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A Biographical Essay of Alessandro Grandi

In February, 2010, Magnificat will present concerts of music by Alessandro Grandi, a prolific and highly respected North Italian composer, who had languished under the shadow of Monteverdi for four centuries. Few of Grandi’s compositions have been published in modern editions, but fortunately this situation will be rectified by the forthcoming publication of the composer’s complete works by the American Institute of Musicology.

Steven Saunders, Dana Professor of Music Colby College and one of the editors of the complete works has graciously granted Magnificat permission to post the biography of Grandi that he has written that will appear in that publication.

The outlines of Alessandro Grandi’s biography have long been established, thanks to contributions by Francesco Caffi, Denis Arnold, Renate Günther, Jerome Roche, Martin Seelkopf, Maurizio Padoan, and James Moore.  The broad contours of Grandi’s story are straightforward—so straightforward, in fact, that Arnold could distill their essence into just a few lines:

Grandi, Alessandro (c. 1586-1630).  Associated with the Accademia della Morte, Ferrara, over the 1600s, then a singer in St Mark’s Venice, from 1604 to c. 1607, returning to Ferrara as maestro di cappella of the Accademia dello Spirito Santo from 1610 to 1614.  By 1615, maestro of Ferrara Cathedral, and then singer (1617) and vice-maestro di cappella (1620) at St Mark’s Venice.  In 1627, he became maestro of S. Maria Maggiore, Bergamo, where he died of plague.

Beyond these bare details, evidence concerning Grandi’s life is sparse.  He is never mentioned by name in Monteverdi’s considerable correspondence, for example, nor does he appear in Venetian notarial acts. Nevertheless, we can flesh out his biography considerably by linking the scattered documentary clues with information about the contexts in which he lived and worked.

Grandi must have been born in 1585 or 1586, since a Venetian document from mid-1604 gives his age as “about eighteen years.”  He spent part of his youth in Ferrara, performing as a boy soprano, and later serving as a youthful maestro di cappella at the Accademia della Morte. The dates of these two appointments are uncertain, but Grandi succeeded Giulio Belli, who was appointed in 1597, as maestro.  Belli had left Ferrara for the cathedral at Osimo by 1599, so unless the post was vacant for a protracted period, Grandi’s service as maestro di cappella probably began in 1599 or 1600.  He was thus working for the Academy alongside Girolomo Frescobaldi, who had already been playing the organ at the confraternity for several years by the turn of the century.  Both would still have been teenagers, Grandi only about fourteen or fifteen, and Frescobaldi just a year or two older.  Calessi assumed that Grandi was a native of Ferrara, though there does not seem to be direct evidence confirming the composer’s birthplace.

The Accademia della Morte was the musical arm of an important religious confraternity, the Confraternita o Compagnia della Morte e Orazione.  Particularly after the flight of the Este court and the annexation of Ferrara by the papacy in 1598, it was not only an important religious and charitable institution, but also one of the organizations that helped to fill the cultural vacuum left by the departure of the court.  The Accademia frequently hired outside musicians to provide music for major feasts, and could number among its members musicians as distinguished as Luzzaschi and Frescobaldi.  Later in the seventeenth century, it would employ other notable composers including Giovanni Battista Bassani, Maurizio Cazzati, and Biagio Marini.  The Academy maintained its own oratory, the Oratorio dell’Annunziata, named for the feast on which the confraternity was founded.  Its members celebrated both this feast (25 March) and the Finding of the Holy Cross (3 May) with special pomp.  An intriguing possibility, then, is that the role dialogue on the Annunciation from Grandi’s Primo libro de motetti (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1610), “Missus est Angelus Gabriel,” was written for the confraternity’s Oratorio dell’Annunziata.  Another piece from Il primo libro associated with the Feast of the Annunciation, “Quam dives es,” based on one of St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermons on the Annunciation, may likewise have connections to the oratory.  By the time these compositions were published, Grandi was employed at another Ferrarese confraternity, the Accademia dello Spirito Santo, yet he continued to be paid by the Accademia della Morte for occasional services during the second decade of the Seicento (see below).

