Dead: ca. 1362 in Florence, Italy
In the 1300s, France had dominated the musical landscape for centuries. Through the rise in the troubadour and subsequent trouvere cultures, the innovations of the polyphonic school of Notre Dame and the rise of the Ars Nova and Machaut, it must have seemed that France was the only country composing music. Perhaps this is not surprising since France was the most powerful, richest, most influential, and most learned of the late medieval kingdoms. Italy was, in contrast, a collection of warring small city-states, disunified and politically weak.
In the 1300s, however, Italy began to produce secular song in the Italian vernacular. Italy suddenly had a mensural notation distinct from its French counterpart, its own formes fixed and musical styles. The antecedents for this remarkable proliferation of music are unknown, but may include the troubadours as well as a native Italian tradition of improvisatory song. One of the earliest composers and the earliest from Florence, the city which would dominate this musical century, was Gherardello da Firenze.
Records of Gherardello are, as in the case of many medieval composers, very scant and are largely extracted from his clerical appointments. Even the appellation "da Firenze" means only "of Florence." Gherardello was born around 1320 at an unknown location, but presumably around Florence. His brother, Jacopo, and son, Giovanni, also became composers, though no works by them survive. The first records of Gherardello date from 1343 when he is mentioned in the records of the cathedral of Florence, the church of Santa Reparata, as being employed as a clerk. He was ordained in 1345 and was chaplain of the cathedral until 1351. He was then accepted into the order of Vallombrosa and later became Prior to the church of S. Trinita in Florence. He died around 1364, this date extrapolated from a series of sonnets exchanged between 1364 and 1366 between Florentine poets Francesco di Simone Peruzzi and Franco Sacchetti mourning his death.
Gherardello was largely known during his lifetime as a composer of liturgical music. Two liturgical works by him survive - a two-voice Gloria and two-voice Agnus Dei - both in manuscript F-PR 568. In style, they are similar to his madrigals. These pieces form part of the corpus of mass movements which were composed more prolifically in the fourteenth century compared to earlier centuries. Machaut's Mass of Notre Dame also forms part of this corpus. The majority of Italian sacred polyphony is anonymous, but works also exist by Lorenzo Masini (fl. 1350 - 1370), Paolo Tenorista (who died in 1419), and an otherwise uknown composer named Bartolo da Firenze.
Gherardello's secular compositions survive in greater numbers and incorporating five monophonic ballate, ten two-voice madrigali, and a three-voice caccia. The largest collection of Gherardello's work is in the Squarcialupi codex (B. Laurenziana, Florence MS. Palantino 87), however other manuscripts also contain his works, including B. Nazionale Centrale, Florence, MS Panciatichi 26, British Museum, London, ms. Add. 29987, and University Library, Prasgue, MS XI F9.
His monophonic ballate follow the standard trecento musical form of ABBAA with the reprise coming at the beginning and end of the work. Rarely melismatic, an interesting feature is the use of the under-third, or "Landini" cadence, usually a polyphonic technique, but here utilized in a monophonic repertory.
Gherardello's madrigali use a variety of devices, such as canon (presumably borrowed from the caccia form), florid melisma, and a range of text-setting manners including simultaneous, canonic, or madrigal-style text declamation. His madrigals are highly sectionalized and reminiscent in style to those of his Northern Italian contemporary Giovanni da Cascia.
His caccia Tosta che l'alba is his best-known work and one of only two works contained in all sources (the other is the madrigale Sotto verdi Franchetti). It is written for an untexted tenor and two canonic upper parts.
With Gherardello, Florence began a dominance of Italian musical life which lasted until the early fifteenth century. He was followed by composers such as Donato da Firenze, Francesco Landini, Andrea da Firenze, and Paolo Tenorista. By the century's end, the Florentine school would produce hundreds of ballate and madrigali and dozens of mass movements and caccie.
- David Cashman (All Music Guide)