Giovanni Bassano

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Giovanni Bassano (c. 1561 – 3 September 1617) was an Italian Venetian School composer and cornettist of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. He was a key figure in the development of the instrumental ensemble at St. Mark's basilica, and left a detailed book on instrumental ornamentation, which is a rich resource for research in contemporary performance practice.[1] It was Bassano who was most responsible for the performance of the music of Giovanni Gabrieli, who would emerge as one of the most renowned members of the Venetian School.[2]


Giovanni was likely born in Venice around 1560 or 1561 in the parish of San Maurizio, the son of Santo Griti da Sebenico and Orsetta Bassano. Orsetta's father Jacomo Bassano was the only brother out of the six sons of Jeronimo Bassano not to move permanently to London from Venice around 1540 as part of a new recorder consort to King Henry VIII. Santo seems to have taken over his father-in-law's instrument-making business and adopted the surname of Bassano for himself. He was the probable inventor of bassanelli.[3]

Giovanni Bassano arrived as a young instrumental player at St. Mark's probably in 1576 at the age of 18. He quickly acquired a reputation as one of the finest instrumentalists in Venice, and by 1585 had published his first book, Ricercate, passagi et cadentie, which details exactly how best to ornament passages when transcribing vocal music for instruments. In that same year he became a music teacher at the seminary associated with St. Mark's. In 1601 he took over the job as head of the instrumental ensemble from Girolamo Dalla Casa, and he remained at this post until his death in August 1617.[4]

In addition to directing the music at St. Mark's, Bassano was busy elsewhere in Venice; he directed several groups of piffari, bands of wind players including bagpipes, recorders, shawms, flageolets, bassoons, and conceivably other instruments, which were used in other churches (such as San Rocco) or even street festivals.[5]

Bassano was also a composer, though his music has been overshadowed by his renown as a performer and his associated performance treatise.[6] He wrote motets and concerti ecclesiastici (sacred concertos) in the Venetian polychoral style; and he also wrote madrigals, canzonettas and some purely instrumental music. His canzonettas achieved some fame outside of Italy: Thomas Morley knew them, printing them in London in 1597 in English translation.[7]

Some of Bassano's instrumental music is ingeniously contrapuntal, as though he were indulging a side of his personality he was unable to display in his more ceremonial, homophonic compositions. His fantasias and ricercars are densely imitative and contain retrograde and retrograde inversions of motivic ideas, a rarity in counterpoint before the 20th century.[8]

The similarity of Bassano's motets to the early work of Heinrich Schütz, who studied in Venice with Gabrieli, suggests that the two may have known each other; likely Schütz knew Bassano's music.[9]


Published works[edit]

  • Fantasie a tre voci, per cantar et sonar con ogni sorte d'istromenti Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti & Riccardo Amadino, 1585. According to RISM, basso part only survives.[10]
  • Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie per potersi esercitar nel diminuir terminatamente con ogni sorte d’istrumento; et anco diversi passaggi per la semplice voce Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti & Riccardo Amadino, 1585; reprinted 1598.[10] Modern edition: Richard Erig, Zürich, Musikverlag zum Pelikan, 1976; facsimile: Mieroprint.
  • Canzonette a quatro voci Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1587[10]
  • Il fiore dei capricci musicali a quattro voci, per sonar con ogni sorte di stromenti Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1588. Tenor part only survives.[10]
  • Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori Venice, 1591.[1] Lost, survives only in the manuscript transcription of Friedrich Chrysander, Hamburger Staatsbibliothek MB/2488.[11]
  • Motetti per concerti ecclesiastici a 5, 6, 7, 8, & 12 voci Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1598 (basso per l'organo part: 1599).[10] Modern edition: Richard Charteris (1999) GIOVANNI BASSANO (c. 1558 – 1617), Opera omnia American Institute of Musicology CMM 101-1
  • Concerti ecclesiastici a cinque, sei, sette, otto & dodeci voci ... libro secondo Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1599.[10] Modern edition: Richard Charteris (2003) GIOVANNI BASSANO (c. 1558 – 1617), Opera omnia American Institute of Musicology CMM 101-2
  • Madrigali et canzonette concertate per potersi cantare con il basso, & soprano nel liuto, & istrumento da pena, con passaggi a ciascuna parte … libro primo Venezia: Giacomo Vincenti, 1602[10]


  1. ^ a b Arnold/Ferraccioli, Grove online
  2. ^ Selfridge-Field, 15
  3. ^ Lasocki and Prior, 217, 251–56.
  4. ^ Arnold, ii 254
  5. ^ Selfridge-Field, 14-16
  6. ^ Selfridge-Field, 74-76
  7. ^ Kerman, 66
  8. ^ Selfridge-Field, 64-65
  9. ^ Arnold, 254
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Schlager, B 1228–35, p.228
  11. ^ Paras, p.222


  • Arnold, Denis, "Giovanni Bassano," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie. 20 vols. Vol ii, p. 254. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2.
  • Arnold, Denis/Fabio Ferraccioli, "Bassano: 4) Giovanni", in Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online (subscription access), accessed 29 January 2012.
  • Kerman, Joseph, The Elizabethan Madrigal: A Comparative Study. Volume 4 of Studies and Documents.[full citation needed]: The American Musicological Society, 1962.
  • Lasocki, David, and Roger Prior, The Bassanos: Venetian Musicians and Instrument Makers in England, 1531-1665. Cambridge: Scolar Press, 1995.
  • Paras, Jason. Music for Viola Bastarda, edited by George Houle and Glenna Houle. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. ISBN 978-0-253-38824-7.
  • Reese, Gustave, Music in the Renaissance. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4.
  • Schlager, Karlheinz (ed.), Einzeldrucke vor 1800, Band 1: AARTS – BYRD Répertoire International des Sources Musicales A/I/1. Kassel; Basel; Tours; London: Bärenreiter, 1971 ISBN 3-7618-0228-5.
  • Selfridge-Field, Eleanor, Venetian Instrumental Music, from Gabrieli to Vivaldi. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-486-28151-5.

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