Alvise Bassano

(1510/20(?) - 1554)

Italian musician. Bassano, born in Bassano del Grappo, Italy,was one of six sons of Jeronimo Bassano--Anthony, Jacomo, Alvise, Jasper, John and Baptista--who moved from Venice to England to the household of Henry VIII to serve the court. The first document mentioning a musician by the name of Bassano in fact comes from the archives of the Scuola di San Marco, concerning a procession in which "Ser Alvise da Bassan di maestro Jeronimo" figured as trumpeter or cornettist: Alvise de Bassano, son of Jeronimo, for whom other documents attest his existence as member of the Doge's band of piffari.

In the 1520s, Alvise seems to have made a first trip to England as a player of the sackbut. In fact, the documents concerning the musicians at the court of Henry VIII mention, in addition to the four (!) English musicians stemming from the court orchestra (which had sunk quite low since it had been left to Henry by his father) six newly arrived Italians, among the names of which one finds "Alvisy de Blasia." If the transcription of Alvise for Alvisy seems obvious, what can "Blasia" mean? There are various opinions: perhaps it can be traced to San Biasio, one of the churches in Venice? Whatever the case may be, what is certain is that Alvise returned to Venice in 1528. In 1531, he went back to England, this time with three of his brothers, Jasper, John, and Anthony, all in the musical service of Henry VIII. They returned to Venice in 1536. Then, in 1537, another brother, Baptista, left for England. This brother is even more interesting, since he is the future father of Emilia. The fascinating quadrille continued, with the departure for London in 1538 of Anthony, followed by Jacomo, another brother, as instrument maker/wine importer!

The talent of the six sons of Jeronimo as instrumentalists and makers of wind instruments, was recognized not only in Venice but also in London. In the years 1535­1540, Henry VIII decided to improve the musical staff at his court, and he charged his Venetian agent, Edmond Harvel, to recruit the Bassano brothers. (See also Ambrose Lupo). The Bassanos demanded substantial guarantees, for in order to leave Venice, they were required to obtain the authorization of the Doge and would lose their employment there. Even more important, the Bassanos were of Jewish origin, which meant that they ran certain risks in the contemporary political climate of London, even if Henry VIII, who had broken definitively with Rome, sought their goodwill.

The negotiations were successful, and at the end of 1539, Alvise, John, Baptista, and Jasper, along with their respective families, made a definitive departure from Venice for England, rejoining Anthony there. (Jacomo had returned to Italy on the death of his father, Jeronimo, probably to take over his business as instrument maker). The Bassanos‹musicians, jurists, and merchants‹became, through a few solid alliances, one of themore respectable families of the English "gentry," endowed with a family crest and several properties.

Alvise Bassano was the father of at least two other musicians: Augustine and Lodovico.

IVM: England Through 1635