Vincenzo Galilei

        Romanesca undecima con cento parti

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Sopra il medesimo passemezzo 11°
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Vincenzo Galilei 1581 Dialogue: “Happiness is to know and understand”

A diary

Dialogo della musica antica, et della moderna 1581

Palazzo Bardi

Libro d'intavolature di liuto 1584

In 1581 Vincenzo Galilei published a theoretical work entitled Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna. It substantiated discussions and experiments in Giovanni Bardi’s Camerata Fiorentina about how to revitalise Ancient Greek Drama. The Book is full of new ideas: for instance musicians should study how actors express themselves on stage, to learn how to bring all affects.

Vincenzo’s creative thoughts and insights were fuelled by the Camerata’s talks and he came up with new ideas and compositions. In 1582 and 1583 Vincenzo experimented with singing epic poetry. One text was from Dante’s Divine Comedy: the lament of count Ugolino. He set to music the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Responses for Holy Week. He also set in a hurry ten stanza’s of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. This music is lost.

In 1584 Vincenzo composed and compiled an Intavolatura di liuto. It included a musical parade of more than fifty Greek personages whose names augur many opera heroines to emerge, like Euridice and Ariadne. In the manuscript additions even a Viva Don Giovanni is enclosed. There is virtually no history of its reception.

Oscar Chilesotti accused Galilei in 1905 of excessive uniformity and therefore monotony, which Fabio Fano parroted in 1934. In 1954 Nino Pirrotta stated: Galileo’s father never does face up the real problem of how a return to ancient monody was to be effected. Howard Mayer Brown supposed in 1992 that Vincenzo made standard chordal progressions more intellectually impressive by naming them after Muses and other, most classical, ladies. In 1993 a facsimile of the 1584 Libro was published with a preface by Orlando Cristoforetti, who presumed that Vincenzo had a botanical interest: naming some compositions after herbs and plants. In 2003 Claude V. Palisca - the authority on Vincenzo’s legacy - reduced the importance of the 1584 manuscript to a footnote¹, describing where to find a list summing up its pieces.

Scarcely mentioned in secondary literature there is a contradictionary element in the cases it is: these are big names in the field of musicology. In his 1581 Dialogo Vincenzo argued that an authority is not necessarily right.

Different qualifications were phrased by lutenist Žak Ozmo who recorded twenty pieces of Tones I – IV in 2015 and stated that he discovered a surprising amount of musical refinement within its limited format.

The 1584 intavolatura is like a conceptual dairy of Vincenzo’s thoughts during the early eighties, facing what was asked for and putting his money where his mouth was.

Here the focus is on one of its parts: The Romanesca undecima con cento parti. It is one of its crown jewels and a sublime masterpiece. This article describes its features and analysis its concepts. Special attention is given to the possible of its use for declamation of epic poetry. Did Vincenzo document with this monodic music the best of his experiments before the Camerata?

Primary goal of this project is to provide for an accessible score and clear analysis. The kind I would have liked to read when I bought a facsimile in 2001 from Studio per edizioni scelte at the bank of the river Arno in Florence, which left me puzzled. This article logs my personal journey and thoughts.

[1] Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music dated 1591 by Vincenzo Galilei |Translated, with Introduction and Notes by Claude V. Palisca dated 2003; page XIX footnote 6.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Most of those are like the simple-minded herbalist who know of plants nothing but their names.”

Tuning and lute specifics

The 1584 intavolatura was composed for a lute with twelve frets in well-tempered tuning on the neck and six courses pitched G5 · D5 · A4 · F4 · C4 · G3.

The gut strings came from a sheep or a wild animal such as a wolf. From the entire length of the gut of one beast one could obtain all necessary strings: from one end to the other little by little they get thicker and harder. On the lute sheep and wolf sometimes sweetly sung together in a cruel constellation.

Some sellers coloured gut strings azzura blue or pavonazza red.

Particularly the gut bass strings, course five and six, tended to be slightly false in the high register, part of an unintended charm associated with wolf’s crying but contradictory to the intended goal of demonstrating equal temperament in practice.

