Cipriano de Rore

Cipriano de Rore, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the musical Renaissance, active in Italy and associated with the “Venetian School”. He briefly took the prestigious position of “maestro di cappella” at St. Mark’s Basilica, between 1563-1664; on the death of his mentor Adrian Willaert.

Born in Flanders, he died in Parma, around late September 1565; at the age of 65 and is buried in the city’s cathedral.

A central representative of the generation of Franco-Flemish composers after Josquin des Prez, who went to live and work in Italy; he was one of the most influential composers of madrigals, in the mid-16th century.

Cipriano de Rore’s experimental, chromatic and highly expressive style, had a decisive influence on the subsequent development of that secular music form. However, he was also a prolific composer of sacred music, both masses and motets.




Early years

There is little information on Cipriano de Rore’s early life.

Cipriano de Rore. Italian Renaissance composerHis probable birthplace was a small town in Flanders, Ronse (Renaix), right on the boundary between the French and Dutch speaking areas. However, the name de Rore (and variant forms de Rodere, Roere); can be found in Ronse documents, from as early as about 1400. Cyprianus, a saint who was celebrated at St Hermes, the collegiate church in Ronse; was the namesake of a number of members of the family.  It was recently established that his parents were Celestinus Rore and Barbara Van Coppenolle and he had at least two siblings –  brothers, Franciscus and Celestinus.

It is not known where he got his musical training. A suggestive phrase in a 1559 madrigal dedicated to Margaret of Parma, implied a long association with her. She was the illegitimate daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and de Rore may have accompanied her to Naples in 1533; prior to marrying into the Medici family. Margaret was born in a town of Oudenaarde, six kilometres from Rore’s birthplace.

Prior to that speculative trip, de Rore may have had some early music instruction in Antwerp. Many gifted singers from the Netherlands went to Italy as children or adolescents; often when discovered by visiting nobility. Both Orlande de Lassus and Giaches de Wert, travelled to southern Italy in similar circumstances.

When Margaret married Alessandro de’ Medici in 1536, he is believed to have received some of his music education in Italy during his period of service; after which de Rore may have gone his own way.

Venice and Ferrara

While it has long been claimed that de Rore studied in Venice with Adrian Willaert and that he was a singer at St Mark’s; no specific documentation of this has been found. However, he was closely connected with Willaert and his associates, for much of his career and visited Venice at least once before 1542.

A letter written on 3 November 1542, indicates he was at Brescia; where he was known to have remained until 16 April 1545. It was during this period that he began to acquire fame as a composer, publishing with the assistance of the Venetian printer Scotto, his first book of madrigals in 1542; as well as two books of motets in 1544 and 1545. The reprints of these works two years later by both Scotto and Gardane; indicated their high regard. Their technical mastery and stylistic indebtedness to Willaert and his circle, support an early connection with Venice.

De Rore then went to Ferrara, where payment records, beginning on 6 May 1546; show he was “maestro di cappella”. While in the service of Duke Ercole II d’Este, he was extraordinarily productive; writing masses, motets, chansons and of course madrigals. Indeed, the years in Ferrara, especially the decade between 1547 and 1557, saw the publication or composition of 107 pieces, more than half of the music he composed during his life.

In 1556, Duke Ercole awarded de Rore, a benefice for his exceptional service. During his decade in Ferrara de Rore’s, reputation became European in scope. He composed music for the elite of Europe: Charles V; Lamoral, Count of Egmont; Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle; Wolfgang Engelbert I von Auersperg. De Rore began cultivating his relations with the court of Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich; sending music and having 26 motets produced in an elaborately illustrated manuscript, with miniatures by Hans Müelich. Duke Albrecht V seems to have been genuinely interested in collecting his music.

Cipriano de Rore. Italian Renaissance composerIn 1558, he requested a leave of absence from his employer in Ferrara, in order to return to his homeland to care for his ailing parents. On the way, he stopped in Munich, reaching the city in early May; assisting the preparation of the motet manuscript and posing for the Müelich portrait.

Another document of September 1558, places him in Flanders; where he was helping his sister-in-law with estate matters, on the death of his brother Celestinus. By December he had returned to Ferrara.

