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Posts Tagged ‘Music: Imitation

Composer Biography: Peter Philips (c1560-1628)

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(Also Peter Philipps, Peter Phillips, Pierre Philippe, Pietro Philippi, and Petrus Philippus)

Peter Philips, although he spent most of his life in Europe, was one of the biggest names in English music. He was an organist and a Catholic priest, and his work could be heard from Rome to London to Brussels, and beyond.

He was one of the great keyboard virtuosos of his time, and transcribed or arranged several Italian motets and madrigals by Orlando Lassus (1532-1594), Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), and Giulio Caccini (1551-1618). Some of his keyboard works are found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and he wrote many sacred choral works as well.

He was possibly born in London, although there are stories that he came from Devonshire. Nothing is known about his family, but they weren’t particularly wealthy. They were particularly Catholic, and that would color Philips’ life.

When first we hear of him, Philips was a choirboy at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1574, serving under Sebastian Westcot (d.1582), who had also trained William Byrd 20 years earlier. Philips must have been close to Westcot, as he stayed at the older man’s house until Westcot died. He was named as a beneficiary in Westcot’s will.

He was possibly one of William Byrd’s students, along with Thomas Morley (c1557-1602) and Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), and John Bull (c1562-1628).

That same year (1582), Philips had to emigrate because he was Catholic. He landed in Flanders, Europe’s third biggest musical center (after Rome and Paris). He stayed for a bit, and then headed out for Rome, the center of both Catholicism and music. There, he was in the service of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), with whom he stayed for three years. At the same time, he was organist at the English Jesuit College in Rome from 1582-1585.

In 1585, he met Thomas, third Baron Paget (c1544-1590) and became a court musician for him instead. The two left Rome, traveling over the next few years to Genoa, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, and finally Antwerp, where Philips settled in 1590, when Paget died.

After he settled, Philips married and gained a precarious living by teaching the virginal to children. In 1593, he went to Amsterdam to see and hear Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), whose reputation was already huge. On his way home from that exciting visit, he was denounced by another Englishman for conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. He was temporarily jailed at The Hague, where he composed both the pavan and galliard Doloroso that are in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (more on that later). He was soon freed for lack of proof.

When he returned to Brussels, Philips was employed as organist in the chapel of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, who’d been appointed governor of the Low Countries in 1595, two years earlier.

After Philips’ wife and child died, he was ordained as a priest in 1601 or so, and became canon at Soignies in 1610. He also became a canon at Beithune in 1622 or 1623. These were meager livings, but at least he knew that he had a regular income.

In his new position at Albert VII’s court, he met the best musicians of the time, including Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), who visited the Low Countries between 1601 and 1608, and John Bull (c1562-1628), who had also fled England but for different reasons: he’d been charged with adultery.

Philips’ was close to fellow organist Peter Cornet (c1575-1633), who worked for the Archduchess Isabella, wife of Philips’ employer.

He wasn’t very well known in England during his lifetime, but he was famous in northern Europe as a fine organist and versatile composer. He’s considered second only to William Byrd as the most published English compose of his day. His music for keyboards and instrumental ensembles are in the traditional English style, and his Italian madrigals including some for double choir (in three books, collected from 1596-1603) and his motets (five books, from 1612-1628), show continental style and influence, especially Roman.

Philips was important in bringing the English musical style to the Continent and he was probably the most famous English composer of his day in Northern Europe.

Philips composed Masses, hundreds of motets (sacred madrigals), other sacred works, madrigals (secular motets), pieces for viols, and27 pieces for virginal. His religious music was entirely meant for Catholic use, unlike that of Catholics in England, who either composed for Anglican services or secretly composed for Catholic uses (see composer biographies on William Byrd and Thomas Tallis).

He produced three books of madrigals, two books of choral motets, three books of concertato motets (instrumental) of one-to-three voices with continuo accompaniment, a book of Litanies (a form of musical prayer in both Jewish and Christian traditions), and a book of bicinia (pedagogical music in two parts) with French texts.

His keyboard music was preserved in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

His madrigals (secular vocal music) belong to a conservative Italian tradition, probably thanks to his training in Rome. He uses colorful textures and sonorities, although his instrumental motets show him keeping up with the latest trends and styles. His keyboard music includes transcriptions and reworking of well-known Italian madrigals, one of which is Giulo Romola Caccini’s (15510-1618) monody (chant) Amarilli.

