Giovanni Bassano, was a “Venetian School” composer and cornetist of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras.
Born sometime between 1561-1563, he was a key figure in the development of the instrumental ensemble at St Mark’s Basilica, until his death in 1617. His detailed book “Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie”, on instrumental ornamentation has survived and is a rich resource for research in contemporary performance practice.
As a composer, he is best known in the sacred realm for his motets and “concerti ecclesiastici” (sacred concertos) and in the secular realm, for his canzonettas and madrigals.
Bassano, was most responsible for the performance and conducting of the music of Giovanni Gabrieli; who would emerge as one of the most renowned members of the Venetian School.
Giovanni Bassano – LIFE
Giovanni Bassano was most probably born in Venice, sometime between 1561 and 1563; in the parish of San Maurizio.
He was the son of Santo Griti da Sebenico (now Šibenik, Croatia) and Orsetta Bassano. He later adopted the surname of Bassano for himself. Santo seems to have taken over his father-in-law’s instrument-making business and was the probable inventor of the “bassanelli” family of woodwind instruments.
Note 1. The “bassanello” (plural: bassanelli). These were Renaissance double reed woodwind instruments, which was described in 1619 by Michael Praetorius, in his Syntagma Musicum II.
Though Praetorius, attributes the invention of bassanelli, to Johann Bassanello (a.k.a. Giovanni Bassano); it is more likely Giovanni’s father Santo, who invented them.
The bore of bassanelli are straight, opening at the bottom and these instruments only have one key. They are blown by direct contact with the reeds and have a “soft” timbre. There are no surviving examples.
Note 2. Probable origins of the Bassano family.
A certain Jeronimo Bassano, is believed to be the maternal grandfather of composer Giovanni Bassano.
He was the son of Baptista “Piva” of Bassano del Grappa, a town 35 miles north from Venice. Baptista was a musician who played the “piva”, a small bagpipe. He was the son of Andrea de Crespano, who was from the village of Crespano; about nine miles east of Bassano. Andrea, Baptista and Jeronimo, were all described as musicians and musical instrument makers. There is controversy amongst historians, as to whether or not, the family were of Jewish origin.
Jeronimo Bassano, was noteworthy for having been head of a family of musicians – Anthony, Jacomo, Alvise, Jasper, Giovanni and Baptista; who moved from Venice to England and the household of Henry VIII, to serve the court.
Jeronimo himself never moved, however, but was listed in Venice as a “Maestro of the trumpets and shawms.”
It is probable, that Giovanni (left) was a chorister at the Basilica di San Marco, by the time he was ten or eleven. Around 1576, he was appointed to serve as one of six specially selected musicians, to perform in the service of the doge of Venice. He quickly acquired a reputation as one of the finest instrumentalists in Venice.
In 1583, he became a music teacher at the seminary associated with St. Mark’s and had published his first book, “Ricercate, passagi et cadentie”; published in 1585; which details how best to ornament passages, when transcribing vocal music for instruments.
His first surviving compositions would seem to date to around this period as well, since he published a collection of “Canzonettas” in 1587 and a second set of vocal works the following year. His canzonettas achieved some fame outside Italy, for example, Thomas Morley in 1597; had them printed in English translation, in London. The work has survived and is a rich resource for research in contemporary performance practice.
Another instructional manual, “Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi…” was published in 1591. Like the first, it contained many arrangements and examples of other composers’ works. Bassano composed a number of sacred works that were published in 1599, in the collection entitled, “Motetti per concerti ecclesiastici”.
The similarity of Bassano’s motets to the early work of Heinrich Schütz, who studied in Venice with Gabrieli; suggests that the two may have known each other. It is likely Schütz knew Bassano’s music and was influenced by it. In any case Schütz, took the Venetian style with him to Germany; where he continued to develop in the Baroque era.
In 1601, he was appointed director of the instrumentalists at the Basilica di San Marco; replacing Girolamo Dalla Casa. It was essentially a post of conductor of the Basilica’s small, but standard-sized orchestra. Bassano, was mostly responsible, for the performance and conducting of the music of Giovanni Gabrieli; who would emerge as one of the most renowned members of the Venetian School.
In addition to directing the music at St. Mark’s, Bassano directed several groups of “piffari” – bands of wind players including bagpipes, recorders, shawms, flageolets, bassoons and conceivably other instruments; which were used in other churches, such as San Rocco, or in street festivals.
Bassano was also busy in composition around the turn-of-the-century period, turning out the last collection of his works to be published in his lifetime; a set of “Madrigals and Canzonettas” (1602).
Left: “Ricercate, passagi et cadentie”, on instrumental ornamentation; published in 1585
He appears to have remained active throughout his last years, leading instrumental ensembles in various performances and maintaining his directorship post at the San Marco Basilica; right up to his death in 1617.
- Fantasie a tre voci, per cantar et sonar con ogni sorte d’istromentiVenezia: Giacomo Vincenti & Riccardo Amadino, 1585. According to RISM, basso part only survives.
- Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti & Riccardo Amadino, 1585; reprinted 1598. Modern edition: Richard Erig, Zürich, Musikverlag zum Pelikan, 1976; facsimile: Mieroprint.
- Canzonette a quatro voci Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1587.
- Il fiore dei capricci musicali a quattro voci, per sonar con ogni sorte di stromenti Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1588. Tenor part only survives.
- Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori Venice, 1591. Lost, survives only in the manuscript transcription of Friedrich Chrysander, Hamburger Staatsbibliothek MB/2488.
- Motetti per concerti ecclesiastici a 5, 6, 7, 8, & 12 voci Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1598 (basso per l’organo part: 1599). Modern edition: Richard Charteris (1999) GIOVANNI BASSANO (c. 1558 – 1617), Opera omnia American Institute of Musicology CMM 101–1.
- Concerti ecclesiastici a cinque, sei, sette, otto & dodeci voci … libro secondo Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1599. Modern edition: Richard Charteris (2003) GIOVANNI BASSANO (c. 1558 – 1617), Opera omnia American Institute of Musicology CMM 101–2.
- Madrigali et canzonette concertate per potersi cantare con il basso, & soprano nel liuto, & istrumento da pena, con passaggi a ciascuna parte … libro primo Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1602.
Rodney Waterman – Musician, Composer and Technician.
I have recently come across Australian recorder player Rodney Waterman, who has released his recording of Giovanni Bassano’s solo Ricercate of 1585; which represents the first recording of all eight ricercate on recorder. His main fascination lays, in the historical improvisatory fantasia and ricercar musical forms.
The works are played on a very special “Ganassi” recorder in g’, mean tone, maple, 2-piece with brass ring join, A440, by Frederick Morgan, Daylesford, 1980. The instrument has a unique bold and beautiful tone and an extraordinary fluent and even, two and a half octave range.
Waterman, with his wonderful musical and interpretive ability, using the “Ganassi” recorder; really brings Bassano’s music to life, with its flexible and clarion tone.
Interestingly, between 1997 and 1998, Waterman worked as an instrument tester for Morgan (1940-1999); enabling him with the opportunity to “play-in”, some of the best recorders ever made, including many “Ganassi” instruments.
“Bassano: Ricercate for solo recorder” by Rodney Waterman. Cover art: painting by Dr Anneke Silver; ‘Sunset reflected’ (acrylic on canvas).
If you like his recording above, he has another very special recording of “Twelve fantasias for solo recorder” by Rodney Waterman. This superb recording displays his talents to the full – wonderful music, where each track was not only specifically composed for a particular venue and acoustic; but also for the choice of instrumented played.
Here is a quote from Waterman himself…. ” I love playing the recorder in beautiful acoustic environments. I enjoy the sensation of projecting music in performance to empathetic and active listeners. I like to explore the subtle relationship between body, soul, breath, instrument, sound, silence and space. My repertoire is eclectic, with a particular interest in improvisation. I enjoy exploring the recorder’s expressive possibilities.”
His 12 fantasias were recorded at home in Melbourne (Australia) between October 13-23, 2020, He essentially, recorded one new fantasia each day for 12 consecutive days, using 12 different instruments. Each of his fantasias (10 for recorder, 2 for Swedish folk flute), with the help of carefully selected digital reverb; was engineered to imagine or recall the atmosphere and ambience of a particular venue, that he had performed in or experienced. The music was thus created, with the physical space in mind and with reference to the music, he had performed there.
Album front cover photo by Martin Bennet; Norman Bay, Wilson’s
Promontory, Victoria, Australia
This music is available for purchase in two forms: for 1. digital streaming or download and 2. in CD format.
Some of Rodney Watermans music, is available on Spotify
*Please note : I have absolutely no financial interest in recommending these recording by Waterman.
Bio: Rodney Waterman studied recorder with the Dutch virtuoso Kees Boeke in Italy and the Netherlands in the 1980s. His repertoire is eclectic, with a particular interest in improvised and spontaneous music making. He has collaborated in concert with Joe Chindamo (piano), Riley Lee (shakuhachi), Ben Robertson (double bass) and Ryan Williams and Natasha Anderson (recorder). Rodney’s CD Água e Vinho, with Melbourne guitarist Doug de Vries, was released on the German ECM label in 2001. Rodney was a regular performer at the Eltham Jazz Festival (2007-10). In 2014 his performance collaboration with sculptor Paul Blizzard, Dancing the Chisel, was hailed as a highlight of the Ballarat contemporary Festival of Slow Music. In July 2016 Rodney performed in concert with Italian jazz recorder player, Gianluca Barbaro, in Milan. 2021 saw the release of his new solo ‘Covid-lockdown’ album, twelve fantasias – 12 improvised fantasias for imagined acoustic spaces. And in November 2022, Rodney released the first ever recording played on recorder of all 8 solo Ricercate by Giovanni Bassano (1585), performed on November 5th at the Bluestone Chapel, Montsalvat. He teaches music and Italian in various Melbourne schools.
The Venetian School of Music
Major members of the Venetian School of Music.
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