Departure from Ferrara and last years

In July 1559, de Rore left his post in Ferrara again, possibly because the new Duke Alfonso II d’Este; preferred a member of an old Ferrara family, to the foreigner.  He returned home and from this time, he was not to return to the Este’s service.

Unfortunately, due to the ravages of the Wars of Independence, he found that his home town of Ronse, had been destroyed. Regaining his employment in Ferrara, he re-entered the service of the House of Farnese and after a stay in Antwerp; returned in 1560 to Parma, Italy. Sadly for him, Parma was not an intellectual and cultural centre on the level of Ferrara or Venice; so he left in 1563, taking up the prestigious position of “maestro di cappella” at St. Mark’s, on the death of his mentor Adrian Willaert.

However, he only kept this post into 1564, when he returned to Parma; giving as his reason for departing Venice, the disorder in the chapel and an insufficient salary.

He died in Parma the following year, age 49 of unknown causes and was buried in the cathedral. Lodovico Rore, his nephew, erected his tombstone, indicating in the epitaph that his name would not be forgotten; even in the distant future.

His age at death of 49, is recorded on his tombstone in Parma cathedral, making his birth date of 1515-1516. The family coat of arms appeared both on his personal seal and his tombstone in Parma Cathedral.



De Rore was one of the most influential composers in the middle of the 16th century; his reputation was such, that he was often known as “il divino Cipriano”.  The fact that a whole raft of composers claimed to have studied with him; confirms his influence on composers of the succeeding generations.

His music was at the time, considered multi-faceted and could appeal to several different compositional agendas (both traditional and progressive) at the end of the 16th century. The conservative critic Artusi, could cite him as an excellent example of the “prima pratica” (first practice); yet Monteverdi’s  brother, referred to de Rore as ‘il primo rinovatore’ of the ‘seconda pratica’ (the founder of the Second Practice).

In his sacred music, de Rore was more backward-looking, showing his connection to his Netherlandish roots. For example, his masses are reminiscent of the work of Josquin des Prez; developing many of his techniques, from the older composer’s style. In addition to five masses, he wrote about 80 motets, many psalms, secular motets and a setting of the St. John Passion.

However, his reputation and enduring fame; was mainly through the dissemination of his madrigals; primarily between 1542 and 1565. They married the polyphonic texture of the Netherlandish motet, with the Italian secular form; bringing a seriousness of tone which was to become one of the predominant trends in madrigal composition, all the way into the 17th century. All of the lines of development in the madrigal in the late 16th century, can be traced to ideas first seen in de Rore’s works. According to Alfred Einstein, his only true spiritual successor was Claudio Monteverdi; another revolutionary.














His early madrigals reflect the styles of Willaert, with the use of clear pronunciation, continuous counterpoint, and pervasive imitation.

However, de Rore’s 1542 book especially, was an extraordinary event and recognised as such at the time; for it established five voices as the norm; rather than four.

In his development, he chose not to write madrigals of frivolous nature; preferring to focus on serious subject matter. These included the works of Petrarch and tragedies presented at Ferrara. He carefully focused on clarity of diction and brought out the drama, moods and emotions of the characters in the texts he set; developing musical devices for this purpose.  Additionally, he often ignored the structure of the line, line division, and rhyme; deeming it unnecessary that the musical and poetic lines correspond.

In addition, de Rore experimented with chromaticism, following some of the ideas of his contemporary Nicola Vicentino. He used all the resources of polyphony, as they had developed by the middle 16th century in his work, including imitation and canonic techniques; all in the service of careful text setting.

He proved to be the model, whom many of the great madrigalists of the late sixteenth century followed, including Claudio Monteverdi.  According to Alfred Einstein, writing in “The Italian Madrigal” (1949) he stated that: “Rore’s true spiritual successor was Monteverdi…. “Rore holds the key to the whole development of the Italian madrigal after 1550.”

Cipriano De Rore, also composed secular Latin motets; considered a relatively unusual “cross-over” form in the mid-16th century. These motets, being a secular variation of a normally sacred form, paralleled the “madrigale spirituale” (sacred madrigal); which was a sacred variation on a popular secular form.

