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In 1588 he entered the service of the grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici, who took with him to Florence a musical retinue aimed at surpassing the glories of the d’Este household at Ferrara. He returned to Rome in 1589 in the employ of the Duke of Bracciano, although Marenzio’s output as a composer was never as great (either in volume or quality) as it had been in his earlier years. His later works are serious and more intense—perhaps reflecting a crisis that had befallen him whilst in Florence.
It was during his service with d’Este that Marenzio became known as a composer of madrigals. He has been described by the academic and writer Jerome Roche as ‘the greatest purely madrigal composer in the whole history of the Italian Madrigal, and the one in whose hands it reached its culmination as a form with a musical life of its own not slavishly dependent upon its poetry’. His work shows the influence not only of Palestrina’s technical assurance and contrapuntal brilliance but also of the innovative Andrea Gabrieli.
Marenzio’s sacred works are less well known than his madrigals, but their characteristics are the same: outstanding verbal imagery and subtle symbolism. Tribus miraculis dates from 1585 and is scored for four voices. The musical highlights of this piece are to be found in the astonishing changes in texture: the florid setting of the opening text (describing the ‘three miracles’) is scored for three voices; two upper parts represent the star leading to the manger; there is an appropriate, startling change at the words ‘today water was changed into wine’; and there are inspired chromatic alterations at the description of the baptism ‘by John in the Jordan’ and again at the words ‘our salvation’. By way of a spectacular finale, Marenzio provides an unusual sequential ‘Alleluia’ to complete this vocal tour de force.
from notes by William McVicker © 2002