Grandi probably left Ferrara for Venice sometime in 1604, since his successor at the Accademia della Morte was named in that year, and Grandi himself appears in a Venetian document of 25 July electing him a giovani di coro at St. Mark’s.  The giovani di coro were not full members of the cappella of the basilica, but rather singers in an adult choir that was required to chant the psalms, and perhaps, to perform stile antico Masses on ferial days.  Grandi’s abilities seem to have been known, since the decree appointing him notes that the procurators have information “about the goodness, good service, and excellence of said Alessandro, who is a good singer and composer.”  Grandi’s period as giovani di coro coincided with Giovanni Croce’s term as maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, and the two clearly formed a professional bond.  One of Grandi’s madrigals, “Se t’è cara e gradita,” was published in Croce’s Quarto libro de madrigali a cinque (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1607).  Although Croce died in 1609, one of his motets appeared posthumously in the aggionta to the 1620 reprinting of Grandi’s Motetti a cinque voci con le Letanie, (Venice: Alessandro Vinenti, 1620), and a decade later, works by the two composers were again united in the Raccolta terza di Leonardo Simonetti. . .  de messa et salmi del sig. Alessandro Grandi et Gio. Croce Chiozotto (Venice: Bartolomeo Magni, 1630).   Moreover, the final four works in Grandi’s Celesti fiori (Venice: Bartolomeo Magni, 1619) are titled “cantilene.”  The use of the term evokes the title of Croce’s Sacre cantilene concertate (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1610), and Grandi’s works, not surprisingly, feature the alternation of solo and full choir passages that characterizes Croce’s cantilene.

Caffi believed that Grandi was a student of Giovanni Gabrieli, but provided no documentation for his claim.  Many scholars remained skeptical, at least until James Moore showed that Grandi was in Venice during the final years of Gabrieli’s life.  Moore assumed that it would have been difficult for Grandi to escape Gabrieli’s influence, and that reasonable assumption has recently been bolstered by the discovery that a motet from Grandi’s Motetti a cinque voci (Ferrara: Vittorio Baldini, 1615), “Exaudi Deus orationem meam,” quotes a theme of Gabrieli.  Grandi paid passing tribute to the Venetian polychoral tradition in at least one other work from his early output, the double-choir motet “Nativitas tua” from the Primo libro.

During this period, Grandi also made a minor contribution to Venetian monody that has gone unnoticed, penning the poetry for the solo madrigal “Se tu non sai ch’io t’ami,” set by the composer and virtuoso singer Bartolomeo Barbarino, who was active in Venice between about 1608 and 1624.   The work appeared in Barbarino’s Il terzo libro de madrigali de diversi auttori da una voce sola (Venice: Ricciardo Amadino, 1610).

Grandi remained in Venice until sometime after July 1607, when he and six other singers from St. Mark’s were reinstated after being dismissed for neglecting some of their duties; the inclusion of his poetry in Barbarino’s madrigal book suggests strongly that he remained in Venice until at least 1608, when Barbarino first arrived in the Serenissma Repubblica.  By 10 March 1610, the date of the dedication of Il Primo libro de motetti, however, Grandi had returned to Ferrara to take up the post of maestro di cappella at another important confraternity, the Accademia dello Spirito Santo.  The centrality of music to the Accademia is clear from its coat of arms, which features the syllable ut, mi, sol on a musical staff that arches, rainbow-like, from the sea to clouds above.  Founded in 1597 by Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio, the academy engaged in intense artistic rivalries with the Accademia della Morte.  In particular, the two groups vied to mount the most lavish music for their own principal feast days (respectively, Pentecost and the Finding of the Holy Cross).  As Jerome Roche has pointed out, Grandi likely wrote the cycle of antiphons for Pentecost as well as the Introit “Caritas Dei” from the Terzo libro de motetti (first ed., 1614, lost; second ed., Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1618) for the Accademia dello Spirito Santo’s chief celebration.

