The Kennedy Center

Costanzo Festa


Costanzo Festa has long been regarded as the first native Italian to join the ranks of distinguished northern polyphonists active in Italy in the early 16th century. Born circa 1490, it is speculated that he spent some time studying in France, visited Ferrara in early March 1514 and lived in the bay of Naples between 1510 and 1517.  While on the island of Ischia, he was employed as a music teacher for Rodrigo and Alfonso d'Avalos.  In 1517 he joined the Sistine chapel in Rome, remaining there until his death April 10, 1545.   During this tenure he wrote a good deal of liturgical music (masses and mass movements, a cycle of Magnificat settings, a set of Lamentations, a celebrated set of hymns), a number of motets, and a quantity of madrigals.   In 1536 he began to inquire about publishing his music and received a Venetian privilege to print a book of madrigals two years later.
Three of Festa's four untitled masses are preserved in Roman manuscripts.  The most celebrated and widely disseminated was a set of vesper hymns.  Around 60 motets survive, for three to eight voices, ranging in style from simple to quite elaborate, making use of canons and separately texted tenors. His contrapuntal technique earns praise because the motets certainly show competence although a certain dryness and stiffness is evident in some of the more ambitious settings.  He wrote about 100 madrigals, important early examples of the genre in widely diverse manners - sometimes simple and homophonic, sometimes elaborately contrapuntal - with lively rhythms and effective climaxes. Also a writer of many sacred works, his music was singled out for praise by several contemporaries denoting his three-voice works as graceful and unassuming and the four-voice madrigals as showing a certain hesitancy of technique.
Costanzo Festa