Adrian Willaert


Born: 1490 Died: December 7, 1562
The most influential Franco-Flemish composer of the so-called "Post-Josquin" generation, and the founder of the Venetian school at San Marco that would shine well into the next century, Adrian Willaert was born in historical obscurity, somewhere near the end of the fifteenth century. Even the location of his birth remains uncertain, with conflicting information given by two contemporary witnesses. His pupil, the music theorist Giuseffo Zarlino, claims Willaert went from the Netherlands to Paris as a young man to enroll in a course of law at the famed University, but instead began musical training under the composer Jean Mouton, member of the French Royal Chapel. Zarlino relates another charming anecdote about Adrian's precocious talent: apparently on the occasion of Willaert's first visit to the Papal Chapel (possibly in 1514 or 1515), the singers were performing a motet of Willaert's, and assuming it to be the work of the great Josquin Desprez.

As early as October 1514, an agent of Cardinal Ippolito I d'Este, brother of Alfonso the Duke of Ferrara, hired the young Willaert in Rome. He entered service to the Ferrarese ruling family by July 1515 at the latest, and received formal appointment to the Este Cardinal's household in April 1516. In addition to singing in the Cardinal's private chapel, Willaert ably plied his compositional talents -- his music appears in several early Italian manuscripts of the 1510s and 1520s, as well as in printed anthologies by Andrea Antico and Ottaviano Petrucci. Willaert's service to the well-traveled Cardinal also provided him with international contacts. He followed Ippolito on a trip to Hungary in 1517 and may have visited as far as Kraków on this voyage; a later motet may have been intended to honor the coronation of the Emperor Ferdinand I as King of Hungary. After Cardinal Ippolito's death in 1520, Willaert entered the service of his brother the Duke. His patronage by the powerful Este family seems to have cemented the foundations of Willaert's Italian career. This relationship lasted even after his departure for Venice; Duke Alfonso is said to have personally visited Willaert's bed of convalescence (likely from his later chronic attacks of gout) while on a state visit.

Andrea Gritti, the Doge of Venice, intervened in the deliberations at San Marco, urging that Willaert be hired as maestro di capella for the Venetian cathedral. Adrian served in this capacity from December 1527 through the remainder of his life. He encountered there a strong choral establishment of some 16 singers, and built San Marco's music program to one famous throughout Christendom. Among those who came to Venice to learn from Willaert are the eminent theoreticians Zarlino and Nicola Vicentino, and a host of famous composers, including Cipriano de Rore, Constanzo Porta, and Andrea Gabrieli (uncle of Giovanni). Correnspondence written to Willaert by other Italian theorists, important new publication releases, and even cathedral decrees appointing choirboys to the specific tasks of copying and maintaining his compositions for San Marco attest to his continuing compositional life. His salary was significantly increased several times, and his will left the considerable sum of 1,600 ducats to his wife. Contrary to popular myth (fed by Zarlino's adoration of his master, the "Divine Adriano"), Willaert did not "invent" the Venetian antiphonal practice of cori spezzati. He did, however, by the consistent exercise of his musical brilliance in this rich state for 35 years, set the stage for the splendor of Venetian music from Gabrieli to Monteverdi.
Picture for category Willaert, Adrian

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