Seemingly simple the passage below is actually technically very demanding, high up the neck strings has to be plucked with more force, pressurizing the player who has to balance four voices – and corresponding with the tensions of the uttered affect.

Seemingly simple the passage below is actually technically very demanding, high up the neck strings has to be plucked with more force, pressurizing the player who has to balance four voices – and corresponding with the tensions of the uttered affect.

Part 78 measure 11 notable notes:
course three position
11 (unique for this Romanesca)
course two highest positon 12th fret
course one highest note X (always a short passing note in this romanesca)

Seemingly simple the passage below is actually technically very demanding, high up the neck strings has to be plucked with more force, pressurizing the player who has to balance four voices – and corresponding with the tensions of the uttered affect.

The setting of tab and staff enables to observe and compare structures at a glance.

Vincenzo Galilei | Eumatius 1584: “Each time I come to the banks of the river I seem to be transported from the torments of Hell to the pleasures of Paradise.”

Meter and harmony

The meandering river of the 2000 measures of the Romanesca undecima con cento parti is never the same. For those who long for stability: that is not what this romanesca has to offer.

The result of all the turbulence and turmoil is an experience of ongoing movement & omnipresent transformation, a song sang from a book of changes, privileging no single point of view, like Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Harmony and meter determine its flowing character and fleeting features. One never gets a firm footing on the ground of the romanesca's harmonic centre, the current is too deep.

It also escapes the waves of a steady scaled threefold heartbeat due to musical accents that do not coincide with the metric, often alternating 3/8 with a 3/4 time signature.

Romanesca undecima part 1 measure 1 & 2 left the domain of the scribe, right extended to a possible performance by a musician and experience of his audience:

Romanesca undecima part 1 measure 1 & 2 left the domain of the scribe, right extended to a possible performance by a musician and experience of his audience:

It’s usual to have melodic, rhythmical, numerical, harmonic and articulatory accents in contrast to the meter – but in the romanesca their positioning (regularly on the fifth eighth note in a row of six)  pleads for merging two 3/8 measures to one 3/4 and as such undermines the steadfastness of the 3/8. The footsteps of the bass also alternate two rhythms.

The overall result is that one never can tell for sure what pulse to hear or count to rely on.

Two preluding passemezzi are noted in 2/4 and 4/4. The difference between these signatures is subtle, one senses duplication. The dissimilarity between 3/8 and 3/4 - both could be detected in the romanesca - is opposite: six eight notes grouped in 3/8 suggests two bars one two three four five six, while a 3/4 time divides one bar into 3 groups of 2 eighth notes going one two three four five six. They have a common emphasized first beat but are otherwise adversely accented.

These numbers may seem dry but for the listener this stream is teeming with life.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Cipriano de Rore, a musician truly unique in his style of counterpoint.”

Music theory

Music theory is mostly descriptive  – acts following facts. In Vincenzo’s case the order was sometimes reversed: form follows theory. His study of the ancients thought him that voicing a heroic poem was free of regular rhythm, not done in a continuous flow. This was a starting point that had to be realised. Without ancient examples the question was: how?

There were modern musical issues where the concept of regular rhythm caused problems and that the scribe Vincenzo encountered daily or weekly. The output of two composers, both mentioned in Vincenzo’s preface for his first lute libro of 1563, are connected to this topic.

Cipriano de Rore was praised by Vincenzo above all because he succeeded in clear text expression & unintentionally fulfilled the ancient ideal. Although not unprecedented he was one of the first to promote black notes: notating the music in C instead of alla breve | half time. Graphically the shorter times values resulted in a darker page.

This was not simply an exercise in halved note values: no exact proportional relationships exists between C and alla breve.

Theorists broke their head over cases wherein long units had to be divided not in two but three parts for the sake of measure.

This question arose from scribing composed music. The same question popped up in a complementary situation: playing from notation without bars. The modern text critical edition with barlines of the music of Francesco de Milano – the other composer mentioned in Vincenzo’s preface & who’s style he pastiched – faced this point recording Vincenzo’s ricercares from 1563: taking position contradicts the ambiguous nature of this music.

