Hubert Waelrant (also Waelrand, first name occasionally Hubertus) (c. 1517 – 19 November 1595) was a Flemish composer, teacher, and music editor of the Renaissance. As a composer he was a member of the generation contemporary with Palestrina, though unlike the most famous composers of the time he mostly worked in northern Europe, and in addition he was progressive in the use of chromaticism and dissonance.


Details of his origin are uncertain, but he may have been one of a family of musicians and lawyers from Antwerp, and he spent most of his life there. At least three of his many children — ten by one of his three or four wives — were also musicians. As a young man he may have studied in Italy, a common destination for a talented singer and composer from the Netherlands in the 16th century. While no documentary evidence has survived, he maintained contact with a wealthy patron there, and his madrigals show evidence of influence from some of the more progressive Italian composers at mid-century.

The first definite evidence of his activities is in the archives of the Antwerp cathedral, where he was a singer in 1544 and 1545. In the mid 1550s he was active as a teacher as well, and according to his pupil F. Sweerts, writing in Athenae belgicae (1628), he was an innovator in devising a new method of solmization. According to Reese [{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_1] he founded a music school in Antwerp.

He began his activities as a printer in the early 1550s, when he became a partner of Jean de Laet, handling the financial and sales aspects of the operation.

Whether he was strictly Roman Catholic has been a matter of dispute; internal evidence in the music suggests that he may have had Protestant sympathies, and indeed may have been an Anabaptist, although legal documents show him to have been a Catholic. It was a turbulent time of religious conflict—one of the reasons many local composers went to Italy and other countries—and Waelrant may have been deliberately unclear as to his beliefs; Antwerp changed hands several times during his life, alternately captured by Calvinists and the Catholic Habsburgs, and both sides suffered persecution. Some of Waelrant's simple psalm settings in the vernacular language suggest that he was a Protestant, and there is evidence that they were confiscated by Catholic church authorities at Kortrijk.

Details of his life are sparse after 1558, but he probably remained in Antwerp, where he was active as a composer, consultant for the tuning of cathedral bells, and music editor. He collaborated on a music anthology with several other Flemish composers in 1584, including Cornelis Verdonck and Andreas Pevernage, and the next year he edited a book of Italian madrigals (Symphonia angelica), some of which he wrote himself, which became extraordinarily successful (Italian madrigals were one of the most popular forms of music in Europe in the late 16th century, and composers wrote them, in Italian, even in countries where Italian was not spoken.) At the end of his life he endured financial difficulty. He died in 1595 and was buried in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Church of Our Lady, Antwerp).


Waelrant wrote sacred and secular vocal music as well as instrumental music. His output included motets, metrical psalm settings, French chansons, Italian madrigals, Italian napolitane (secular songs, of a light character, such as would be sung in Naples), and arrangements of the Italian pieces for instruments such as lute.

His motets are the most progressive part of his output, and are characteristic of the mid-century practice intermediate between the smooth, pervading imitation of composers such as Nicolas Gombert, where all voices where equal, and textural contrast was minimized; and late-century composers such as Lassus. Indeed many of his motets are reminiscent of Lassus, using chromaticism, cross-relations, textural contrast, and always remaining carefully attentive to the comprehensibility of the text. Waelrant uses text-painting as well, highlighting individual words with characteristic gestures, as a method to increase the expressivity of the music. Occasionally, his use of text-painting is obvious: for example, in his chanson Musiciens qui chantez, after the word "taire" (silent) all the voices rest for a moment of silence.

Harmonically, Waelrant usually preferred voicings that contained complete triads, and with his preference for root motions of fifths over those of thirds, one can hear the impending tonal structures of the Baroque era, which was to begin shortly after his death. In this regard his motets also resembled those of Lassus.

Waelrant's activities as an editor and performer influenced his approach to composition, and his manuscripts are full of helpful shorthand to the performers. He was careful to align notes and syllables, a practice by no means universal in the 16th century, and he used accidentals reliably, rarely leaving the interpretation of half- and whole-steps to the singer.

His settings of secular texts ranged from the light to the serious, and employ an array of contrapuntal devices, a characteristic more of secular music in northern Europe than in Italy; but the language of the settings is Italian for the madrigals and French for the chansons. Most of his music was published in Antwerp, although at least one collection of 30 songs (napolitane) was published in Venice (1565).

References and further reading


  1. ^  Reese, p. 397.

External links

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