Baldassare Donato

Baldassare Donato, was a composer and singer of the late Renaissance; representing the more progressive trend in the Venetian School era.

He was finally appointed “maestro di cappella” of the prestigious St. Mark’s Basilica in 1580; after significant divisions between traditional and progressive elements of the school were resolved.

Probably his greatest significance to music history is, in the development of a secular form known as the villanella; a lighter form of madrigal of Neapolitan origin. However, he also wrote madrigals in a more serious style, as well as psalm settings, motets, and ceremonial music.


Baldassare Donato by Giovanni Cariani.LIFE

Details of his early life are unavailable; however, he was born sometime between 1525 and 1530 and his birthplace unknown

Photo left: Baldassare Donato by Giovanni Cariani.

The first record of Donato is in 1550, as a singer at St. Mark’s basilica in Venice; where in 1562, it is thought that  he was given charge of the musical training of the boys.

When Gioseffo Zarlino took over the post of maestro di cappella from Cipriano de Rore in 1565, Donato was demoted back to being a singer.  Conflict between the two men seems to have been a feature of life at St. Mark’s and probably represented divisions between the traditional and more progressive stylistic elements developing at that time. This culminated in 1569, in a public and scandalous fight; during the Feast of St. Mark.

In 1577, Donato took a position at the Scuola Grande di S Rocco, another Venetian church with an impressive musical tradition and substantial performing ensemble. However, he failed to get along with his employers there as well and resigned by 1580.

In 1588, he became assistant maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, while Zarlino was still alive it is unclear (whether this was due to because of reconcilement or politics). Finally in 1590, he took over the post of his former antagonist; holding it until his death in June 1603.



Donato represented a progressive trend in the Venetian school, which was already a progressive tradition compared to the other major contemporary Italian musical styles; for example, the Roman School.

The progressive trend in the Venetian school was represented by composers such as Donato, Giovanni Croce and Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli; the conservative trend involved composers and theorists such as Zarlino, Cipriano de Rore and Claudio Merulo. The latter group, tended to follow the Franco-Flemish style, which was predominant almost everywhere else in Europe; until after mid-century.

Donato’s sacred music is the most conservative portion of his output, usually using polyphony in the Palestrina style; but also using some of the grand polychoral effects of the Gabrielis.

In spite of his evident disdain for Zarlino’s conservatism, he clearly absorbed some of his style and teaching. This can be seen in his smooth mastery of counterpoint and use of dissonance; at least when he was deliberately composing in the Franco-Flemish style.

Photo left:The Second Book of Madrigals in Four Voices“, published 1568, by Baldassare Donato


Probably his greatest significance to music history is, in the development of a secular form known as the villanella; a lighter form of madrigal of Neapolitan origin. Some of these pieces may have been intended for dancing and they were evidently popular. They are similar to the French chanson, often have a memorable melody in the topmost part, contain vigorous cross-rhythms and avoid the polyphonic and chromatic complexity of the mid-century madrigal.

Donato also wrote madrigals in a more serious style, as well as psalm settings, motets, and ceremonial music.



  • “Il primo libro di canzon villaneschealla Napolitana” (Venice, 1551)
  • “Il primo libro di madrigali a cinque & a sei voci con tre dialoghi a sette” (Venice, 1553)
  • “Il secondo libro de madrigali a quatro voci” (Venice, 1568)
  • “Il primo libro de motetti a cinque, a sei, et otto voci” (Venice, 1599)


 AllMusic, for Donato’s music and a short biography.

“As the successor to Zarlino, the influence can be apprehended in Donato’s compositions. Being a singer perhaps provided the motivation that made Donato the singularly best secular composer of his era. His madrigals and motets are informed by characteristic spirited rhythmic accents, lucid patterns and developing diatonic melodies. High parts of Donato’s pieces are always pleasant and contain the melodies of his compositions. His telos as a composer was not to depict the words through the music (although this appears to have started); rather, Donato’s music was conducive to depicting emotional timbres. “La napolitane et alcuni madrigali“, was an early collection by Donato that went through several editions addressing the import and popularity of his work”. Keith Johnson.

There is also some of his work on Spotify, to listen to.



Major members of the Venetian School of Music. 

Click on the composer chosen to view.

Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562) 

Jacques Buus (c.1500-1565)

Andrea Gabrieli (c.1532-1585)

Nicola Vicentino (1511-c.1576)

Cipriano de Rore (c.1515-1565)

Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590)

Annibale Padovano (1527–1575)

Costanzo Porta (c.1529-1601)

Claudio Merulo (1533–1604)

Gioseffo Guami (c.1540-1611)

Vincenzo Bellavere (d.1587)

Girolamo Diruta (c.1554-after 1610)

Girolamo Dalla Casa (d.1601)

Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1555-1612)

Giovanni Croce (c.1557-1609)

Giovanni Bassano (c.1558-1617)

Giulio Cesare Martinengo (c.1561-1613)

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)

Please see all my other posts in the category of “Art-Music-Literature”: HERE


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