Grandi continued to nurture ties to his former Venetian colleagues even after his return to Ferrara.  He included a motet by Alvise (Aluigi) Grani, a trombonist at St. Mark’s, and editor of Giovanni Gabrieli’s 1615 Symphoniae sacrae, in the Primo libro de motetti (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1610), and, as we have seen, provided the text to a monody published in Barbarino’s collection of the same year.

Grandi occupied the post of maestro di cappella at the Accademia dello Spirito Santo for about four years, leaving sometime between August 1614 and June 1615 to assume briefly the same position at the cathedral of Ferrara.  He was succeeded at the Accademia dello Spirito Santo by Ignatio Donati, another one of the most important composers of small-scale sacred music of the 1620s and 1630s.  The extent of their contacts, if any, during this brief period of overlap in Ferrara remains uncertain.

Grandi cultivated artistic contacts with other important musical institutions in Ferrara.  In 1614, he was paid by his former employer, the Accademia della Morte, for playing the organ on a pilgrimage trip to Loreto, and he probably continued to provide music to them, since the texts of two motets from his Fourth Book of Motets (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1616), “Haec est arbor dignissima,” and “O crux ave spes unica,” come from the liturgy of the confraternity’s signature celebration, the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross.  In 1615, he dedicated his first book of Madrigali concertati (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1615) to a Ferrarese academy of a distinctly different sort, the Accademia degli Intrepidi, the same group to which Monteverdi had dedicated his Fourth Book of Madrigals (Venice: Ricciardo Amadino, 1603).  This important literary academy was noted for staging “grandiosi spettacoli e rappresentazioni e torneamenti e giostre e melodrammi.” Grandi’s connection to the Accademia degli Interepedi is particularly intriguing because he was in Ferrara during the years when Enzo Bentivoglio, one of the Academy’s leading members, mounted just such a spectacle, a lavish series of intermedi.  We cannot be certain how well Grandi knew the music for these celebrations (nor, for that matter, the extent of his acquaintance with the music of the self-consciously progressive composers at the Ferrarese court during his youth).  Nevertheless, Grandi’s increasing use of monody and aria styles soon after his return to Venice in 1617, probably has more sources than simply his working relationship to Monteverdi and the virtuosi of San Marco, as Arnold and others have suggested.

It was during Grandi’s second period in Ferrara (1610-1617) that collections devoted solely to his compositions began to appear in print.  These publications included the first four books of motets for two to four voices (1610, 1613, 1614, and 1616), all published at Venice, and the Motetti a cinque voci (1615), collected by Placido Marcelli, the dedicatee of the First Book of Motets (1610) and published at Ferrara.  Grandi’s first published collection of secular works, the first of two books of Madrigali concertati, appeared in 1615.  He traveled to Venice to deliver two of these collections to his publisher, Giacomo Vincenti; the dedication to the Madrigali concertati is dated from Venice, 17 June 1615;  that of the Fourth Book of Motets (Venice: Giacomo Vencenti, 1616), 25 April 1616.  The composer’s early works seem to have been remarkably profitable for Vincenti, judging from the large number of reprint editions that he issued.  Another sign of Grandi’s increasing recognition at this stage of his career is a mention in Romano Micheli’s Musica vaga et artificiosa (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1615).  Grandi asked Micheli to write a four-voice canon based on the subject of Rore’s madrigal “Ancor che co’l partire,” with the further restriction that the canon should be able to accommodate all of the madrigal’s original words.

