As a composer of secular music, Giovanni Maria Nanino seems to have published only three books of madrigals and one of canzonettas, yet he contributed numerous pieces to anthologies, and his madrigals were often reprinted. Scarcely an important anthology appeared in these years without a contribution by him. Indeed in the fifteen years before the death of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina in 1594, Nanino rivaled him as the most esteemed of Roman composers; in the decade after Palestrina’s death, Nanino was the undisputed head of the large and important Roman school. By certain measures Nanino was the most often represented composer in anthologies printed between 1570 and 1620. In this area he surpasses not only Palestrina, but also Luca Marenzio, Philippe de Monte, and Alessandro Striggio.
Despite Nanino’s immense prestige among his contemporaries, in modern histories his secular music is scarcely discussed, with just a passing mention in Alfred Einstein’s voluminous The Italian Madrigal. This article establishes Nanino’s leadership in defining the new Roman style of madrigal in the late sixteenth century, outlines its musical characteristics, and suggests paths for future research into this as yet little studied school.