The theorist Giovanni Artusi mentioned in 1589 that Vincenzo ran a music school in Florence (“Sonatore di Leuto et Mastro da Scola”) : the ambiguous rhythmic aspects would have been encountered during lessons.

Modern problems were an answer to the question how one could be free from regular rhythm. Ambiguity was a phenome of the real world, not rare but ordinary – embracing it on a conceptual level was a mastermind choice.

Sometimes the four voices move in different meters, for example alt, soprano & tenor in 3/8 while the bass waves in 3/4.

In the romanesca undecima sporadically a bar can be detected with two beats,
part 51 measure 5 hemiola:

In the romanesca undecima sporadically a bar can be detected with two beats,

Irregularly distributed those hemiola surprises and spices -  they don’t need to be pressed into the straitjacket of an overall meter. Especially the two clusters of running sixteenth increasingly contain this type of hemiola.

Contrasts typifies the inventiveness of the music.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The Phrygian was suited to anger and the aggrieved person who shrieks. The Lydian to one who exults from joy.”


Vincenzo was a man who spoke, wrote and composed in oppositions – partly because of the nature of his pioneering studies and partly because of the essence of his art and being.

Part 1 measure 3 and 4:

This opening fragment starts with a C major chord in root position. The modern word chord was used regularly by Vincenzo.

This opening fragment starts with a C major chord in root position. The modern word chord was used regularly by Vincenzo.

Alt, tenor and bas play around C major in unclouded happiness. The soprano exposes a contrasting motif e – f – g – e: small intervals containing much sorrow, characteristic for the Phrygian modus.

The f was Lydian tonic soprano note in measure 1 and 2: in these next two measures it encompasses the role of minor second.

The motif is repeated and variated in the parts 1 – 4. A different kind of expression is accomplished in parts 5 – 8 where the motif is transformed to e – fis – g – e. This exploits the impact of f versus fis in the role of semitone or whole tone secunde.

A grand dramatic role in the Romanesca undecima can be attributed to the difference of f versus fis in the form of minor or major third.

These examples illustrate Vincenzo’s predilection for contradictions and shifting meanings.

This was not unlike the contradicting sources concerning Ancient Greek music.

Although Vincenzo distilled clear text communication as their ideal, the multiple voices of ancient sources sounded more as a cacophony, in the same way as modern vocal counterpoint sounded to his ears.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The rules should serve harmonic usage to express the ideas of soul by means of words with a suitable affection.”

Dividing a part

There are hundred parts. Every part consists of twenty bars that can be divided in three groups.

The first group has eight bars which can be subdivided in four units of two. In most units there is one triad shining in the limelights: here respectively F – C – Dm – A. Tension is fuelled by the potential dominant function of the A major triad.

The second group of eight bars also starts with the units F – C. This repetition divides the first group from the second. It is followed by a split unit Dm – A and closes with D: the first concluding cadence. Dramatic surprise is the Picardy augmented third in the closing unit.

The last group has four bars, starting with another split unit: G – A. This second concluding cadence suggest to end in Arcadian D with its Picardy (meaning major) third but many times a final shivering fall into a river of tears is accomplished by an f in the role of minor third.

In those cases where the Picardy third is sustained and not disturbed, the revolving start with an f triad in root position in the following part still ensures that the bottom is swept away under your feet.

The description of the pattern of the parts may be dry, but for a listener the result is diving into an impetuous experience.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “After long experience they learned what displeased, what generated boredom, and finally what delighted the hearing.”


The classic harmonic bass pattern of the romanesca is:

III—VII—i—V      III—VII—i-V—i

Vincenzo’s romanesca pattern goes:

III—VII—i—V      III—VII—i-V—I      IV-V—I(i)

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The most noble part of music is not the harmony but the thoughts and states of the soul expressed by means of words.”

Principal notes

The Romanesca

Traditionally the romanesca triads accompanied a melodic formula:

Traditionally the romanesca triads accompanied a melodic formula

In the soprano part four and five descending notes express lament.

