerable time for his musical compositions, he paid him only a meagre salary of about five scudi a month. Marenzio once even complained about it. During his association with Luigi, he often tried for some other work, as once he applied for the post of maestro di cappella at the court of Mantua. In 1583, though Luigi pondered sending Marenzio to Paris as gift to King Henry III of France, however, this never came to pass, much to the relief of Marenzio.
The period of association with Cardinal Luigi d'Este helped Marenzio establish himself as a reputed composer. He also came to be known as an expert lutenist, which is evident from a letter written in 1581 by a singer to Luigi d'Este. By the time the Cardinal passed away in 1586, Marenzio had already earned immense popularity, thanks to his numerous madrigals published and reprinted in Italy as well as in Netherlands. The appreciation which his works received during this period is apparent from the frequency in which his madrigals appeared in anthologies.
After Luigi d'Este’s death in 1586, Marenzio, deprived of a patron, continued to freelance in Rome and went to Verona in 1587. There he met Count Mario Bevilacqua and attended Accademia Filarmonica, an association of musicians and humanists, dedicated to promote the progressive trends. From 1588 to1589, Marenzio served Ferdinando I de' Medici in Florence, where he contributed music to the wedding celebrations of Ferdinand de' Medici in May 1589. In the meantime, he published his fifth book of madrigals for five voices and the fourth for six voices, the volume of madrigals for four, five, and six voices, and the fourth and fifth books of villanelle. Marenzio reached at the peak of his fame and when he left the Medicean court he had no dearth of patrons.
Later Years & Death
As the situation in Florence was not very comfortable with Marenzio, he returned to Rome on November 30, 1589. He served several patrons there while maintaining substantial independence. Till 1593, he lived in Orsini Palace in the service of Virginio Orsini, the nephew of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Between 1595 and 1596, he went to Poland and stayed there till October 1596. He accepted the position of the choir director at the court of Sigismund III Vasa in Warsaw. While staying in Warsaw, Marenzio wrote and directed sacred music. As per the writings of 20th century writers, this trip to Poland ruined Marenzio’s health forever. He left Poland and reached Venice, from where he dedicated his eighth book of five-voice madrigals to the Gonzaga family. Soon after reaching Rome, Marenzio passed away on 22 August 1599. His burial took place in San Lorenzo church in Lucina.
In a time span of 20 years, Marenzio penned more than 400 madrigals and 80 villanelles, published in 23 books as well as sacred works, including 75 motets. Almost seventeen volumes of madrigals containing 200 pieces were published during Marenzio’s lifetime. Among these, more than half were republished even before his death and still continue to be reprinted. His villanelle was as popular as his madrigals. The most striking characteristics which outstripped all of his predecessors are his ‘word painting’. He also experimented with chromaticism in the last decade of his life.
- Alma redemptoris mater (1)
- Alma redemptoris mater "Gregorian" (1)
- Anima cruda sì, ma però bella (1)
- Belle ne fe natura (1)
- Caeciliam cantate (1)
- Cantantibus organis (1)
- Cantate Domino (1)
- Cedan l'antiche tue chiare vittorie (1)
- Che fa hogg'il mio sole (3)
- Chi dal delfino aita (1)
- Domine ne in furore (1)
- Domine quando veneris (1)
- Dorinda, ah! dirò mia (1)
- Et respicientes viderunt (1)
- Exsurgat Deus (1)
- Fantasia (1)
- Hor pien d'altro desio (1)
- I must depart all hapless (1)
- Iniquos odio habui (2)
- Innocentes pro Christo (1)
- Jubilate Deo (1)