The Italian composer Luca Marenzio (c. 1553-1599) was the greatest master of the Italian madrigal. His works spread throughout the Low Countries and Germany, and he was the main foreign influence in the development of the English madrigal school.
Luca Marenzio was born in Coccaglio and may have been a chorister in the nearby Cathedral of Brescia under G. Contini. In 1577 Marenzio contributed some madrigals to a minor Venetian anthology. Two years later he entered the employ of Cardinal Luigi d'Este in Rome. The cardinal spent a good deal of time at Ferrara, the home of the Este family, and it is likely that Marenzio accompanied him on most of these visits and met the court poets Torquato Tasso and G. B. Guarini, much of whose verse he set to music. During his 7 years with the cardinal, Marenzio published his first four books of madrigals for five voices, the first three volumes of madrigals for six voices, the madrigali spirituali, and the first three books of villanelle, in addition to a number of pieces for anthologies and the first of his five volumes of motets.
Marenzio served the Medici family in Florence from 1588 to 1589. He contributed music for the wedding festivities of Ferdinand de' Medici in May 1589 and published his fifth book of madrigals for five voices and the fourth for six voices, the volume of madrigals for four, five, and six voices, and the fourth and fifth books of villanelle. Marenzio was now at the height of his fame, and when he left the Medicean court he found no dearth of patrons. He spent most of his remaining years in Rome, where he died on Aug. 22, 1599.
Seventeen volumes of madrigals containing over 200 pieces were published during Marenzio's lifetime; of these more than half were reprinted at least once before his death and continued to be reprinted for a decade after. His villanelle were almost as popular as his madrigals.
Marenzio represents the summation of the madrigal. He utilized the entire range of style and expression (except polychoral writing) bequeathed by earlier composers to the development of the type. His most remarkable characteristic, however, in which he outstrips all his predecessors and contemporaries, is his "word painting," a technique that was not new but which Marenzio raised to a new significance. This technique is a much more integral and important aspect of his style in his earlier and most popular madrigals, for from 1588 on he became more concerned with expression of mood as well as more serious in his choice of texts, both features reflecting the impact of the religious emotion engendered by the Counter Reformation.
Further Reading on Luca Marenzio
A biography of Marenzio is Denis Arnold, Marenzio (1965). Information on Marenzio and historical background are in Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954; rev. ed. 1959), and The New Oxford History of Music, vol. 4 (1968). See also Alfred Einstein, The Italian Madrigal (1949).