His first set of Cantiones sacre (in five voices) was printed by Pierre Phalese the Younger (dates unknown) in 1612, followed in 1613 by a second set for double chorus. Later publications contained sacred works for two and three voices, as well as some for solo with basso continuo and a set of Litanies (musical prayer, petitions mostly) to the Blessed Virgin in four to nine voices, which appeared between 1613-1633 (there is one source that says that Philips died in 1633 rather than 1628, but it’s more likely that the pieces were published posthumously).

He put together one book, called Les Rossignols spirituels, that was an arrangement of popular melodies adapted to sacred texts, in 1616.

He used a lot of different techniques, like the imitation (see Composer Biography: Johannes Ciconia), in a variety of ways, exhibiting considerable freedom, and modifying and combining different forms with imagination and skill. Like Flemish composer Orlando Lassus (1532-1594), he often imitated a rhythmic pattern or a melodic contour throughout a piece.

Philips’ Alma Redemptoris Mater, a richly polyphonic work, opens with a motif that’s imitated by three voices and then inverted by the other two voices. After each voice has sung the motif once, that voice presents the motif in a new form, perhaps borrowing a motif from one of the other voices.

His Elegi abjectus, esse uses real imitation in the opening among three voices. A fourth voice offers a more tonal answer, and the alto sings freely, disregarding the motif altogether. The motif is presented without interruption by the tenor; the other three voices break the motif with silence.

Another piece, Ascendit Deus, is simpler, with broken major triads in some sections, bright melismas in others, and a rousing chordal final “alleluia” section. The setting for the words “et Dominus” uses imitation in all its forms: a real answer, a tonal answer, imitation by inversion, and imitation of rhythmic patterns.

Philips draws on chant for Pater Noster, which uses the old cantus firmus style (with the chant sung slowly in the tenor line while the other parts trip merrily around it) and for his Ave Maria, Regina coeli, and Salve Regina, which use the paraphrase technique. He particularly shows his expertise with madrigals in the Salve Regina.

His earliest surviving piece is a pavan dated 1580, that’s in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. It was the subject of many variations by Dutchman Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), and Thomas Morley (c1557-1602), and John Dowland (1563-1626), both British.

The compiler of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Francis Tregian the Younger, also a Catholic, knew Philips from the court of Brussels in 1603. Tregian may have been responsible for importing Philips’ works to England.

Flemish composer Andreas Pevernage (c1542-1591) collected madrigals and dedicated one of his collections to Philips, who had five pieces in the book. The madrigal had taken such firm root in England by then that it was second only to Italy in output.

Philips died in 1628, probably in Brussels, and was buried there.


“A Dictionary of Early Music; From the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“The New Grove High Renaissance Masters,” by Jeremy Noble, Gustave Reese, Lewis Lockwood, James Harr, Joseph Kerman, Robert Stevenson. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1984.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.


Composer Biography: Johannes Martini (c1440-c1498)

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Also called Giovanni or Zohanne Martini. Martini isn’t an Italianate version of his name—there are Flemish Martinis and variants.

Johannes Martini is not only a Franco-Flemish composer who spent most of his career in Italy. He was such a big deal that the Power Families of the time, the Sforzas and the d’Estes, sought his expertise, and he was well respected by other top-flight composers of his day, such as Josquin des Prez and Loyset Compere (c1445-1518, blog post to come).

Ten of Martini’s Masses survive complete—an enormous number, considering how poor copying and dissemination were, and how few people had access to a printing press (invented in 1440)—as well as motets and many other sacred works, including a large number of homophonic (unison chant) psalm settings. His secular pieces had French and Italian texts, and there are others that were probably intended as instrumental ensemble music.

Martini was probably born in Armentieres, although some sources say he was born in Brabant. Both towns are still quite small and are about 150 miles apart in what is now France.

He received his early musical training in Flanders, like most of his generation of musicians, and he left for Italy when it was time to seek his fortune. He died in Ferrara in 1498 or thereabout.

Not much is known about his youth, but sometime before 1473, he became associated with the Duke of Ferrara, Italy. Duke Ercole I d’Este was building a musical academy that was meant to compete with other musical centers in Italy, and with Flanders and France as well.

In 1474, Martini turned up at the Sforza court chapel in Milan, engaged by Gaspar van Weebecke (c1445-1516) along with Josquin des Prez and Loyset Compere (c1445-1518, blog post to come), probably the other two biggest names of the time. Other Franco-Flemish composers were also at the Milan chapel, including Alexander Agricola (c1445-1506, blog post to come), as part of the movement from Flanders toward Italy as a musical center. The Sforza’s Milan chapel was the most renowned collection of musicians anywhere in Europe at the time.

