Birth: 1554 in Caravaggio, Italy
Death: Jan 9, 1609 in Mantua, Lombardia, Italy
Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi is particularly known for his dance songs, or balletti. These dance songs, however, share their attractive, light, and rhythmically alert character with his madrigals and even some of his sacred music.
Caravaggio is a small town between Brescia and Milan which, about 15 years after the birth of this composer, also produced Michelangelo Amerighi, the painter who took the name of Caravaggio and immortalized the town. Since it is known that Gastoldi was a subdeacon and then a deacon at the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara in Mantua, it is considered likely that he was a boy choral singer there. As an adult, he also sang in that choir, which was under the direction of Giaches de Wert, a leading composer imported from the Low Countries. It is likely that he took over Wert's duties for a time in 1582, when the latter was ill. Gastoldi was already experienced as a leader, for he had been the music teacher and director for the young priests at Santa Barbara from 1579 to 1587. In 1591, he published his first set of balletti. When Wert died in 1592, Gastoldi succeeded him at Santa Barbara. In the same year, he contributed some choruses for a production of Giovanni Guarini's Il pastor fido, some motets for a book dedicated to Palestrina, and a madrigal for Il trionfi di door, a wedding collection.
The circumstances under which he left his church job are uncertain. The position was declared vacant in 1605, although Gastoldi was still in Mantua. Before he left town, he contributed to a comedy called L'idropica (The Man With Dropsy). He apparently moved to Milan before 1608, seemingly working in the secular sphere but possibly becoming maestro di cappella of the cathedral there. Nothing is known of the rest of his life.
The 1591 collection of dance songs went through ten reprintings more than 20 years. It was still being reprinted as late as 1662, when a new edition came off the presses in Scotland. His music strongly influenced English songs for a while and certainly stood at the forefront of the new prominence of chordal textures in music of the early Baroque as a whole. His dance music is generally homophonic, while the sacred music (which is much less often played) is in a variety of styles and textures.
- Joseph Stevenson (All Music Guide)