Composer. Zarlino relates that Willaert intended to study law at Paris but instead became a pupil of Jean Mouton and served at the court of Louis XII and Francis I. He may have been in Rome in 1515, where according to Zarlino the papal choir of Leo X mistook his motet Verbum bonumfor a work of Josquin. (Apparently as soon as the singers learned that it was by the still comparatively uncelebrated Adriano, they lost interest in it and refused to excute it again.) From July 1515 he is listed among the retinue of Cardinal Ippolito I d'Este, perhaps residing with the prelate in Hungary from October 1517 until August 1519. He entered the employ of Duke Alfonso upon Ippolito's death in 1520, remaining until 1527, when he was appointed maestro di cappellaat St. Mark's in Venice; under him the chapel there became one of the most prestigious in Europe.
The thirty-five years that Willaert gave to St. Mark's (1527 to 1562, the year of his death) represent the best-known period of his life. The archives yield documents not only concerning his appointment but also regarding increases in salary, authorization to return to Flanders in 1542 and 1556, eight wills drawn from 1549 to 1562, etc. There is information about the hiring and discharging of singers, as in one source which states that a singer was dismissed for refusing to go to Willaert for lessons in counterpoint, "which is necessary in the choir and there is need for one to know it." Other documents deal with the reorganization, in 1562, of the choir into the cappella grandeand the cappella piccola,an arrangement destined to continue until the regime of Zarlino, although originally intended to last only during what proved to be Willaert's final illness.
He was an important teacher, whose pupils included Rore, Vicentino, Parabosco, Andrea Gabrieli,Porta, Buus, Barré, and Zarlino, the last of whom lionized him in his treatises as the perfecter of music. A participant in Venetian social and literary circles, he figured in the work of Andrea Calmo, Pietro Aretino, and Antonfrancesco Doni.
An interest in theoretical questions is indicated by references to him in Spataro's correspondence as well as by a composition of his from the time of Leo X, Quid non ebrietas,in which the tenor falls through the circle of fifths, ending on a written seventh to be changed by musica fictato an octave. His works include Masses, motets, hymns, Psalms (some using the cori spezzatieffect then current in the Veneto), madrigals, villanesche, chansons, and a lute intabulation of Verdelot's madrigals. His best-known publication is the Musica nova,dedicated to Alfonso II d'Este and published in 1559, though the contents probably circulated long before that date as a collection named after the Venetian singer Pulissena Pecorina.
Willaert's fame as a composer of sacred music rests largely on his motets. Fewer than ten Masses have reached us. Five à 4appeared in a Venetian print of 1536. The first, constructed on Mouton's Quaeramus cum pastoribus,makes extensive use of the beginning of the model, quoting it almost literally in its own initial measures and skilfully varying it at later section-openings, and at some other points. In the second Mass, Willaert freely expands or contracts phrases of Richafort's Christus resurgens.This Mass, as well as the fourth one of the print, the Missa Gaude Barbara,survives in a MS that includes also the model of the last-named work, an anonymous motet à 4.Of the Masses à 5ascribed to Willaert, one bears his name in two MSS, but Hesdin's in two others. This composition belongs to a group of 16th-century Masses that apply the parody technique to Josquin's setting à 6of the sequence, Benedicta es coelorum Regina.Willaert himself wrote a motet setting of the sequence, but the basing of the Mass on Josquin's setting rather than on his own does not invalidate his claim to authorship: one source preserving this Mass--and also a five-part Willaert Mass without a title--dates from 1530-31, whereas Willaert's motet was not printed until 1539.
Willaert's three main contributions to sacred polyphony in Italy-- the last two apparently made solely (aside from his activity as a teacher) through his motets, etc.--were (i) the establishment of Franco-Netherlandish technique as a part of the musical language of church music there; (2) the development of choral antiphony; and (3) the cultivation of a "modern" style emphasizing faultless declamation of the text.
IVN: The Venetian Style | A Partial Adrian Willaert Discography | IVA: The Netherlanders around and after Josquin