The following biography is based on Prof. N.M. Panayiotakis’ book “Franghiskos Leontaritis: Cretan composer of the 16th century. Accounts of his life and work”, Library of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, No. 12, Venice (1990).
Franghiskos Leontaritis was the offspring of the harmonious interaction of the Greek-Byzantine tradition with the Latin-Italian one. Greek by origin, but catholic in faith, F. Leontaritis was the son of a catholic priest and official (thesaurarius) at St. Titus, cathedral of the archbishopic of Crete, and of an orthodox mother. Born (~1518) and raised in Chandakas, the capital of Venetian-dominated Crete, he was apparently gifted with a marvellous voice and had displayed his musical talent at an early age. The support he received from the environment of Pietro Lando, who was of the same age and who later became archbishop of Crete, seems to have helped him achieve his artistic goals in Rome as well as in Venice, where he was by 1544. While in the ‘‘eternal city’’, he managed to overcome all obstacles to his ordination as a priest. But it is possible that Leontaritis was sent at an early age to Italy to study music.
At the age of 30, after an intervention by the doge of Venice F. Donato (which shows that Leontaritis had already become a famous musician), he was hired on June 4, 1549 as cantore, i.e. a singer in the famous choir of the temple of San Marco in Venice, at a salary of 50 ducats a year. The music life of the city entered a ‘‘golden era’’ with the appointment of the Flemish Adrian Willaert as director of the choir of the temple in 1527. Willaert stayed in that position for thirty-five years, and was Leontaritis’ maestro di capella. Being a member of the choir of San Marco was something to be envied. Leontaritis’ marvelous voice and musical dexterity made him one of the most famous and sought-after musicians in the city. In 1557 he gave up the choir, but remained in Venice for five more years. His life there was rather artistically fruitful. His personal life, however, was full of bitterness and unpleasant adventures, the most significant of which was the temporary forfeiture of his priesthood in 1552.
In 1562 he went to Bavaria, where he was hired as a member of the choir of the Munich court. Before him, two other important musicians of the time, related to Venice, the Flemish Cipriano de Rore, successor to Willaert, and the Italian Andrea Gabrieli, had followed the same road to Munich. The choir of the Bavarian court was at the time one of the most famous throughout Europe, having for many years as maestro the great musician Orlando di Lasso. There is evidence that the duke knew Leontaritis personally and held him in high esteem for his ability as a musician and his intelligence as a person. Leontaritis’ overall service in the choir of the Bavarian court seems to have been quiet and creative, since most of his surviving work, his three very melodic masses and an indeterminable number of motets and secular works, is attributed to that period, which lasted five years.
By the beginning of 1567 he was away from Munich, in Venice, and for a short time in Cremona. However, his financial situation in Venice being very bleak, he tried to go back to Munich, but in vain. Finally, he mortgaged everything he had in order to meet his needs and debts. He even reached a point when he avoided being seen in the city. After his failure to return to Munich, and due to the disadvantageous situation in Venice, he went back to his birthplace. There at least he was away from the hunt of his creditors, and found the peace and quiet he had been seeking for so many years. He also found his mother still alive, and took over his father’s property, which he started to sell in order to pay back his creditors. With his return to Chandakas, he was restored to his priesthood. After the intervention of the archbishop Pietro Lando and his other friend Viviani, bishop of Sitia and Ierapetra, he was appointed canonicate at St. Titus, and thus finally found his way again into the bosom of the Catholic Church. He was reinstated as an organist and a teacher of music, this time with the advantage of his maturity and the priceless experience he had gained from his service in two of the most important music centers of Europe, Venice and Munich.
Leontaritis probably died in 1572 or a year later, having experience joys and sorrows in an era marked by the struggle for recognition of the uniqueness of the individual and the right for free spiritual and artistic creation.
Franghiskos Leontaritis: His aesthetics (by Nikolaos Kotrokois)
Although he was a collaborator-if not a student- of some of the greatest musicians of the time (A.Willaert and O.di Lasso), he managed to go his own musical way, marked by the diversity of melodic lines in all parts, harmonie flexibility, imaginative melodies with exquisite climaxes, proof of his great talent, the reformation of the music according to the demands of the text, and the imaginative rhythmic patterns leading the parts, with the help of the harmony, to an unprecedented rhythmic-melodic interwinding. All this, in a restless alternation, compose the ingenious artistic spirit of Franghiskos Leontaritis.