Grandi’s short tenure at the cathedral in Ferrara lasted at least through early 1617, since the second impression of the Primo libro de motetti (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1617), as well as the second reprinting of the Madrigali concertati (Venice: Giacomo Vincenti, 1617) still identify him as maestro di cappella there.  By 31 August, however, he had returned to Venice to accept a post as a singer in the chapel of St. Mark’s at the relatively generous salary of eighty ducats per year.  He quickly assumed additional responsibilities, first as head of the Compagnia di San Marco (from 22 September 1617), then as the singing teacher at the seminario gregoriano (from March 1618), and finally as vice-maestro di cappella under Monteverdi (17 November 1620), with a salary increase to 120 ducats.

Grandi’s quick ascent came just as rumors began swirling about the possibility that Monteverdi might leave Venice to return to Mantua. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Grandi’s rise in stature under these conditions may have occasioned resistance and even resentment.  Grandi took over as head of the Company of St. Mark’s, a group not unlike a modern musicians’ union that organized singers for “freelance work” outside the basilica, at a time when the group was in crisis.  Early in 1617, the Doge had intervened in some internal disputes within the Company, ordering a thorough reorganization, including the election of new officers.  In addition, he barred Monteverdi, as maestro di cappella, from holding membership in the group.  A few months later, in July 1617, the company still was not thriving, and appealed again to the Doge for help, asking for permission to elect:

someone outside of our organization, some valorous man known and beloved by the city, who will use his power and authority in our interest [by] directing our music, marking the beat and giving us new compositions according to our need.

Moore guessed that the “valorous man” might have been Monteverdi—indeed, the singers who presented the petition to the Doge may even have had Monteverdi in mind—but the date of the document confirming Grandi’s election as capo of the company (22 September 1617) makes clear that the post fell instead to Grandi.  His position at the head of the Compagnia di San Marco suggests that the performance context for some of his sacred works may have been the churches and scuole of Venice, rather than the basilica itself.  Two motets, in particular, strongly suggest associations with the scuole: a work from the Motetti con sinfonie . . . [libro primo] (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1621), “Laetantes concinunt,” mentions Saint Roch by name, hinting at a connection with the Scuola di San Rocco, and the motet “O speciosa,” from the Celesti fiori (1619), contains the line “defende virgo confraternitatem istam et Venetos populos.” Grandi participated in festivities for the patron saint at the Scuola di San Rocco in 1619, and was hired to lead the music there in 1624.  According to Arnold, the music in 1624 included not only Grandi’s own compositions, but also music by Monteverdi and Cavalli.  The performance, as was customary, unfolded on a massive scale, with performing forces that included two companies of singers, two companies of instrumentalists, six organists, and no fewer than sixteen paid soloists. Grandi’s commission for this feast calls into question the view that his Venetian compositions were exclusively small-scale because the composition of large-scale works inevitably fell to Monteverdi.

Grandi’s leadership of the company seems not to have sat well with Monteverdi, however.  On 16 October 1620, Doge Antonio Priuli, after having listened many times both to Monteverdi and to several singers about “diverse causes for disgust and disorder” when the company performed at churches in the city, invested Monteverdi with responsibility for supervising the singers both inside and outside the basilica.  In other words, he made Monteverdi capo of the company, presumably relieving Grandi of those duties.  In what may have been a conciliatory gesture, however, the Doge designated the vice-maestro of San Marco the vice capo of the singers’ company.  At the time of the Doge’s decision, the post of vice-maestro had been vacant for nearly a year and a half, since Marc’ Antonio Negri’s resignation on 30 April 1619.   It is not clear whether this administrative shake up in the Company of St. Mark’s was related to another change that was about to take place: Grandi’s confirmation as Monteverdi’s vice-maestro just a month later.  Tensions over the leadership of the Compagnia di San Marco notwithstanding, Monteverdi must have supported Grandi’s appointment as his assistant; just a few months before Grandi’s selection, he wrote to Alessandro Striggio boasting that the procurators did not appoint organists or the assistant director without his “opinion and report.”  In any event, Grandi’s new position as vice-maestro did not put an end to controversy.  A few months after his election, he appealed to Marc’ Antonio Cornaro, the abbate primicerio of St. Mark’s (and the official responsible for settling disputes between musicians who were not clerics) asking that his motets appear under Cornaro’s protection to repel “the haughtiness and rage of savage and hateful tongues, which shamelessly consider it nothing to disparage and destroy the fame and honor, I would say not only of others’ work, but even of [other] persons themselves.”   Whether this is a reference to his removal as capo of the Company of St. Mark’s, or to some new intrigue remains, like so much else in the composer’s biography, shrouded in mystery.