Compare this with Vincenzo’s melodic frame for the Romanesca undecima con cento parti:

What’s striking: the lack of the descending four and five note lament in two parts, the sobbing melodic repeats - the romanesca is crying a river, the extension with a another cadence, the prominence of the Picardy third, and the limited melodic scope.

What’s striking: the lack of the descending four and five note lament in two parts, the sobbing melodic repeats - the romanesca is crying a river, the extension with a another cadence, the prominence of the Picardy third, and the limited melodic scope.

Not visually illustrated in the above graphics is another notable difference: Vincenzo’s harmonic waves move very slow.

What did Vincenzo achieve with this stripped melodic frame? It brought simplicity for the improviser and dramatic depth with its contradictory harmony.

The lack of the traditional melody in Vincenzo’s frame doesn’t mean it’s not there. Quite the contrary: its everywhere, but not on the level of the melodic framework. On a different scale every single frame-note is unceasing embellished by four or five descending notes or an ascending pendant.

On the melodic level each frame-note is a romanesca on its own and its recursive appearance causes a Droste effect. Conceptually it puts a magnifying glass on every step, creating miniature comedies and tragedies.

Every main melodic note is the centre for the traditional romanesca melodic formula. Starting on f it has a Lydian character, swirling around e one senses a Phrygian flavour. On d Doric proportions seems to be dominant.

Fifteen romanesca undecima parts are slightly different: they start on Dm and tend to lean more on D minor as Doric. Their triads change at greater speed. In their last bar there is no shift from augmented to minor third. Not emphatically recognizable they demarcate on a grand scale halfway, thirds, quarters and a fifth.

Parts 49 and 51 are an example: giving middle part 50 some emphasis with mirroring harmonic deviations on its accompanying sides. This is not mathematics: just some Vitruvian clarity casually applied. The Romanesca key melody notes are not changed in these parts.

Parts 97 - 100 have slightly different melodies in the principal notes, having great expressive impact, giving them individuality, which distinguishes these parts from the others. They are special.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Seriousness was always in great repute and curiosities were vilified among the most prised ancient musicians. ”

Melodic elements

Simple elements construct easy to combine melodies:

Simple elements construct easy to combine melodies

      Looong notes        Motif         Traditional lament                 Triad          Scale

It was the soprano that had the air | melody. Long notes, motif and triad are embellished by the traditional lament and scales. The principal long notes, motif and the different scales met Vincenzo’s view of how Ancient Greek features were to be realised.

The motif manifests itself in the role of subject. Too small to deserve the definition of theme, it functions as such, and appears in many rhythmic and harmonic shapes within a great range of affects.

Motif and lament are main substance of alto and tenor. The triad as melody is mostly located at the end of group two and three. Different scales or sets of intervals embody affects and connect and separate voices. In Vincenzo’s view every pitch represents an affect on its own: all elements would metamorphose on every tone, having a different impact.

The bass walks with leaps but doesn’t hesitate to take part on an elementary level.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Sakadas organised the variety of harmonia throughout his song with such industry that his work and achievement were held in greatest esteem. ”

A Greek salad

Vincenzo stated in the 1581 Dialogo that the most important and principal part of music is to express all affections described by a poet with marvellous art.

Exemplary was the Ancient Greek Sakadas, famous for his festival victories, who organized a variety of harmony throughout a song by mixing three tonos: Dorian, Phrygian & Lydian.

Girolamo Mei 1573: “Those who practise the genre of poetry were called epic. Tragedy, comedy, satyr play and hymn were referred to by melic.”

A Lydian opinion

Diego Ortiz 1553

One could consider the beginning of a romanesca as the harmonic centre. An example of this point of view can be found in Diego Ortiz’s Recercada settima with a romanesca scheme: it is noted in Lydian and therewith taking the first triad as base for the written mode. Ortiz’s choice is a minority opinion, but illustrative for the ambiguous core of the romanesca.

Vincenzo likely knew Ortiz’s collection: it was published in 1553 in Rome by Valerio & Luigi Dorico – a decade later the same house printed his first book.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The Harmonia of the Dorian mode had the best reputation.”

