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Saturday morning quotes 3.13: Lucky Luca

August 10, 2013

Marenzio-sm “For delicious aires and sweet invention in madrigals, Luca Marenzio excelleth all others.”

– Henry Peacham, 1622

Luca Marenzio (c. 1553 –1599) enjoys a reputation as the late 16th century’s best composer of madrigals and airy canzonettas.  His work was known to John Dowland, probably through earlier contact with his music while in Paris circa 1580 but certainly through Nicholas Yonge’s publication Musica Transalpina (1588), a collection of Italian madrigals that led to a fairly long-lived fad for the form in England.  We have featured the Dowland-Marenzio connection as a  concert program as well as on this blog in a post devoted to Dowland’s Lachrimae theme.

Dowland traveled to Italy for the express purpose of meeting with Marenzio, an ambition that was thwarted by plot and circumstance.  Nevertheless, Dowland absorbed and quoted snippets of Marenzio’s clever melodic figuration, some of which appeared in the bouncy tenor lines of Dowland’s part-song settings of lute songs.  While he was not primarily known as a composer for the lute, virtuoso lute settings of Marenzio’s music abound in the circa 1600 anthologies by Denss, Terzi, and Van den Hove.

Today, Marenzio’s secular madrigals are mostly unappreciated and are overshadowed by the more broadly extrovert gestures of Monteverdi and the deranged musical absurdities of Gesualdo.  But Marenzio’s stellar secular works tend to outshine his relatively smaller published output of sacred motets, most of which does not survive. Fortunately, one book of motets and a collection of Sacrae cantiones for five to seven voices survive, giving us a picture of how Marenzio used his expressive command of stylish part-writing to convey sacred Latin texts with crystalline clarity.

Music by Marenzio for voice and lute

We are nearing completion of our second volume of Harmonia Caelestis: An anthology of 16th-century sacred music for voice and lute.  Volume II features the work of Italian composers including Anerio, Banchieri and Croce, a healthy portion of Palestrina, but one third of the music is by Marenzio.  Since we are forced by production costs to raise the price for Mignarda Editions beginning in September 2013, we will be offering advance sales at the current price for Volume II of Harmonia Caelestis, scheduled for a September 1st release.  Contact us for details.

And as an audio example of Marenzio’s music, we link to Dissi a l’amata mia lucida stella, justifiably one of his more popular madrigals from Madrigali a quatro voci, Libro primo (1585). Following the typical 16th-century practice of intabulation, we breathe new life into the piece through our unique arrangement for solo voice and lute.

One Comment
  1. A neglected worthy.

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