Gioseffo Zarlino

Gioseffo Zarlino, “Venetian School” composer and celebrated music theorist; contributed to the theory of musical tuning and counterpoint.

In 1565, on the resignation of Cipriano de Rore, Zarlino took over the post of “maestro di cappella” of St. Mark’s; one of the most prestigious musical positions in Italy. He taught some of the principal figures of the Venetian school of composers,

In his time, there was controversy in thinking musical circles, over the demands of “musica theorica“ vs. those of “musica practica“ – the mathematical, theoretical understanding of how music works or should work, versus, the practical knowledge of how it is, can and must be played. He went further in resolving this issue than any other theorist of his day.


 

Gioseffo Zarlino – LIFE AND CAREER

Gioseffo Zarlino was born in Chioggia, located on edge of the Adriatic side of the lagoon; south-west of Venice; sometime between the 31st January and the 22nd March 1517.

His early education was with the Franciscans and he later joined the order himself. In 1536, he was a singer at Chioggia Cathedral and by 1539; he not only became a deacon, but also principal organist. In 1540 he was ordained and in 1541 went to Venice to study with Adrian Willaert; the famous contrapuntist and maestro di cappella of Saint Mark’s Basilica .

Gioseffo Zarlino. Venetian School ComposerIn 1565, on the resignation of Cipriano de Rore, Zarlino took over the post of “maestro di cappella” of St. Mark’s; one of the most prestigious musical positions in Italy

He was offered the bishopric of Chioggia in 1583, but the Venetian senate persuaded him to remain in Venice. He held the post until his death, on the 4th February 1590.

While maestro di cappella he taught some of the principal figures of the Venetian school of composers, including Claudio Merulo, Girolamo Diruta, and Giovanni Croce, as well as Vincenzo Galilei, (father of the astronomer) and the famous reactionary polemicist Giovanni Artusi.

Left: Gioseffo Zarlino. Oil Painting – artist unknown

 

 

 

 

WORKS AND INFLUENCE

Gioseffo Zarlino’s compositions, are more conservative in idiom than those of many of his contemporaries. His madrigals avoid the homophonic textures commonly used by other composers; remaining polyphonic throughout, in the manner of his motets. His motets are polished and display a mastery of counterpoint.

His works were published between 1549 and 1567 and include 41 motets, mostly for five and six voices and 13 secular works; mostly madrigals, for four and five voices. His 10 motets on the “Song of Songs” used the text of Isidoro Chiari’s translation of the Bible. While he was a moderately prolific composer, few of his works have survived.

Considered the major music theorist of the late 16th century; Zarlino was a brilliant and eccentric character.

In his time, there was controversy in thinking musical circles over the demands of musica theorica vs. those of musica practica — the mathematical, theoretical understanding of how music works or should work, versus, the practical knowledge of how it is, can, and must be played. He went further in resolving this issue than any other theorist of his day.

One of his most significant sentences, addresses the issue directly: “Music considered in its ultimate perfection contains these two parts (pratica and theorica) so closely joined that one cannot be separated from the other“. This straightforward wisdom was so well digested by European musical culture, that it’s still quoted among performers today.

Gioseffo Zarlino. Venetian School ComposerGioseffo Zarlino’s first treatise, Istitutioni harmoniche (1558), brought him rapid fame (photo left). It gives a shrewd account of musical thinking during the first half of the 16th century and Zarlino’s thoughts on tuning, chords, and modes; anticipate 17th- and 18th-century developments.

He discussed the tuning of the first four intervals of the scale (tetrachord), espousing a system that proved reliable in subsequent practice. He stressed the importance of the major and minor third and discussed the nature of the major and minor triads; anticipating the theories of later writers such as Jean-Philippe Rameau. He renumbered the medieval modes, placing the Ionian mode (corresponding to the modern major scale) first.

He also gave one of the two earliest accounts of double counterpoint and offered detailed advice on the setting of words to music.

His Dimostrationi harmoniche (1571) consists of five dialogues between Willaert and four friends; it amplifies much of the material he had set forth in the Istitutioni, his first treatise.

Zarlino’s theories, were violently attacked by Vincenzo Galilei, his former pupil and a member of the Florentine Camerata, a group influential in the evolution of opera. Zarlino countered this attack, with Sopplimenti musicali (1588) and collected his works into a complete edition in 1589. The Sopplimenti, reinforces and develops his previous theories.

One passage suggests equally tempered tuning for the lute (in advance of 18th-century experiments with equal temperament on keyboard instruments); another gives valuable descriptions of early organs.

Zarlino, strongly decried the monodic recitative of the Camerata, insisting that music has its own laws and should not abandon them; in order to imitate the spoken word. His writings, primarily published by Francesco Franceschi; spread throughout Europe at the end of the 16th century. Translations and annotated versions were common in France, Germany, as well as in the Netherlands among students of Sweelinck, thus influencing the next generation of musicians who represented the early Baroque style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another famous statement, Zarlino, declared that his contemporaries, including his teacher, Willaert; “had brought music to a new state of perfection“. It summed up all the accomplishments of their predecessors, to such a degree that there wasn’t much further any composer could hope to go.

In retrospect, since Renaissance music did reach the autumnal, if beautiful, stage of over-ripeness, Zarlino’s opinion is uncannily sharp; the Baroque was about to emerge; an age with profoundly different musical ideals and attitudes. The music Zarlino knew and loved so deeply; would soon become part of Europe’s past.

 


LINKS

Explanation of the complex subject of musical tuning

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)

Cipriano de Rore (c.1515-1565)

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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