A Doric view

Pinpointing Dorian as mode one could wonder: where exactly does this happen? 

The minor triad d f a manifests halfway group one and halfway group two. One could say that the most important triad has the character of a passing note: how about that as main figure? This is daring art, subtle and courageous at once, perfectly equipped to imply meaningful connotations.

Sometimes group one or two starts with the d minor triad. In those passages the harmony mostly moves twice, three or four times faster as usual. There is no stable bass nor base in this world.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “There is no lack of corrupt composers who sought to paint the words.”

Four parts one emotion

Four romanesca undecima parts separated by double barlines form one division of emotions -  and closing with triple barlines.

There are twenty-five divisions, each expressing one kind of feeling. The Romanesca River is a stream of consciousness stringing Affects: a River of Woe and Tears.

What’s magic: with the same simple bricks an encyclopically catalogue of emotions is compiled. It’s not all sombreness; how happy and cheerful are the punctuated melodies of parts 37 – 40!

Lorenzo Giacomini, triggered by Giovanni Bardi who reported in 1584 about the monumental treatise on Poetry written by Francesco Patrizi, lectured that the better a composer learned to sustain an affection, the more thoroughly could he induce purgation through simulated passion. This is why according to the Doctrine of the affections, the doctrine of how to spiritually move the mind with music, one piece of music should express one emotion.

Vincenzo mocked musical word painting in his dialogue. When there is weeping and laughing in one stanza the composer should not adorn these words.

Four romanesca undecima parts are one piece of music, aiming at purgation by means of a single affect.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The ancient used to proceed in playing and singing by conjunct steps rather than by separate leaps and to seek out few notes.”

Picardy third

The Picardy third is an augmented third ending a session or a final with a happy expression, while the minor scale would predict otherwise. In the Romanesca undecima con cento parti the Picardy third is so ubiquitous that it undermines the minor scale. There is never a decisive factor who reigns.

In many parts of the romanesca undecima in the last measure a single voice has a melody with a fis in it and a f. The note f has a very sad expression in this constellation.

In those cases in which the voice sticks to the fis the effect of the switch is transferred to the opening triad f of the new part. That major triad now has a sad undertone. The roles are reversed: the Picardy third contributes to the lamentable. This gives depth to the current.

Sometimes two voices perform the trick: with an long fis note on the third open course and a poignant f in the melody, part 71 last measure:

Sometimes two voices perform the trick: with an long fis note on the third open course and a poignant f in the melody, part 71 last measure

Fronimo translated and edited by Carol MacClintock In his book Fronimo Vincenzo wrote about the emotional nature of thirds according to their being not only major or minor but also to the context where they were found: they sound more or less happier according to the particular place where the major  - raised - third is.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The lute and the viola d’arco are apt for such as the Dorian harmonia and grave and severe affections.”


III—VII—i—V      III—VII—i-V—I      IV-V—I(i)

The first group A major triad represented by a V capital has the potential to function as the dominant in a concluding cadence. As such it has the power to boggle on the function of the first triad on the second group.

As a consequence turning things upside down the F triad of the second group symbolised by III is sometimes replaced by the D minor triad. In those cases the connection of group one and two is that of a concluding cadence without Picardy third.

End and beginning in one it distinguishes itself from the other cadences in the romanesca scheme.

A romanesca’s blueprint is sometimes qualified as renaissance blues but that is a simplification of the romanesca’s cadence wealth.

The continual propulsion fed by cadence variation prevents monotony.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Others want you sometimes to sing on the words without staff lines, signifying the names of the notes with the syllable-vowels or solmization.”

Senza canto

A marginal note to the last four parts reads: “queste quattro ultime son’ senza canto”. The ambiguous nature of the romanesca undecima also includes this concept. Words can have multiple meanings. What does canto mean?

Canto is the name of the highest string, in lute jargon also called chanterelle.

