Philippe de Monte

Filips van den Berghe (or latinized Philippe de Monte; 1521July 4, 1603) was a Flemish composer of the late Renaissance. He wrote more madrigals than any other composer of the Renaissance, and was one of the most influential composers of the form.


He was born in Mechelen. After boyhood musical training in Flanders, Monte went to Italy — a common destination for a young Flemish composer in the sixteenth century — where he made a name for himself as a composer, singer, and teacher (literally, for he used there an Italianized form of his name, Filippo di Monte). He lived and worked in Naples from 1543 to 1551, and in Rome, in the employ of Cardinal Orsini, until 1568, although he was in England for a brief period during the reign of Queen Mary I (probably 1554-1555). For the remainder of his long life he worked in the Habsburg courts in Vienna and Prague. He died in Prague, and was buried in the church of St. Jakub.

Music and influence

Monte was a hugely prolific composer, and wrote both sacred and secular music, all of it vocal. He wrote about 40 masses and about 260 other sacred pieces, including motets and madrigali spirituali (works differing only from madrigals in that they have sacred texts). He published over 1100 secular madrigals, in 34 books, but not all of them survive. His first publication was in 1554 when he was 33, but he wrote very little until he began to work for the Habsburgs, in 1568 at the age of 47 — an inspiration to late-bloomers everywhere. His last set of madrigals did not come out until 1601, and is one of the only sets of compositions by an octogenarian dating from the Renaissance.

Stylistically, Monte's madrigals vary from an early, very progressive style with frequent use of chromaticism to express the text (though he not quite as experimental in this regard as Marenzio or Lassus), to a late style which was much simplified, featuring short motifs and frequent homophonic textures. Unlike Monteverdi, who began in a conservative style and became experimental later in life, Monte's compositional career had an opposite curve, progressing from experimentation to unity and simplicity in his later works.

Very few composers of the time had a reputation greater than did Monte, who was renowned all over Europe; editions of his music were printed, reprinted, and widely circulated. Though he was described as "quiet, reticent, and modest as a girl" he had a large circle of friends, including other famous composers such as Lassus and William Byrd; he had many students, thereby passing on his compositional skills and experience to the generation who developed the early Baroque style; and many of his madrigals are still performed today.

References and further reading

  • Article "Philippe de Monte", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
  • Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0393095304

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