Stylistically, these motets are similar to his madrigals and he published them throughout his career. Occasionally, they appeared in collections of madrigals, such as in his posthumous “Fifth Book for five voices” (1566). He also included some in a collection of motets for five voices, published in 1545.


Notes on the printing and publication of de Rore’s music

De Rore’s early maturity as a composer coincided with the flowering of music printing in Venice, where two printers, Antonio Gardano and Girolamo Scotto, would between them publish nearly one thousand music titles between the late 1530’s and the early 1570’s. He thus, had an opportunity to establish his reputation, in a way that was not available to composers; even a few years earlier. The normal means for supporting publication, was by dedicating work to a patron. It was unusual that he did not seek to defray the costs in this manner.

For his 1542 book, de Rore worked with the printer Girolamo Scotto, but then switched to the firm of Antonio Gardano for the publication of his second single-author print, the 1545 motets. This time he obtained a privilege from the Venetian government to protect his rights.

His third and final single-volume publication, the 1550 First Book of four-voice madrigals; was with the Ferrarese firm of Buglhat and Hücher. With no Venetian privilege to protect this volume, it went through at least 13 editions; becoming a “best-seller”.

The choice of three different printers to publish his music, suggested a degree of dissatisfaction with the music publishing industry; who were no doubt trying to take advantage of the strong market for his music. Later however, it is striking that the rest of his music appeared in anthologies; publications financed by the publisher/printer as a money-making venture. This meant that the publishers/printers frequently had to make do with whatever copies they could get their hands on; rather than being able to work directly with the composer. So, they were sometimes, not as complete as de Rore’s own published editions.

De Rore’s efforts, to keep his music from circulating indiscriminately are clear from Bonagionta’s dedication to the posthumous “Le vive fiamme” (“flame of life” suggestive of musical, if not physical immortality): ..… thanks to the great familiarity and the friendly relationship which for a long time united me with the excellent musician M. Cipriano Rore, he kindly shared with me some of his most beautiful four- and five-voice madrigals with the request that I keep them close by me, so that his works might not fall so easily into the hands of everyone who would like to make them public’.

After 1550, de Rore’s madrigal prints consisted of just two significant anthologies from 1557 (the fourth book of five-voice madrigals and the second book for four-voices) and two posthumous anthologies (the fifth book in 1565 and “Le vive fiamme” in 1566). Single works are scattered in various anthologies.




  • Il madrigali (Venice, 1542, five voices)
  • Il primo libro de madregali cromatici (Venice, 1544, five voices; enlargement of 1542 publication)
  • Il secondo libro de madregali (Venice, 1544, five voices)
  • Il terzo libro di madrigali, (Venice, 1548, five voices)
  • Musica … sopra le stanze del Petrarcha … libro terzo (Venice, 1548, five voices)
  • Il primo libro de madrigali (Ferrara, 1550, five voices) (also contains chansons in French)
  • Il quarto libro d’imadregali (Venice, five voices)
  • Il secondo libro de madregali, (Venice, 1557, four voices)
  • Il madrigali libro quarto, (Venice, 1562, five voices)
  • Le vive fiamme de’ vaghi e dilettevoli madrigali, (Venice, 1565, four and five voices) (also contains secular Latin pieces)
  • Il quinto libro de madrigali (1566, five voices) (also contains secular Latin pieces)
  • Numerous additional works in anthologies, between 1547 and 1570









  • Motectorum liber primus (Venice, 1544, five voices)
  • Motetta (Venice, 1545, five voices)
  • Il terzo libro di motetti (Venice, 1549, five voices)
  • Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem (Paris, 1557; two to six voices)
  • Motetta (Venice, 1563, four voices)
  • Sacrae cantiones (Venice, 1595; five to seven voices)


Other related posts in the category of Art-Music-Literature

The Venetian School of Music    

Major members of the Venetian School of Music. 

Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562) 

Jacques Buus (c.1500-1565)

Andrea Gabrieli (c.1532-1585)

Nicola Vicentino (1511-c.1576)

Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590)

Baldassare Donato (1525–1603)

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)


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