The dedication of the Motetti a voce sola to Cornaro is significant in another respect. A year earlier, Monteverdi noted that he was expected to provide music every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday in a private oratory of Cornaro’s, observances “to which half the nobility come.”   It seems plausible, then, that some of the virtuosic solo motets from the 1621 Motetti a voce sola, and perhaps others of Grandi’s motets, were written for performance in Cornaro’s oratory.

Grandi continued to publish both sacred and secular works during his term as singer and vice-maestro at San Marco.  In addition to the aforementioned Motetti a voce sola (1621), his first book of Cantade et Arie (first edition now lost) probably appeared around 1618,  and the Celesti fiori (the fifth book of motets) followed in 1619.  For reasons that remain obscure (though one possibility is the death of Giacomo Vincenti in 1619), Grandi seems to have struck up a short-lived business relationship with Bartolomeo Magni in the years around 1620, before returning to publish most of his later works with Giacomo Vincenti’s son and successor, Alessandro. Between 1619 and 1621 no fewer than three collections were published by Magni.  Two of these works might not have required Grandi’s involvement.  The Celesti fiori were collected by Leonardo Simonetti; in fact, the San Marco singer revealed in his dedication that he had collected the works “furtively,” and had dedicated the collection to Grandi when his conscience had bothered him about his theft.   Similarly, Magni might have pirated the 1620 reimpression of the Motetti a cinque voci without Grandi’s approval.  (The first edition was published, not in Venice, but in Ferrara by Vittorio Baldini, in 1614.)  However, the 1621 Motetti a voce sola were clearly published under Grandi’s auspices; in fact, the composer went out of his way to mention Magni’s role in assembling and printing the works in his dedication to the collection.  A further bibliographic curiosity dates from the same period: the reissue by both Vincenti and Magni, in 1620, of Grandi’s Motetti a cinque voci.  As if to outdo his competitor, Alessandro Vincenti published his version with an aggionta di motetti di diversi auttori, including additional works by Grandi, Croce, and Grani.

If there were competition or rivalry to publish Grandi’s music, it would help to explain Alessandro Vincenti’s somewhat unusual dedication to Grandi, in October 1621, of an updated edition of Pomponio Nenna’s Primo libro de madrigali a quattro voci with an added continuo part by Carlo Milanuzzi (first edition, Naples: Giovanni Battista Gargano and Lucretio Nucci, 1613).   Vincenti’s fawning dedication calls Grandi one of the most worthy musicians in the world and maintains that he wishes to avoid any appearance of forced gratitude.  If the dedication were designed to lure (or welcome) Grandi back into Vincenti’s fold, the gesture seems to have worked; Grandi’s Motetti . . . con sinfonie [libro primo] (1621), like virtually all of his subsequent publications, were issued by Vincenti’s press.  Vincenti subsequently became an ardent promoter of Grandi, serving not only as his printer, but also as the compiler of the Salmi a otto brevi (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1629), and of the posthumous Messa concertate a otto voci (Venice: Alessandrio Vincenti, 1637).  At about the same time Grandi was honored with another dedication.  Teodoro Riccio included a four-voice “Canzona La Moceniga in Ecco” in his Terzo libro delle divini lodi musicali (Venezia: Gardano/Barolomeo Magni, 1620).

