Waart, Edo de. 56 Wachmann, Eduard 56



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2. Willaert in Venice.


On 12 December 1527 the procurators of S Marco in Venice appointed Willaert maestro di cappella, succeeding the little-known Petrus de Fossis, who had held this post since 1491, and the still less-known Pietro Lupato, who had held an interim position since 1525. It is evident that the doge, Andrea Gritti, intervened personally in choosing Willaert for the post, perhaps as part of his conscious effort to build Venice into a ‘new Rome’. Gritti had spent a period of captivity at the court of France, and had been present at the 1515 meeting in Bologna between Leo X and François I, where, as Lockwood has suggested, Willaert may have been reunited with his teacher Mouton. Thus it is possible that previous acquaintance with the composer and with his teacher may have influenced the doge’s decision. Willaert’s initial salary was 70 ducats a year, identical to that of his predecessor de Fossis, but on orders from the doge it was raised to 100 ducats in 1529; a series of further raises between 1535 and 1556 increased his salary to 200 ducats, an annual compensation similar to that offered by the best musical posts in Europe. Some of the increases were sought by Willaert through petitions: in the 1535 petition, for instance, he claimed that the 100 ducats he was then receiving were scarcely sufficient to buy food for his family, surely an exaggeration. The last salary increase, given on the eve of Willaert’s last trip to Flanders, seems to have been granted spontaneously by the procurators of the church.

The chapel that Willaert found upon his hiring at S Marco was a rather large establishment, with at least 16 adult singers – comparable to the best choirs anywhere in Europe – and its quality must have been satisfactory to the new maestro, since very few singers were added to the choir in the first several years of his tenure. Willaert’s duties at S Marco included teaching choirboys and adult singers. One singer was reprimanded in 1538 for failing to attend counterpoint lessons with the maestro, but no documents survive that would indicate that such instruction was given to all, or most, members of the chapel. Although Willaert’s salary, at least until 1541, included a sum for his teaching duties, it is possible that this was simply an accounting ruse and that much of the teaching, at least for choirboys and younger singers, was done by others: as early as 1541, for instance, the procurators decided to pay another singer to teach the clerics of S Marco ‘musicam et cantum’. Nevertheless it is indisputable that Willaert was valued as a teacher and that as such he had a profound influence on younger composers. Zarlino, his most famous pupil in the realm of theory and one of his most devoted disciples, reported that he had moved from Chioggia to Venice on 5 December 1541 specifically in order to study with Willaert.

Willaert’s teaching activities, not necessarily confined to S Marco, and his ability to surround himself with a circle of talented and devoted students are in fact defining features of his career. His pupils included some of the most important composers active in Italy in the second and third quarters of the 16th century: Cipriano de Rore (who succeeded him at Venice in 1563, after a stay of ten years at Ferrara), Perissone Cambio, Baldassare Donato, Nicola Vicentino, Girolamo Parabosco, Costanzo Porta, Jacques Buus, Francesco dalla Viola, Antonio Barges and others. The exact relationship between the master and these musicians is often hard to establish: several expressly claim to have been his students, but in some cases the connection must have been much more informal. Nevertheless it is obvious that in Venice there was a ‘Willaert circle’ of musicians who had frequent contact with and were influenced by the Netherlandish master. His opinion was often sought on musical matters by musicians outside of Venice. In 1555, refusing a request from two Genoese musicians to settle a contest by judging newly composed parts for pre-existing compositions, he claimed that he ‘never felt like undertaking such requests, even though many had begged him’. An earlier request in 1531 to review a set of madrigals by the Bolognese musician Julio Muradori seems to have upset Willaert, although it was tactfully presented to him through the theorist Aaron.

Willaert’s music was carefully copied for the use of the chapel of S Marco: one decree from 1548 orders Baldassare Donato, then a senior choirboy, to copy in a book all the works to be composed by Willaert, ‘both masses and Vespers’, for the use of the chapel. The document also orders Donato to keep encouraging Willaert to work on his compositions, and to alert the procurators of the church upon the completion of each work (perhaps a confirmation of a famous anecdote related by Zarlino about the slow, meticulous approach to composition taken by the maestro). In 1552 Willaert requested and received the services of a choirboy whose primary task was to take care of ‘his books’, almost certainly the chapel’s collection of music.

Although the chapel of S Marco at the time of Willaert’s hiring was divided into two choirs, this division, soon abandoned and reintroduced only briefly a few days before his death, was not – as has been often assumed – related to the practice of cori spezzati. The lesser choir (cappella piccola) included singers with less seniority and was a training ground for the full choir (cappella grande); the two groups often appeared together on Sundays and at important celebrations. Cori spezzati settings were in use at S Marco, but were not an invention of Willaert, having been previously used by other northern-Italian composers. The passage in Zarlino that has often been interpreted to claim that Willaert ‘invented’ this type of setting merely states that his cori spezzati music was, in Zarlino’s opinion, to be used as a compositional model by others. Nevertheless it is true that Willaert’s settings were the most important influence, albeit not the only one, on the establishment of the polychoral idiom of the Venetian school. His influence on musical matters at S Marco extended well beyond his lifetime: as late as the 17th century musicians still justified some musical choices by referring to the way things had been done by Adriano and Cipriano (de Rore). His influence, though, extended well beyond Venice. In 1607 Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, in his historic defence of the innovations of his brother Claudio, singled out Willaert’s music as the pinnacle of prima pratica composition and Zarlino’s writings as the codification of its rules.

Willaert’s only recorded absences from Venice occurred in 1542 and 1556, when he was given permission to travel to Flanders on personal business. In 1556 Willaert was expected to be absent from May to November, but he overstayed his leave by several months, and on his return petitioned the procurators for the salary that had been witheld, claiming his delay was due to serious illness. He was granted half the arrears he sought. In general Willaert seems to have been respected and favoured by the procurators. Although it was not unusual for them to make important decisions about the chapel without consulting Willaert, it is clear that whenever possible they listened to the maestro, increasingly so as his reputation grew; in some cases the opinion of the maestro was sufficient to convince the procurators to hire a particular singer without an audition, in disregard of their own rules. The fact that Willaert’s nephew Alvise was also hired by the church – his salary was lumped together with Adriano’s – also points to a desire on the part of the procurators to please their maestro.

In the later part of his life Willaert was often plagued by physical problems (fig.1), in particular by the gout, that at times rendered him unable to leave his apartment. In his first surviving will (1549), Willaert describes himself as ‘rather ill with gout’. This was the first of a series of wills (1550, 1552, 1558, 1559) and codicils in which he often referred to his affliction. From his wills we know he was married but had no surviving children. Evidence recently discovered by Martin Morell suggests that his wife Susanna came from the town of Feltre, where she returned after Adriano’s death. In the last codicil, witnessed by the musicians Antonio Barges and Daniele Grisonio, Willaert left his wife the substantial sum of 1,600 ducats, invested with the Fuggers, with the condition that after her death the money would go to his nephew Alvise. Two of the testamentary executors were Marco Antonio Cavazzoni and Gioseffo Zarlino. A notary’s annotation on his last will states that it was published ‘viso cadavere’ on 8 December 1562, implying Willaert had died the day before.

There is no doubt that ‘Messer Adriano’ was viewed with affection by the Venetian musical world. The feelings of his contemporaries towards him are best summed up by Andrea Calmo in his humorous but deeply affectionate letter to the master. After much praise of his virtues and some good-natured allusion to Willaert’s short stature, Calmo concluded: ‘your music, my dearest friend, has been distilled in seven alembics, purified in nine waters and refined in four flames, as is proper to the aurum potabile’.



Willaert, Adrian


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