But Martini didn’t stay long, returning to Ferrara later in 1474. It isn’t known why he didn’t stay, although with so many big names hanging out in Milan, it’s possible that he left to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. He maintained happy relationships with the other composers that he met there, though, so he didn’t go off in a huff.

Records show that in 1475, already in the service of Ercole I in Ferrara, Martini received a monthly wage increase. There’s no record of what his wages were, but the increase was a ducat over whatever he had previously been getting there. Martini was well-paid, receiving a house and a larger salary than other musicians in Ferrara.

He returned to Milan a few years later, as he’s listed in a pass for safe travel to leave Milan, along with other musicians after the assassination of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1444-1476) in 1476. Despite his excellent taste in music, Duke Sforza was a sadistic and malicious person, and was conspired against by three of his peers who’d been wronged in one way or another (land grabs, public whipping, and the deflowering of a sister). The public torture and executions of these noblemen and their servants left Milan in a rather unsavory state, and the Duke’s assembly of musicians headed out to less tumultuous cities.

Eventually it all calmed down, and Milan—and the Sforzas—rose again in musical industry. Sforza head musician Gaspar van Weerbecke (c1445-1516) was sent on a composer-recruiting trip to France and Flanders, and in 1489, Martini returned to Milan with Josquin des Prez and Loyset Compere (c1445-1518, blog post to come). These three were each paid 5 ducats a month, which was near the lowest rate of all the singers listed in the register. After 1492, the records stop mentioning Martini, which leads experts to assume that he was probably the first of the three to die.

Most of his time was spent in Ferrara, but he did travel a little, even beyond Milan. In 1486, Martini traveled to Hungary as part of a group installing Ercole I’s nephew as Archbishop of Esztergom. In 1487 and 1488, he made trips to Rome to negotiate benefices given to him by Ercole I.

He was a friend of a court organist in Innsbruck, Austria, one Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537). They probably knew each other through mutual friends from Milan in the 1470s and 1480s. Queen Consort Beatrice of Hungary (1457-1508) asked Martini to intercede on her behalf and convince Hofhaimer to leave the Innsbruck court and come to Hungary. By 1489, she became really insistent, because her own court organist died. Letters show that Ercole I promised Beatrice that he’d send Martini to Innsbruck when they got home to Ferrara. It’s not clear whether or not Martini went, but there are some Martini manuscripts in Munich that originated in Innsbruck. At any rate, Hofhaimer never left Innsbruck for Hungary. Beatrice gave up on getting him to come upon her husband’s death in 1490, when her political life overwhelmed such efforts.

But that wasn’t the last of Martini’s communication with the high and mighty. He was friend and mentor to Ercole I’s daughter, young Isabelle d’Este (1474-1539), and their letters from her first three years (1490-1493) in Mantua survive.

Isabella married Francesco Gonzaga (1466-1519) in 1490 at age 16, and her first letter from Martini arrived six months later. The letter says that her father wanted him to go to Mantua and instruct her in singing. Martini seems eager for the post, but begs for a couple of weeks’ delay so he can gather the necessary supplies. In a later letter, he sends a secular composition for her to practice. Isabella also received dance lessons, and, unlike most women in her circle, made the arts an essential part of her life rather than just superficial knowledge meant to impress suitors. In her study at the ducal palace, she had the song Prennez sur moi by Johannes Ockeghem (c1420-1497) worked out in marquetry, and many of the great artists of Italy were on terms of mutual respect with her, including Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Titian (c1499-1576), and writer Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529).

But I digress. Martini’s secular music was partialy published by Ottaviano Petricci (1466-1539), and other works, both sacred and secular survive. His surviving output includes 10 Masses and quite a few motets, psalms, hymns, and secular songs, including chansons.

He wrote more Masses than motets (the sacred version of a madrigal), which was more typical of Ockeghem’s generation than of Josquin’s. His musical style was also more conservative than Josquin’s.

In fact, Martini’s style refers back to the Burgundian School, especially in his Masses. There’s some stylistic similarity to Jacob Obrecht (c1457-1505, blog post to come), harkening to the Dutch school. It’s thought that Martini and Obrecht knew each other, or at least each others’ works. Obrecht was a guest in Ferrara in 1487 (Martini was in Rome for part of that year, so they might have missed each other), and his music is known to have circulated in Italy in the early 1480s.

Martini wrote some of the earliest examples of paraphrase Masses. Paraphrase is when the chant melody is in the highest voice, rather than as cantus firmus in the tenor. Martini’s Missa domenicalis and Missa ferialis, both tentatively dated to the 1470s, use paraphrase in the tenor voice, where cantus firmus usually is, but also use the same melodic material in other voices. The paraphrase technique was to become one of the predominant methods of Mass composition in the early 16th century.