Another strand in Grandi’s biography in Venice is his relationship with various patrician families.  During the 1620s, Grandi asked Antonio Moro, a patrician and prior at the Church of the Misericordia, to serve as the compare (a rough equivalent of a godparent) to his daughter Angela; the service took place on 22 April 1623.  He also enjoyed an especially close connection to another patrician, Francesco Duodo.  The dedication to Duodo of the Cantade et arie . . . libro terzo (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1626) noted the “the liking that you have shown [for my ariette] on many occasions.”  Another curious allusion to Duodo’s fondness for Grandi’s music from about the same time crops up in the preface to Antonio Gualtieri’s Madrigali concertati a una, due, et tre voci (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1625).  Gualtieri, who worked as maestro di cappella at the so-called “Sette chiese” in Monsile, a set of small chapels that were effectively the private church of the Duodo family, referred to Grandi deferentially in his dedicatory letter, claiming that his own works were inferior in the sweetness of their harmony to the “subjects of Grandi, whose works you [Duodo] are ordinarily wont to hear, with great relish, in Venice.”

A few more interesting biographical details emerge from a baptismal document for one of Grandi’s daughters recently discovered by Rodolfo Baroncini.  From this document of 25 February 1624 (more Veneto 1623) we learn that Grandi’s wife was named Lucia, the daughter named Regina, and that they lived in the San Giovanni Nuovo district, in a house owned by a member of the Foscarini family.  Giovanni Battista Berti, perhaps a relative of the composer Giovannni Pietro Berti, stood as compare.

It has frequently been assumed that Grandi remained at San Marco until he accepted the position as chapel master at Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo in March 1627.  However, there are many indications that he left St. Mark’s earlier.  He had been relieved of his duties as maestro di canto at the seminary by March 1626, and Giovanni Rovetta makes clear in the dedication to his Salmi concertati (dedication dated 1 January 1626), that the post of vice-maestro at St. Mark’s was already vacant and that he had been performing some of the duties associated with the position:

I hoped thereafter [i.e., after joining the cappella] to be able to exercise the duties of vice-maestro in the absence of the Maestro di Capella, this position already being vacant beforehand.  Nor was the thought that I might succeed at this in vain, for since this need occurred shortly after I entered, I was honored by the most Illustrious and Excellent Procurators, my patrons, that I should exercise this charge until their new determination [i.e., until the formal election of a vice-maestro].

Grandi was still in Venice at the end of July 1626, when he signed the dedication to the Cantade et arie a voce sola . . . libro terzo;  exceptionally, the title page to this collection fails to list his position as vice maestro.  Moreover, a number of other prints from 1626—the first edition of the Arie, et Cantade a doi, e tre voci concertate con doi violini (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1626), the fourth impression (actually the sixth printing) of the Madrigali concertati  . . . [libro primo] (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1626), and the reprinting of the Madrigali concertati . . . libro secondo (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1626)—lack indications of Grandi’s employment on their title pages.  The omission is particularly striking in these final two cases, since the wording of these title pages is virtually identical to that of previous impressions, except for the removal of a reference to Grandi’s post.  In fact, Vincenti had taken special pains to keep the title page the first book of Madrigali concertati up to date: the first three impressions (1615, 1616, and 1617) identify Grandi as maestro di cappella in Ferrara; the terzo impressione (1619, actually the fourth printing) lists him as a musician at St. Mark’s; and the quarto impressione (1622) gives his title as “vice maestro di capella  . . . in San Marco.”  The explicit removal of the vice-maestro designation for the 1626 impression is thus particularly telling.

It is possible that Grandi left his post at San Marco even before 1626, since Rovetta, admittedly somewhat ambiguously, refers to the need for someone to perform the duties of vice-maestro “shortly after I entered [the chapel; i.e., after December 1623].”  What is more, the title pages of the only two editions of Grandi’s music printed in 1625 omit any mention of his post, though the evidence in both cases is equivocal.  The first edition of the Motetti . . . con sinfonie . . . libro secondo is lost so we cannot know if Grandi’s position had appeared on the original title page.  Similarly, the original edition of the Celesti fiori (1619) did not give Grandi’s post at all, listing only the position of the collection’s compiler, Leonardo Simonetti, “cantor nella cappella di S. Marco”; the lack of a title on the later impression thus provides no real evidence concerning Grandi’s employment.

