18 October 2007

Subterranean Venetian Epidemiology and 16th Century Compositional Creativity


Antonio Gardano
On 07-DEC-1562, Adriaen Willaert passed away. The musical father to the composers of Venice thus ended his tenure of thirty-five years as maestro di cappella of San Marco, during which he was the chief musical force in the Republic. His artistic legacy had been immense, but his death marked a watershed in Venetian musical history. A fresh generation of musicians was taking command, and their creations can be seen in Antonio Gardano’s publications of the 1560s.

San Marco, Venice
During the last decade of his life, Antonio Gardano continued to publish music of fine quality whose contents reflected not only favorite music of the past but also the work of younger composers whom Gardano befriended. In fact, the 1560s were especially productive, as Gardano’s firm saw at least 187 editions through the press in that decade, as compared with 108 in the 1550s and 93 in the 1540s. Gardano’s repertory was truly cosmopolitan, but any account of the last decade of his printing career must begin in Venice, for it was republican Venice and its flourishing trade, intellectual aspirations, and religious freedom that fed the music printing industry that had been the city’s glory for a century.

San Marco, Venice
Gardano was an active participant in the musical life of the city—not as a performer, but as a friend and supporter of its musicians. After Willaert’s death, the position of maestro di cappella at the ducal church of San Marco was taken up by Cipriano de Rore, who spent a miserable year there before fleeing back to the court at Parma where he had worked earlier. Rore died there on 27-SEP-1565, and thus another giant among Gardano’s composer friends passed on.

Impressum Gardano
Rore was succeeded by Gioseffo Zurlini, a pupil of Willaert, who held the post until he died on 12-MAY-1569.


Other composers published by Gardano who were active at San Marco in the 1560s were Baldassare Donato, Annibale Padovano, Vincenzo Bell’Haver, Gioseffo Guami, Perissone Cambio, Claudo Merulo, and Giovanni Scrofulascio. Madrigals and motets by Donato, Cambio, Londariti, and Rore were assembled into volumes that Gardano printed. Naturally, in the course of their business with Gardano each of the composers visited Gardano’s rooms in Venice, exchanged manuscript pages with him, shook his hand, descended his dark stairways, drank glasses of wine in his company, breathed his air. Mysteriously, each in turn contracted a progressive illness. One by one, the life of each was snuffed out.


Two doges also succumbed. Girolamo Priuli was elected in 1559. He was succeeded in 1567 by Pietro Loredan, who survived until 1570.

Rohan Kriwaczek, Funerary Violin
The houses of the wealthy were likewise decimated. A description of music at social gatherings in Venice can be found in Gardano’s dedicatory letter to Marco Trevisan in Willaert’s book of six-voice motets, published in 1542. In this letter Garano asks that Willaert’s motets be performed at Trevisano’s “most honored salon, where the finest performers play and sing the best music with the most noble of personages in attendance.” The contaminated music that Gardano printed and the printer himself were undoubtedly present at these gatherings.

 M. marinum
Even the artist Titian may have met his end as a result of his business dealings with Gardano. Titian was completing a magnificent painting of the Annunciation for Gardano’s parish church, the sanctuary beneath whose pavement Gardano himself was to be laid to rest in 1569. In late 1568, Titian was taken ill with a strange inflammation that began in his fingers, ascended to his elbows by 1570, reached his throat by 1573, and finished him off in 1576. Immediately after Titian’s own death, his son and pictorial assistant, Orazio, died of the bubonic plague then raging in Venice.

 M. marinum
Attributing the father’s death to the same cause as the son's is an unfounded inferential leap, post hoc ergo propter hoc—an error of careless historians who did not bother to examine Titian’s correspondence (in which he complained for years of his progressive affliction).

 M. marinum
In light of recent evidence, the culprit is likely to have been a peculiarly virulent and insidious strain of mycobacterium marinum, known to inhabit the canals of Venice. Gardano’s quarters, located in a disused crypt below the ground level of San Marco, provided an ideal lair from which the mycobacteria could mount their attacks.

Gardano's Moist Lodgings, San Marco, Venice M. marinum granuloma, 40X light microscopy
How Gardano himself remained impervious to the organism for so long is an astonishing thing—perhaps a fluke of inheritance that only modern genomics could elucidate.

 M. marinum
But hold, if you will, your Enlightenment notions of human mastery of Nature and Art in abeyance, and consider Gardano’s eclectic tastes in the music he preferred to print; consider his affinities for the composers he chose to finance; consider his propensity to entertain musicians in his rooms, down in his moist converted crypt in San Marco…

 M. marinum
Consider that these inadvertent factors and the communicable illness that was propelled by them may have exerted an effect on the future of Venetian music more profound than any other. Kissing Gardano’s cheeks may have conferred a composerly fate more immutably, more relentlessly than any popular or ducal criticism could ever do. Counting Gardano as an intimate was tantamount to choosing a fate, every bit as much as choosing exposure to HIV might be in present times.

 M. marinum, 100X light microscopy
History, of course, is written by the victors. Those Venetian composers who were disliked by Gardano are the ones who survived, who continued to compose until a hoary old age, and whose work is best known to us today. Gardano’s close friends, not so much.

 M. marinum
M. marinum
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