Martini is the first composer known to have set psalms for double choir singing antiphonally, a style that would become famous under the direction of Adrian Willaert (c1490-1562) seventy years later, and is probably most profoundly famous as a key element in works of the Baroque, especially those of J.S. Bach (1685-1750). Nevertheless, the style of antiphonal double-choir psalms was strikingly innovative, but didn’t catch on in his own lifetime or even shortly afterward.

In addition to his contrapuntal Masses, Martini also wrote motets with skillful imitative devices. His Vesper psalms, written in collaboration with Johannes Brebis (late 15th century) for Ercole I, are all simple chants.

His Missa Cucu has a cantus firmus melody in the tenor, like so many other pieces, but other voices display a well-developed imitative style, including the descending minor-third song of the cuckoo bird.

Martini wrote a Salve Regina, a Magnificat Secudi Toni (in the second mode, hypo-Dorian), and an Ave Maris Stella, all in four voices. But he wasn’t just doing variations on themes. The Salve Regina uses the double cantus firmus technique, where the cantus firmus is repeated in canon by another voice, only transposed by a fourth or fifth. His Magnificat set the odd-numbered verses in polyphony, except for the opening word, which, like the even-numbered verses, is in plainchant. In those polyphonic verses, the cantus firmus moves from voice to voice. In his Ave Maris Stella, after a brief introduction in the altus and bass, who sing in contrary motion, the discantus and tenor paraphrase the plainsong, occasionally in imitation. Martini’s used of imitation in this piece is quite skillful.

Martini wrote another Magnificat in the third mode (Phrygian). There are also three Masses collected in a single book, each with a Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus only (missing the Kyrie, Agnus Dei, and Ite Missa Est), that are based on Barbingant’s (fl. c1445-1460, no first name found) Der ploben swancz, and a Missa Ma couche rit, based on Ockeghem’s chanson by the same name, and a Missa Io ne tengo. In another book, there are three more Masses from Martini, including a Missa Cela sans plus and a Missa La Matrinella.

Ottaviano Petrucci (1466-1539) printed several of Martini’s works, including both hymns and secular pieces. One of the secular pieces is the widely disseminated three-part La Martinella. That piece and 21 others are contained in a manuscript in Rome. Another is the Toujours bien, which is much like La Martinella in style. Also among them is a textless four-part canon, the canon appearing an octave below the melody in two voices and at a fifth below in the fourth.

More of Martini’s works are preserved in other manuscripts, including 17 secular pieces in the Banco rari, which is a library of rare books in Florence. The bulk of Martini’s secular music is in three parts, with texts in both Italian and French.

Martini wrote one of the most widely distributed works of the period, the aforementioned La Martinella. The piece unfolds in a series of phrases, most featuring imitation between two voices (usually superius and tenor), and the third voice rests or adds free counterpoint. The opening figure returns in various guises throughout, including in a varied inverted form at the midpoint.

He didn’t live a long life, but Johannes Martini certainly led a productive and interesting one. He’s thought to have died around 1498 in Ferrara.


“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“A History of Western Music,” by K. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude B. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1988.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1959.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

Composer Biography: Lorenzo da Firenze (d 1372/1373 before 1385)

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(also Lorenzo Masini, Lorenzo Masi, Magister Laurentius de Florentia))

Lorenzo da Firenze was a trecento composer from Florence, Italy. He was a close associate of Francesco Landini in Florence and part of the ars nova movement. His secular pieces draw on texts from all the hot poets of his day, including Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), who’s probably most famous for The Decameron.

Nothing is known about Lorenzo’s childhood or family. People didn’t have last names back then, so there’s no way to trace him, and any records that might have been kept are either too unclear to be helpful or they’re lost altogether. It isn’t known when or where he was born, and sadly, it’s not even known when he died.

The first record of Lorenzo is when he became a canon in 1348 at San Lorenzo, which is the largest basilica in Florence. While there, he was possibly either a pupil or a teacher of Francesco Landini (since we don’t know his dates, we can’t use age to determine which was more likely and the records are muddled, but Landini is most certainly the most famous composer of the period). It’s presumed that he remained at San Lorenzo for the rest of his life, although there’s evidence that he also worked at various other Florentine churches between 1350 and 1370.

His secular music includes five ballate, a lively caccia (called A poste messe), and 10 two-part madrigals. One of these is famous among madrigalists, called Da da a chi avareggia, and includes virtuosic ornamentation and imitation. There is also a pedagogical piece called the Antefana, that mentions his role as a teacher.