Simonetti may have left another oblique clue concerning Grandi’s circumstances in 1625, however.  He included works by both Grandi and Rovetta in his seminal anthology of Venetian sacred monody, the Ghirlanda sacra (Venice: Stampa del Gardano, 1625).   The opening pieces of the collection seem to be arranged according to the composers’ status.  Four pieces by “dell’illustre Signor Claudio Monteverde Maestro di Capella della Serenissima Signoria di Venecia” open the collection, followed by a work of the imperial chapel master, Giovanni Priuli.   Next comes a motet by Rovetta and only then, one by Grandi; the following work is by Giovanni Pietro Berti, an organist at San Marco.  Also peculiar is the fact that Simonetti does not furnish a job title for either Rovetta or Grandi, in contrast to the careful annotations for many other composers in the collection.  Under normal circumstances, Simonetti’s treatment of the two composers would seem coincidental and unremarkable; read against the background of the other information concerning Grandi’s situation in 1625-26, it only serves to reinforce the impression that Grandi’s standing at San Marco was on the wane.

Grandi’s conflicts in Venice and the probability that he left San Marco long before securing a position in Bergamo throw the martial imagery of a stanza from Giulio Strozzi’s Venetia edificata, seemingly glorifying Grandi and Monteverdi, into starkly different light:

S’il Grandi allor, s’il Monteverde a gara
in vestir sacri o lascivetti carmi
con dolce canto e sinfonia sì rara
stati in quella stagion fossero in armi,
qual dale lor discordie illustre e cara
consonanza nascea dentro a que’ marmi
dove la maga in quelle fiamme estive
s’ingegna d’allettar l’alme piú schive.

(If Grandi, then, if Monteverdi competing
to clothe sacred or lascivious songs
with sweet song and such rare symphony
were to have stood armed in that season,
from their discords what distinguished and precious
consonance would have been born within those statues
where the sorceress in those summer flames
sought to delight those more bashful souls.)

Whether Grandi and Monteverdi’s “armed competition” and “discords” were metaphorical or actual, remains uncertain, but it is not difficult to imagine Monteverdi envying Grandi’s success in the print market with “lascivious songs” that must have seemed to the older composer rather slight.  In fact, Grandi’s compositional interests shifted during the period when he occupied leadership positions at San Marco, away from sacred music and toward secular forms, particularly strophic arias and light canzonetta-like pieces.  After the publication of the Motetti . . . con sinfonie . . . libro secondo, published sometime between 1621 and 1625, Grandi published no more sacred music until he moved to Bergamo in 1627.  In contrast, Vincenti issued at least three (and perhaps four) editions of Grandi’s secular music between 1622 and 1626.

Grandi eventually landed the post of maestro di capella at Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo.  The consorzio elected Grandi unanimously to a three-year contract on 18 March 1627, without requiring him to appear for the normal audition.  His accession to the post may have been aided by his patron, Francesco Duodo, who was named as capitano (a Venetian patrician sent to govern the Republic’s holdings on the mainland) at Bergamo just a few months before Grandi’s appointment.  The regents of Santa Maria Maggiore wrote to Grandi two days after his election, asking him to relocate to Bergamo in time to lead the music for Easter.  In return, they offered him fifteen days lodging while he sought a suitable home.  Grandi accepted not only because of the honor of becoming maestro di capella, but also because he believed that the cost of living would be lower than it had been in Venice.

