Sigismondo d'India (ca 1582 - ca 1629)
Precis of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians article about this fascinating Italian composer
Contributor: James Sanderson
Sigismondo d'India was
born in Palermo, Sicily around 1582 and died before 19 April 1629, probably in
Little is known about D'India's life. Described on the title pages of his
publications as being 'of noble Sicilian birth', in the preface to his Musiche
of 1609 he stated that from 'learned men of music' he learnt 'how to
compose for several voices and how to sing solo'. He was probably second
only to Monteverdi as a composer of secular vocal music in the early 17th
D'India established his
reputation with a collection of monodies (1609). He probably spent the years
1600-10 travelling about Italy, visiting various courts. The dedication to his Musiche
of 1621 to the former Maria de' Medici, Queen Mother of France, suggests that he
was in Florence as early as 1600. He implied in the dedication of his first set
of five-part madrigals (1606) that in 1606 he was in Mantua, where he may have
met Monteverdi. From the 1609 preface it is known that in 1608 he visited
Florence, where his songs were performed and admired by Vittoria Archilei and
Caccini, and later Rome, where Cardinal Farnese and 'the most famous musicians
and singers' acclaimed his songs; he probably went to Naples too in that year,
and he may also have been there some years earlier. In 1610 he was in the duchy
of Parina and Piacenza and provided music for festivities there.
In 1611 d'lndia was appointed director of the chamber music at the court of
Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, in Turin, where he remained until 1623. Most of
his output dates from this period: ten collections of secular music and Zalizura,
a setting of a favola pescatoria. The emphasis on secular music is a
reflection not only of d'India's predilection for it but also of the tastes of
the duke, who was a poet and painter and an enthusiastic admirer of the new monodic
style. The malicious gossip of certain courtiers forced d'lndia to leave the
court of Savoy in May 1623. After travelling about Italy for five months he
settled temporarily at the Este court at Modena from October 1623 to April 1624.
He then moved on to Rome to come under the patronage of Cardinal Maurizio of
Savoy, his former master's son and another enlightened patron of the arts. In
1625 his sacred opera Sant'Eustachio was performed in Maurizio's palace,
and in 1626 he wrote for Pope Urban VIII his Missa 'Domine, clamavi ad te',
which was performed with great success in the Cappella Giulia. Early in the same
year he took a permanent position at the Este court, and in the autumn he
directed a mass of his own - possibly the one composed in Rome - for the funeral
of Isabella d'Este. In April 1627 he was still in Modena. Recently discovered
documents have shed new light on his last years. In the summer and autumn of
1627 he was competing for the commission of wedding music for the marriage of
Duke Odoardo Farnese of Parma and the daughter of Cosimo de' Medici, a
commission finally awarded to Monteverdi. There is further evidence that he was
given an appointment at the court of Maximilian I of Bavaria, but it is not
known if he went there. A document in Modena dated 19 April 1629 addressed to 'the
heirs of Sig. d'lndia' suggests that he died there before that date.
D'India's 84 chamber monodies are contained in the first and in the last three
of his books of Musiche. They comprise every kind of song found in the
early monodic repertory: strophic arias, strophic variations on stock
basses, madrigals, laments, letters amorose
and formulae for singing ottavas and sonnets.
D'India's reputation has rested almost exclusively on his monodies, but
also in the field of secular music he composed eight books of polyphonic madrigals,
three books of motets and two of villanellas (the sixth book of
madrigals does not exist, but he may have regarded the Musiche e balli of
1621 as equivalent to it).
Although d'India early established his reputation with a collection of monodies
(1609) it had been preceded by a volume of madrigals in 1606, which shows that
he was already thoroughly schooled in the techniques and expressive devices of
the late Renaissance polyphonic madrigal. His three books of motets, which
include works for two to six voices, illustrate the same range of textures as
the madrigals, some with continuo, some without. Several of the motets
illustrate his craftsmanship as well as his lyric gifts, and are the work of a
composer who had learnt much from both Venetian and Roman practice.
D'India's polyphonic works, and especially the madrigals, offer vivid proof that
not all the most forceful and impressive music of early 17th-century Italy was
produced in the genres of monody and opera. He demonstrated the stylistic
compatibility of the styles of Marenzio, Wert, Gesualdo and Monteverdi and
blended them more tellingly than did any other composer.
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