It’s hard to know exactly how much music Lorenzo wrote because most sacred music of the period was unattributed. His works are represented in the Squarcialupi Codex (blog post to come), which was an illuminated manuscript that contained all the big composers of the day. Sixteen of Lorenzo’s pieces are included, consisting of the 10 madrigals mentioned above, six monophonic (chant) ballate, the caccia named above, and two Mass movements.

His music tends to be complex and experimental, with extended melismas (where the music wiggles around on an open syllable), imitation (where one voice repeats what another has done, perhaps in a different place along the scale), part crossing (where a lower voice follows the scale upward while a higher voice follows the scale downward until the lower voice is higher than the higher voice), and accidentals (notes outside those that define the scale of the piece). In fact, he used chromaticism (a melody that follows all the notes of the scale—like all the white and black notes on a keyboard–in order) to a degree that is rare in the 14th century before the ars sublitor period. (See Carlo Gesualdo for more on chromaticism.)

Lorenzo played with heterophony, where two voices simultaneously perform variations of a single melody. The round Dona nobis pacem (no composer known, but nearly everyone today has heard it) is like this to some degree, where the main melody is still apparent even when it’s not being sung. He also used parallel fourths and fifths (where the melody’s movement is paralleled a few notes off from another voice. This creates an interesting kind of harmony, like the melody being played in chords with the middle note missing) that was a relic of organum and conductus (early forms of harmony).

There is some French influence in his music, such as isorhythmic passages (where each melodic line has an identical or very similar rhythm), like those employed by Guillaume Machaut, and that are not usually found in Italian music. The notation he used in some of his works is in the French style. It isn’t known how the French style got to Florence, though, because it wasn’t until nearly a generation after his death that Johannes Ciconia began what would become a musical Franco-Flemish invasion of Italy.

Most collections from the period contain primarily secular songs. Like Lorenzo, a great number of otherwise ecclesiastical composers wrote secular polyphony—they had freedom in secular music to choose their own texts, to earn money writing for patrons and public events, and to experiment with some of the new techniques that I mentioned earlier. Motets (the sacred form of madrigals) by Italian composers during this period are very rarely preserved or attributed, and only a handful of Mass movements remain.

Lorenzo wrote a single Sanctus (a Mass movement). It’s in two voices, and like other Mass movements by other composers of the period, both parts sing the text. On a few occasions, the voices sing specific phrases of text at different times, and alternate singing successive phrases. The style is called “restrained madrigal” and includes short and unobtrusive melismas (where the tune wiggles around on an open syllable, remember?). He uses slightly longer and more elaborate melismas than other composers of sacred music, but there’s a restraint about it that is characteristic of his madrigals. Gherardello da Firenze’s secular pieces are much like Lorenzo’s in quantity and genre, but Gherardello occasionally uses three voices.

Along with Donato da Cascia (fl c1350-1370), the pieces Lorenzo wrote are considered in our time as the pinnacle of the Italian madrigal virtuosic singing, the peak of the Italian ars nova. Melismas are long in the upper part—sometimes very long—and the lower voice provides the cantus firmus (a slow version of the chant on which the piece is based).

Jacopo da Bologna (fl. 1340-c1386) set the style of having successive rather than simultaneous declamation of the text. This makes each voice similarly—and equally—important (unlike today’s style of carrying the melody in the soprano line).

Lorenzo uses a lot of imitation, sometimes short motives of one or two measures (imagine the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and that’s the length we’re talking about here). Longer phrases are imitated with a distance of several measures between them, in the style of the caccia. The number of repetitions of words and phrases often reflect a descriptive or humorous intention, especially apparent in his setting of Da, da a chi averigia, which is from a madrigal by Nicolo Soldanieri (d1385, also from Florence).

Like other composers of the era, Lorenzo used texts that had already been used in the madrigals and ballata of well-known Florentine or Tuscan poets, such as Antonio degli Alberti (c1360-1415), Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti (c1335-c1400), and Soldanieri. But the great majority of the texts are of unknown origins, perhaps eve his own.

Only Lorenzo and Gherardello continued the tradition of monophonic ballate this late in the 14th century. Each wrote five monophonic pieces, all less florid than their madrigals. Melismas do occur, particularly on the first and penultimate syllables of poetic lines. When the intervening text is set syllabically, as is usual in chant, the stylistic influence of the madrigal is more obvious.

Just as obscure as his birth, the actual date and place of Lorenzo’s death is not known.


“A Dictionary of Early Music; From the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome & Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“Medieval Music,” by Richard H. Hippin. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1998.