Claudio Merulo

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Claudio Merulo (Merlotti, Merulus, also Claudio da Correggio) (April 8, 1533May 4, 1604) was an Italian composer, publisher and organist of the late Renaissance, famous for his innovative keyboard music and his ensemble music in the Venetian polychoral style. He was born in Correggio and died in Parma. His surname was Merlotti: he changed it in "Merulo" (Latin form of "Merlotti", meaning little blackbird) when he became famous in Venetian cultural clubs.


[edit] Life

Little is known about his early life except that he studied in Correggio with Tuttovale Menon, a famous madrigalist who also worked in the Ferrara court, and he also studied with Girolamo Donato, an organist. The first mention of his name, after the record of his baptism, is in a legal deposition for Antonio Zantani, in Venice in 1555: therefore, Merulo was close to important names of Venetian society before his employment in Brescia, at Duomo Vecchio, as organist. Probably he studied with Zarlino at St. Mark's in Venice, but no surviving documents make this assertion. While in Venice he became close friends with Costanzo Porta, a friendship which was to endure for his entire life. On October 21, 1556, he was appointed organist at Brescia Cathedral ("Duomo Vecchio"), and his skill as an organist must have been impressive, because he became organist at St. Mark's, one of the most prestigious positions for an organist in Italy, in 1557; he was selected over a list of candidates that included Andrea Gabrieli. This was the first important event of his career, and he was considered to be the finest organist in Italy.

It is important to note that in St. Marco there were two organs, and two separate organist were appointed to play them: in 1557 Merulo was appointed to the second (and smaller) organ, while Annibale Padovano remained at the post of first organist.

After Padovano's hurried departure from Venice in 1566, Merulo was appointed to the first organ, and Andrea Gabrieli became the second organist. He was appointed as ambassador of Venetian Republic at Wedding Francesco de’ Medici duke of Florence with Venetian Bianca Cappello (1579) and wrote music of celebration for Henry III King of France, who visited Venice (1574).

In 1584, he suddenly left this position in Venice. We don't know the reasons of his choice. In Venice he was well-paid, and had a very good reputation; and St. Marco was one of the most important place for an organist. The truth of the matter is that in December 1584 his name appears in payment register of Farnesian Court of Parma: did Duke Ottavio Farnese offer him a very lavish payment in order to serving in Parma? Scholars thought that before his arrival in Parma, Merulo was appointed also in Mantua, but we have no-documents that make presume this hypothesis.

We are sure only that in 1586 he wrote to new Duke Alessandro Farnese begging to go along his employment in Parma: therefore, we could presume that he was already appointed in Farnesian court from several months, even if we own no-documents about employees of Parma'S Court immediately after Ottavio's death in 1586.

In 1587 he was appointed as organist in Parma's Cathedral, and from 1591 also in Church of Santa Maria della Steccata. During the service in this church, he demanded some changes in Antegnati's organ, performed by Costanzo Antegnati, the last heir of the great Brescian family of organ makers.

This is for us a very important notice: obviously, Merulo claimed a modern organ, fit for his necessity as modern organist and modern composer. We can deduce that Merulo used the Steccata's organ for his proofs of new composition, based on his Venetian experience, and that Merulo himself kept in Parma Venetian Music technique of the 3rd quarter of XVI Century. He lived in Parma until his death. During this period, he made several voyage in Venice and Rome, where he published his famous Toccate per organo in two books.

Merulo died in Parma on 4 May 1604. He left a daughter and his wife Amabilia Banzola.

[edit] Music and influence

Claudio Merulo is famous for his keyboard music. His Toccatas, in particular, are innovative; he was the first to contrast sections of contrapuntal writing with passageworks; often he inserts sections which could be called ricercars into pieces which otherwise are labeled toccatas or canzonas (in the late 16th century, these terms are only approximately descriptive; different composers clearly had different ideas of what they meant). Often his keyboard pieces begin as though they are to be a transcription of vocal polyphony, but then gradually add embellishment and elaboration until they reach a climactic passage of considerable virtuosity. Sometimes, especially in his later music, he develops ornaments which acquire the status of a motif, which is then used developmentally; this anticipates a principal generative technique in the Baroque era. Often Merulo casually ignores the "rules" of voice-leading, giving the music an expressive intensity more associated with the late school of madrigalists than with keyboard music of the time. His keyboard music was hugely influential, and his ideas can be seen in the music of Sweelinck, Frescobaldi and others; because of the immense influence of Sweelinck as a teacher, much of the virtuoso keyboard technique of the north German organ school, culminating in Bach, can claim to be descended from the innovations of Merulo.

Even though the fame of his instrumental music has overshadowed much of his a cappella vocal output, Merulo was also a madrigalist. Since he was a member of what is known today as the Venetian School, he also wrote motets for double choir in the manner of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. He published two books of Madrigali a 5 voices (1566 and 1604), one of Madrigali a 4 (1579) and a 3 (1580).

The famous essay of keyboard technique Il Transilvano (1593), by Girolamo Diruta, was dedicated to Merulo, indicating his status as one of the most important keyboard players of Renaissance.

Merulo's technique on keyboard playing consists in a particular fingersatz, rapidity of performance, politeness and neatness staying on keyboard. As organ composer, he made a renovation of Toccata style, inserting in it a section in counterpoint in order to move expression and dynamic. His vocal music, especially madrigals, is featured by a probing care to psychological expression of words. In sacred scores, we find music closer to Venetian style, often for two or more chorus: a deeper study of this music could reveal his interest for sound ambient effects.

[edit] External links

[edit] References and further reading

  • Giuseppe Martini, Claudio Merulo. Parma, Ordine Costantiniano di S. Giorgio, 2005 (512 pp., with ill.) ISBN 88-901673-8-6

(the most update and exhaustive essay about Merulo)

  • Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Venetian Instrumental Music, from Gabrieli to Vivaldi. New York, Dover Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-486-28151-5
  • Article "Claudio Merulo," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4