The Italian School

Italy the New Centre.

Music developed in the Netherlands because of commercial supremacy and the consequent world association. We shall now see it pass to Italy, but because of a very different reason. From the earliest Christian days Italy was the centre of religious influence; it is only necessary to examine history to observe the ramifications of that power in England, France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries. This influence, often more political than religious in character, gave to the Italian Church (then the Italian State), a predominance of authority, which was a great power in religious and secular thought. This influence spread to music for various reasons. We must remember that the school at Paris was controlled by the Church, that the Gallo-Belgic school owed its foundation to the same cause, and that the men of all three schools were employed as organists by the Church. It is true that in Italy the Church had not the broadening influence of commercial intercourse, but was more than compensated for that lack by what we may call artistic intercourse. The Church was the one stable institution in these times of war in which painters could find a refuge for their works, and from which patronage flowed in a steady stream to the ever-needy artists. Thus was caused and maintained the artistic atmosphere necessary to the cultivation of Music. As an art, the Church was the only support of artistic music. When Music originated it needed an institution to protect and foster it and safeguard its growth, and this it found in the Church; it repaid this protection by evolving a style eminently suited to the needs of the Church, but absolutely useless for the expression of secular and natural emotion. To this patronage of its peculiar art is due the importation into Italy of the best in music wherever found, to aid in these services. And so we find singers from the Netherlands engaged for the Church in Italy. This, and the fame of Italy as the home of superior singers, undoubtedly led the majority of those numerous Netherlandish masters to seek their homes abroad, and preferably in Italy. The fact that all music was vocal in style and that the Church was the only institution capable of supporting such a style, cannot be too strongly stated; for upon that depended not only the evolution of music but also the very life of the Polyphonic emotional style.

Emotion in Polyphony.

This style is worthy of examination. As a preface we must remember that we have to deal with the Church and human voices only, for instruments had not been perfected sufficiently for church use, excepting the organ, and that we must consider a voice because of its peculiar tonal qualities and the adaptation of vocal forms and styles to its use. This vocal style had developed gradually, through a long course of reforms, until it reached its perfection in the later polyphonic schools, and expressed the peculiar emotion suited for the services. Lack of rhythm was a pointed characteristic; for, in the first place, it had been discarded as profane, and in the next place, a long course of treatment in the management of voices to avoid anything like concerted and accentuated dissonances had produced a peculiar flowing movement which, however smooth it might be, certainly possessed no rhythmic force. Then, too, the old scale forms caused anything written in their idioms to sound grave, severe and dignified, if not harsh. The transition to the modern major and minor in the Monophonic school of 1600 and the immediate cultivation of music by the people may be taken as an example of the musical qualities of the two modes. All of these causes tended to produce a suitable form of music and an emotional expression peculiarly suited to the Roman services. In this style there was little storm and stress, little of the personal appeal to God; on the other hand, it was grave, severe and immovable, or in a better sense, impersonal in its expression. Music of the polyphonic period, even until the time of Sebastian Bach, in whose works it is well exemplified, does not show us the appeal to God from the heart of the active Christian worker, but rather the appeal to a vast impersonal and majestic God far removed from the needs and supplications of the mere individual. It was this kind of emotion that developed in the Italian Polyphonic schools. The human and more expressive emotion of the schools of the Netherlands was transmitted, in the schools of the Italian, into the high, contemplative moods of religious expression; and it was well that it should be so, for polyphonic music could never have expressed the emotion of a Beethoven; and it was not only best that it should express its own peculiar style of emotion, but inevitable that it should do so.

Schools Outside Italy.-The overflow from the Netherlands concentrated its efforts on certain points or school centres. In Italy, these were Naples, Venice and Rome. There were others throughout Europe, such as Madrid, Paris and Munich, which we must consider first because of their relation to Italy. Nicholas Gombert (1495-1570) influenced the polyphonic development in Madrid, but so isolated was the work that nothing great resulted. Okeghem (1430-1512) worked longer in Paris than other masters, though several lived there for short intervals, such as Arkadelt and Goudimel. Orlando di Lasso (1520-1594) did almost all his work in Munich and established the most important school outside of Italy. He was a most prolific writer and can be compared in ability and style to Palestrina. His style was broad and bold and contained much of that serious and earnest character now attributed to leis Teutonic associations. He wrote in all known forms and was well nigh universal in his knowledge of form, technic and expression. His facility in the art of writing was very great and was fully, equalled by his love for work. Although his work has somewhat less perfection than that of his great contemporary, Palestrina, it has astonishing power of expression. It shows the force of his genius that he was able to make his works in the strict contrapuntal forms full of real feel ing. He was a than of interesting personal character. The most famous of his works is his setting of seven “Penitential Psalms,” containing a number of most curious effects for unaccompanied voices, with much that is singularly characteristic and beautiful, and showing well the character of his genius.

