Adriaan Willaert




Adriaan Willaert studied law in Paris, but did not complete his studies. He received an education in music from Jean Mouton, who himself in turn was a follower of Josquin Desprez. Around 1515 Willaert left for Italy, like many masters of the Low Countries did during this time. First he traveled to Rome before heading to Ferrara. In 1522 he entered the service of Alfons I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara and in 1525 became a singer in the chapel of archbishop Ippolito II d’Este of Milan. 

In 1527 he was appointed as kapellmeister of the San Marco Basilica in Venice. He would fulfill this function up until his death in 1562. Willaert was the founder of the famous Venice school, to which later the Gabrieli’s and Claudio Monteverdi would belong. 


Willaert was one of the most multi-faceted composers during the renaissance and from his position in Venice he was a great musical influence throughout Europe. Among his students were  Costanzo Porta, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and Cypriano de Rore, who would succeed him at the San Marco.  

We know of 400 pieces by Willaert’s hand: 150 motets, vespers, hymns, psalms; 8 masses, about 60 French chansons, 70 italian madrigals and instrumental compositions.

After his passing he disappeared from view until a renewed Flemish historical consciousness brought him back to the forefront. 

Chori spezzati

The work of Willaert combined characteristics of Flemish and Italian polyphony while still introducing new elements. In the San Marco in Venice his singers were set up in two different choir stands. Because of this distance there was an auditory delay and it became difficult to sing simultaneously. Consequently his writing style evolved into music in chori spezzati, separated choirs, which simplified the performance of pieces. This stereo effect became popular: other composers and even other churches incorporated the practice. This introduction of the “dual choir style” brought Willaert much fame. In addition, this alternating singing led to a concerto style which formed the basis for many compositions in the baroque period.

Vocal works (selection) 

  • Vecchie letrose, for four voices, listen to it here.
  • Ave virgo sponsa, for six voices, listen to it here.
  • Veni sancte spiritus, for six voices, listen to it here.
  • Douleur me bat, for six voices, listen to it here.
Adriaan Willaert and Italy by Capella Sancti Michaelis and Currende Consort conducted by Erik Van Nevel, 1993
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