Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi was an Italian composer. He is recorded for the first time at Mantua in 1572 as a sub-deacon at the Palatine Basilica of S Barbara. In the following year he was promoted to the position of deacon, a post which he held until at least 1574. At the end of 1575, shortly before being ordained, Gastoldi was granted a mansionaria in S Barbara. From September 1579 until August 1587 he taught counterpoint to the novices at the basilica; the records mention him as a singer for the first time in 1581. In 1582 Cardinal Carlo Borromeo requested that Gastoldi be allowed to enter his service in Milan; Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga replied that on no account would he allow himself to be deprived of Gastoldi's talents. Both in that year, and in 1585-1586, Gastoldi acted as maestro di cappella in place of Wert, who had fallen ill; in 1588 he succeeded Wert as maestro di cappella, a post that he retained until his death. For the performance of Guarini's Il pastor fido, given in 1598, Gastoldi composed the Ballo della cieca (II; ii), a notoriously difficult moment in the play which had defeated earlier attempts to produce it; Gastoldi's setting was published in his Quarto libro de madrigali of 1602. One of his last commissions at the court was to compose music for one of the intermedii devised to accompany Guarini's L'Idropica, performed in 1608 as part of the extensive celebrations marking the marriage of Prince Francesco Gonzaga to Margarita of Savoy. In his will Gastoldi left his collection of sacred music to the chapter of S Barbara and his editions of madrigals to Fulvio Gonzaga, Marchese of Vescovato and the dedicatee of the Messe e motetti … libro primo of 1607.
Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi's most popular compositions during his lifetime, and for some time after his death, were his ballettos, of which he published two sets: one for five voices and one for three. The five-voice collection, published in 1591, was reprinted some 30 times, both in Venice and north of the Alps (the last as late as 1657). The success of these works must be attributed to their simplicity and tunefulness. They are cast in two repeated sections each of which finishes with a refrain; their textures are strongly homophonic, and according to the title-page they were to be sung, played and danced. Each balletto bears a characterizing title (e.g. Il Piacere, La Bellezza, Amor Vittorioso), but there is no attempt to represent these characteristics in the music, and indeed it would be hard to do so given the limitations of the genre. The book finishes with a six-voice mascherata and an eight-voice chorus; both are probably remnants of theatrical works. The three-voice ballettos, although less frequently reprinted, were still enormously popular. They are written in a style similar to that of the earlier collection (which are effectively conceived as trios with the inner parts added to fill out the texture), and like them were intended to be danced. A fondness for the lighter styles of writing is also evident in other secular publications such as the Primo libro de madrigali a sei voci (which concludes with another theatrical piece, the Danza de pastori written for two four-voice choirs) and the two books of canzonettas.
Despite the undoubted popularity of the ballettos, most of Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi's efforts as a composer went into the composition of sacred music, some of which also found favour in the market. This aspect of his production, sometimes overlooked, not only reflects his career at S Barbara, but also his commitment to Counter-Reformation idealism of the kind advocated by Carlo Borromeo, with its emphasis on accessibility. The Missarum quatuor vocibus liber primus, for example, is designed for the resources and capabilities of a modest choir, while the Psalmi ad vesperas in totius anni, which was reprinted five times, relies on a mixture of homophony and simple counterpoint, and shows little interest in chromatic inflection, even in the De Profundis; this book includes Wert's seventh-tone Magnificat setting and is dedicated to the Abbot of S Barbara. Homophony also predominates in the six-voice Salmi intieri … libro secondo, sometimes fused with falsobordone passages as in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610. Most popular of all was his Integra omnium solemnitatum vespertina psalmodia, settings of the most frequently encountered psalm texts, which was reprinted as late as 1705. His simplest are the two-voice psalms of 1609, a sequence of 14 settings together with a Magnificat, while the 1601 collection for eight voices uses double-choir and alternatim techniques; a speciality of S Barbara practice. These publications suggest that Gastoldi was aiming at a wide market which included, as something of a priority, choirs of modest ambitions. The Messe e motetti, on the other hand, are explicitly described as a monument to the music performed at Porticuolo (now Portiolo). The contents are grander in manner and come equipped with an organ score.
Balletti, 5vv, con li suoi versi per cantare, sonare, & ballare; con una mascherata de cacciatori, 6vv, & un concerto de pastori, 8vv (1591); ed. in Le pupitre, x (Paris, 1968); ed. H.C. Schmidt (New York, 1970.