Philippe de Monte


Born: 1521; Mechelen, Belgium   Died: July 4, 1603; Prague, Czech Republic  
Philippe de Monte was one of the major composers of Italian madrigals and produced work of the highest quality in many genres. Although certainly born in Mechelen, his exact social origins are unknown. While still relatively young, he found employment instructing the children of a banker in Naples. By 1554, he'd moved on from Italy and could be found in England serving Philip II of Spain. Apparently, the tension of being the only non-Spaniard in Read more Philip's employ made him leave, and he returned to Italy after a brief sojourn in the Low Countries. He composed dedicatory music for the wedding of Isabella de' Medici to Paolo Giordano Orsini in 1557. For the next 11 years, Monte seems to have disappeared, but in 1668, he was made Kappellmeister at the court of Emperor Maximilian II in Vienna, then capital of the Holy Roman Empire. At Maximilian's court, Monte flourished. Always a composer who favored a somber mode of expression, the 1670s and 1680s are said to be his greatest period, when his technically exquisite, solemn madrigals became animated with a vital rhythmic energy. During the twilight of Maximilian's reign, Monte received many honors and provided the music for numerous illustrious occasions. He acquired an international reputation almost as great as Lassus' and Palestrina's. Rudolf II, Maximilian's successor, was less fond of music than his father. Although Maxi had given Monte the benefice of being Treasurer to Notre Dame Cathedral in Cambrai, and Rudolf gave him a canonicate there (at some point, Monte had become a priest), Rudolf wouldn't allow the aging composer to retire. One of Monte's letters states that Rudolf even ridiculed the request. Despite the negative situation, Monte continued to be productive far beyond mere professional duties. When the capital of the empire was moved to Prague, Monte was sadly obliged to move there with the court as well. His letters from Prague refer to various hardships, among them the facts of living far from the palace in relative isolation and suffering from gout. Monte never made it back to Cambrai, where he wanted to be; he died in 1603 in Prague. It's a sad ending. Monte's reputation being what it was, if he hadn't died so far from the cultural center of Europe, his prominence wouldn't have faded with his death as quickly as it did. No one else composed so many madrigals of such quality; 1,217 of them were collected into 34 books during his lifetime. Read less

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