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Antonio Cifra (1584 – 2 October 1629) was an Italian composer of the Roman School of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. He was one of the significant transitional figures between the Renaissance and Baroque styles, and produced music in both idioms.

Cifra was born in Terracina. He studied with Giovanni Bernardino Nanino in the 1590s. From 1605 to 1607 he was music director at the Roman Seminary, and from 1608 to 1609 he held the same position at the German College in Rome. In 1609 he was hired as maestro di cappella at Santa Casa in Loreto, and he held that position for the rest of his life. Cultural connections between Loreto and Rome were close (since Loreto was a pilgrimage destination), and he maintained contact with the composers in Rome during this period. Near the end of his life he took part in several large musical events in Rome, including a large Vespers at St. Peter's for which he directed one of the choirs.

Cifra was a prolific composer, with 45 separate publications to his credit: they included psalms, motets, litanies, "Scherzi sacri," masses, polychoral motets, and sacred songs, as well as secular music including madrigals in both the Renaissance a cappella and Baroque concertato forms.

Stylistically, Cifra's music varies between masses in the Palestrina style, with much use of homophony (as desired by the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent, which had required that polyphonic elaboration be minimized so as to allow for clear expression of the text), and more progressive works in the Venetian style. He also used the technique of monody, as pioneered in northern Italy, for some of his solo madrigals. Some of his concertato madrigals are like small cantatas, and can be seen as foreshadowing this development, which began to occur around the time he died.

Cifra was also one of the very few composers to be influenced by the extreme chromaticism of Carlo Gesualdo. While Cifra did not adopt the technique for many works, or for long, he did publish one book of madrigals which appear to be deliberate copies of Gesualdo's style (the Madrigali concertati libro quinto, 1621). For these madrigals he used 18 of Gesualdo's own texts.

Source

  • Articles "Antonio Cifra", "Carlo Gesualdo" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
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