We give part of a composition by di Lasso showing his broad style and the increasing use of what sounds suspiciously like our modern chord progressions. The lack of rhythmic effect and the holding over of notes past the accented beat is shown in this exercise. The whole example, with words, may be found in Naumann, History of Music, Vol. I, page 387.

The Italian School

But it is with the Italian schools that we are most concerned. The school at Naples had as its principal master Johannes Tinctoris (1446-1511) a Fleming by birth, a doctor of laws and a mathematician, one of those peculiar combinations seldom noticed after the Paris school, and almost sure to mark at theoretician. His work was principally theoretical and his treatises are of great value. Adrian Willaert (1480-1562), born at Bruges, was a pupil of Jean Mouton, at Paris. After visiting Rome and Ferrara, he settled in Venice and, as organist of St. Mark’s, founded an important school. He introduced the use of large double choruses which caused him to write harmonically rather than polyphonically. This influence caused him to relegate the imitative polyphonic part writing to smaller forms (motets, etc) and to write plain chord progressions in his larger works; and before long he began to observe and to use the relationship between the Tonic and the Dominant. This tendency and the invention of the Madrigal furnished the basis for a new instrumental school at a later date. His best-known pupil, Cipriano di Rore (1516-1565), was short-lived, and worked in both Venice and Parma. He made some investigation into the use oi chromatics, thus showing the growing tendency to abandon the Church modes for the natural scales. Following these Dutch masters came the two Gabrieli’s, who were native Italians. Andrea Gabrieli (1510-1586) was a great organist and wrote in the style of Willaert, his famous master. Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1613) was a pupil of his uncle Andrea, and carried the latter’s methods further toward perfection. He also wrote for instruments in conjunction with voices, abandoning to a certain extent the a- capella style, and opening that epoch of instrumental music foreshadowed by Willaert in his madrigals. Rome was the centre of church government, of church art and also of church music, and as such, had the largest and greatest of Italian music schools. Jacob Arkadelt 0492-1570), a Netherlander, lived nineteen years in Rome and did most of his work there; he wrote both secular and sacred compositions in the strict polyphonic style, and in that of Willaert. Claude Goudimel (1510-1572), though a prominent master in Paris, worked much in Rome and was the teacher of Palestrina. He set to music in four parts metrical versions of the Psalms, published in 1565. In him is to be observed that clearness of expression and beauty of melodic flow with which Palestrina attained such a high point of expression.


It remained for his pupil Palestrina, (Giovanni Pierlugi Sante, 1514-1594) an Italian, to reach the highest point of emotional expression and technical freedom; we must, however, rank Orlando di Lasso with him. He carried to the highest fruition the teachings of the Netherlands, tempered by the romantic and melodic tendency of the Italian nature. His writings were so free technically that they have been called simple in form; this they are, but the simplicity is the simplicity of genius. His style is melodic, and has a clearness never attained by any writer before his time, and yet his music is written in the most severe forms. He founded a school of music in Rome which, however, never produced any great masters, for it was the time when the reformation of Opera began and carried the development of music into other channels.

The end of a composition by Palestrina, showing the melody in the upper voice instead of the tenor, as was usually the case in polyphonic compositions, and the use of our modern Minor mode. This composition, at least this last part of it taken alone, might be by a modern writer, so familiar do its progressions sound; indeed, the melody of the first two measures is strikingly similar to a progression used by Beethoven in one of his string quartets. The entire example with words may be seen in Naumann, History of Music, Vol. I, page 510.


The Polyphonic Era has many important characteristics and results which make it worth while to sum it up. Its development is largely the history of the development of vocal music to its highest point, and the consequent failure of it to provide accurate expression for human needs. It marks the development of scales, intervals, forms, instruments and emotion. In scales we find the trend to be always toward the natural; in intervals, toward freedom, using only the ear as a criterion; in instruments we note the development of the organ, but the lack of others which would have changed music entirely; in emotion, we note the evolution from crudeness to the highest and most polished forms of impersonal expression. The lack of the Polyphonic school was not in the intrinsic value of the music, nor in any lack of the desire to express emotion; the failure to provide a suitable means of musical expression was due to the idea of church relation to God rather than to the personal individualistic relations established by Luther. After the Reformation music takes up this new idea and immediately a secular music, vocal and instrumental, begins to develop, culminating in an emotional school of a totally different and truer style than the Polyphonic. Polyphonic music expressed the old monkish ideas of religion perfectly, but monophonic music expresses the emotion of the people, a universal emotion. Polyphonic music must always be appreciated for its value, but it must be examined for its fundamental principles and reasons for being, before it can be understood. Then we may know its value as a foundation for our modern music.