Claudio Merulo [Merlotti]

(1533 - 1604)

Claudio Merulo

Portrait of Claudio Merulo courtesy Teri Noel Towe

Italian composer organist, and music publisher. Student of Tuttovale Menon and Girolamo Donato. Organist at Brescia (1556-57); in 1557 became second organist at St Mark's, Venice, and in 1564 succeeded Annibale Padovano as first organist. Later in Parma (from 1586, first at the ducal court, then also at the cathedral; from 1591 for the ducal church La Steccata). His contemporaries considered him the finest organist of his time; he was an organ builder as well as player, and during his time in Venice was active as a music publisher. Didactic treatises by his students, notably Il transilvano by Girolamo Diruta, transmit his contributions to organ technique. His activity as a publisher, though brief (1566-70), encompassed the production of numerous volumes---reprints and new books, collections of his own works and of works by other Italian composers. Volumes edited by him appear up until 1575 and include pieces by composers as Verdelot , Arcadelt , Rore , and Lassus , often substantially changed in underlay, accidentals, and even the musical fabric itself Other works include sacred and secular vocal music (chiefly Masses, motets, and madrigals); intermedi for two dramas.

Claudio Merulo

Merulo's own output consists of four volumes of madrigals, two of Masses, six of motets, six of organ music and one of instrumental ricercars; some of these were issued posthumously by his nephew, who succeeded him at Parma. His madrigals were craftsmanlike rather than profound or experimental. It is in keyboard music that Merulo excels. He developed the ricercar and canzona forms, but made his most significant contribution to the toccata, imparting to it an impressive formal balance between brilliant, improvisatory writing and sterner contrapuntal passages whose ideas might be cleverly reworked as the piece proceeded. His most distinguished works are for organ (especially toccatas, ricercars, organ Masses, and organ canzonas). Most are in some degree based on vocal models, although only a few are simply transcriptions; many more incorporate highly idiomatic ornamentation and figuration and a free treatment of dissonance unusual for the time.Of all the Italian organ composers, Merulo perhaps did most to further a self-sufficient keyboard idiom.

IVN: The Venetian Style