Even with a respectable list of publications by Sigismondo d’India, there is frustratingly little information about his life. Evidence points to a noble birth in Palermo in Sicily in 1582, so that he may have spent time in Naples hearing — perhaps even studying formally — the music of Macque, Mayone and Gesualdo at the court. Certainly his works demonstrate a willingness to explore the chromaticism often associated with the south of Italy. But this was by no means the only influence on his music.
It was customary for European musicians to travel to Italy to complete their studies in music. D’India was one of the few native Italians who did so. Between 1600 and 1610 he visited a plethora of Italian centres, including Mantua, where he may have met Monteverdi, and Florence, where in 1609 he met Caccini and Vittoria Archilei, both of whom he says offered him encouragement. His style is a cosmopolitan one, evinced by elements of traditional polyphony, the polychoral practice of Venice, and expressive madrigals. He is best remembered, however, for his work in monody and song for small ensembles.
By 1611, when he was awarded the directorship of chamber music at the court of the Duke of Savoy in Turin, d’India had published two books of madrigals for five voices, a book of three–voice Neapolitan villanellas, two books of concertato sacred works, and his famous Musiche ... da cantar solo (“Music to Sing Alone”). His most productive years were spent in Turin, which he left in 1623, the victim, it seems, of political machinations at court.
His Primo libro de madrigali a 5 voci (“First Book of Madrigals for Five Voices”), published in Milan in 1606, was dedicated to Vincenzo Gonzaga, which would place d’India in or around Mantua in the adjacent years. The book was successful enough to be reprinted in 1607 and again in 1610. He shows an immediate grasp of the imagery in the lyrics, as in Filli mirando il cielo (“Phyllis, looking at the sky”).
I am distilled weeping
I languish and die of love ...
During the same year in which he met Caccini, d’India’s first set of monodies was published as Musiche da cantar solo exhibiting results of his contact with composers like Luzzaschi and Caccini through affetti and ornaments that are mostly written out. His newer version of Cruda Amarilli, which he had already set for five voices in his first book of madrigals, opens with a melancholy atmosphere that quickly becomes anguished. He gives special treatment to important words — ahi lasso (“ah, alas”) and fugace (“fleeing”) — and phrases — io mi morrò tacendo (“I die silently”) — through specially crafted embellishments.
His third book of madrigals was published in 1615. As did Monteverdi in his fifth book, d’India provides continuo parts which he says are non–optional for the last eight numbers. Also that year his Musiche a due voci (“Music for Two Voices”) came out, wherein he makes the same distinction between madrigal — through–composed, non–repeating — and aria — strophic — as did Caccini in Le nuove musiche. Written–out ornamentation is again the norm although, unlike Luzzaschi, a continuo bass is given instead of a complete keyboard part.