At Bergamo, Grandi inherited the leadership of one of the most esteemed musical institutions in Northern Italy, including a cappella of between fifteen and twenty-three singers and instrumentalists.  Yet he also inherited a choral repertoire that was decidedly out of date, consisting almost exclusively of large-scale music, nearly all of it a decade or more old, and much of it even older.  Not surprisingly, most of Grandi’s published compositions from his tenure at Bergamo are large-scale works and concertato Mass and Psalm settings, precisely the sort of music required in this new context.  Grandi’s duties as chapel master at Santa Maria Maggiore included recruiting singers from throughout Northern Italy for the church’s chapel, and teaching figural music and counterpoint each weekday for two hours.  By 1630 his teaching, and that of two other music instructors, had apparently become inconsistent enough that the governors instituted a system under which the teachers were paid only for the days on which they actually taught.  Grandi was able to organize music for some of the major feasts, particularly for Santa Maria’s two most significant feasts, the Assumption and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, on a sumptuous scale.  For the Feast of the Assumption in 1628, he mounted performances that included the twenty-three members of the cappella and sixteen outside performers.

In 1628, Grandi returned to Venice to take part in a performance on the Feast of the Holy Rosary (October 7), and during this trip, received offers to return to Venice.  Although he declined, he was nonetheless able to parlay the hint of a competing job offer into a donation of grain and wine after his return to Bergamo.  The regents of the basilica noted that the whole city was grateful for Grandi’s work and praised his extraordinary service and diligence.  We also learn from the same document that Grandi had ten small children.  One of them, Giacomo, entered his father’s profession; the title page to the Cantade et Arie a voce sola . . . libro quarto (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1629), collected by the son, identifies him as a singer in the chapel at Santa Maria Maggiore.

Grandi’s presence in Venice in 1628 would have provided the most likely opportunity for his presumed contact with Heinrich Schütz during the German composer’s second journey to Venice.  Schütz parodied Grandi’s “Lilium connvalium” with his “O Jesus süß” from the third book of Symphoniae sacrae.  At about this time, perhaps on the trip to or from Venice, Grandi also spent time as a guest of the otherwise obscure Pietro Canonico and Paulo Morandi at the Chruch of the Madonna della Castagna, in the hills just a few miles northwest of Bergamo.  Grandi dedicated the Messa, e salmi concertati a tre voci (Venice 1630) to them, noting that the works were born “two years ago from the barrenness of my intellect, in your house . . . while we were in Val Breno at Madonna della Castagna.”

The composer returned to Venice several times near the end of his life, where he signed the dedications to the Motetti . . . con sinfonie  . . . libro terzo (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1629; ded. 8 June), the Messa, e Salmi concertati a tre voci (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1630; ded. 5 January), and Il sesto libro de motetti (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti, 1630; died. 28 June).   During the summer of 1630, Leonardo Simonetti also edited another collection devoted primarily to Grandi’s works, the Raccolta terza . . .  de messa et salmi del sig. Alessandro Grandi et Gio. Croce Chiozotto. The plague hit Venice in July of 1630, but Grandi managed to return to Bergamo, where he succumbed to the scourge along with his wife and children.

Grandi’s works continued to be published long after his death, both as complete reissues of his earlier collections, and as separate works in anthologies.  His sacred compositions, in particular, enjoyed considerable popularity north of the Alps.  Sixteen years after the composer’s death, one poet was still valorizing Grandi alongside Monteverdi:

De l’armonia venìano i mastri, e d’essi
con profuso parlar contogli i merti.
Di Claudio fè, tra questi, i pregi espressi,
che spiega in Monte Verdi i suoi concerti.
Ad Alessandro Grandi ancor concessi
fur grandi onor, tra i piú ne l’arte esperti.

(The masters of harmony came, and of them
With lengthy speech she expounded the merits.
Among these, she made express praise of Claudio
Who spreads his concerti on mountains verdant.
To Alessandro Grandi were also granted
Grand honors, as being among the most expert in the art.)

More than three and half centuries later, it is hard to disagree with Benamati’s assessment that Grandi was, indeed, among the most expert in his art.

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