Although small - there is repertoire composed for instruments with a missing course:

Marco Dall'Aquila (c.1480-after 1538) Recercare senza canto
Bernardo Gianoncelli († before 1650 in Venedig) Corrente senza canto
Elias Reusner
(18 September 1555 - 1 Oktober 1667) Courante sine quinta, quarta et tertia
Jacques Gallot (c. 1625 – c. 1695) Chaconne sans chanterelle "Le Doge de Venise" 

Other composer who ventured this genre are:
Sylvius Leopold Weiss (12 October 1687 – 16 October 1750)
Ernst Gottlieb Baron (17 February 1696 – 12 April 1760)

The tiny top string could break any moment. When concerting a lutenist could switch the program to these pieces. This was not ideal. Another string could have snapped. The broken off piece wasn’t restored but remained brutally unaccomplished. The followed up program would end soon because these compositions are short. Restringing or replacing the instrument would enable a prepared musician to pursue as planned.

When a string would snap at home in the hands of an improvising lutenist the lack of stock could inspire to compose with restrictions. The results has artistic quality on its own: a lowered register opened a realm with special sonorities. Achieving this effect could be an goal on its own. Ending the Romanesca undecima con cento parti with parts without a top string could have been motivated by an artistic choice.

Vincenzo recalled in his 1581 Dialogue the story of Evangelus who on stage at the Pythian competitions broke three strings of his lyre. Wishing to compensate for the defect, which perhaps had happened to him in rehearsal, he took the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery. Galilei remarked: some moderns have similarly used and continue handicaps.

What does canto mean? touches another question: are the parts meant to be cherry picked or is there dramatically built up unity in the whole?

A few have argued that making a small personal selection is the purpose of the outline of the manuscript. For them a small bouquet prevents it from being boring and a large scale design is declared non-existent.

For example Louis Gasser in his dissertation on Galilei mentions that it is unlikely that the variations of the romanesca undecima were intended to be performed in a row, which would result in a composition lasting one hour.

There are features that make the Romanesca undecima a narrative with a grand scale view, to be chronologically experienced at once. This is achieved by the order of Affects and the means by which they are realised.

As the expedition continues more and more dissonants starts pouring in, to name one. Or consider the working towards the high register and the highest notes or the hints that the sonorities of the lowest five courses will take over in the end. These are not random or loosely compiled parcels.

Having eye and ear for this blueprint appeals to the listener's imagination; it takes effort, but plunging into the deep is rewarding.

The Affect of the four parts senza canto is suited to end an epic journey: there is resignation, defeat and acceptance, beauty and sadness.

Could canto in the case of the Romanesca undecima also mean top voice? As it does in Vincenzo’s 1584 Fronimo and in the 1584 Contrapunti a due voci?

The 1584 Contrapunti starts with a five voiced fugue on a sonnet by Petrarch and is continued by pieces without words going through all modes. The preface written by his nine year old son Michelagnolo states that the top voice of the duets could also be sang. Which words or vowels and consonants is one supposed to sing? Was Petrarch’s sonnet supplier?

Notating voice and instrument on one sheet was a complicated and expensive mission. An example of how Vincenzo’s 1563 original composition Cosi nel mio cantar  - words are by Dante, cantar being an replacement for parlar - for lute and voice was scored in print:

Notating voice and instrument on one sheet was a complicated and expensive mission. An example of how Vincenzo’s 1563 original composition Cosi nel mio cantar  - words are by Dante, cantar being an replacement for parlar - for lute and voice was scored in print

The vocal melody doesn’t have its own staff line, there is no specification which note belongs to which word. Without the vertical words on could classify this as pure instrumental lute music. Vincenzo's sheet music for singing is here graphically similar to instrumental music.

Besides the tilted words and printing technics the difference between this score and the romanesca undecima is lack of bar lines. Placing musical and syllable accents was a craft that took experience and insight, and let room for individual choices.

Could the top voice of the Romanesca undecima be sang? Are the last four parts without singing, defining an instrumental outerlude? The sober powerful melody being purely instrumental?

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Evangelus, wishing to compensate for the defect, which perhaps had happened to him in rehearsal, took the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery more forcefully. ”


In the 1584 Libro d’intavolatura fermatas are positioned in two ways, distinctive between reverberation of sound or persistence of rest.

Above notes it prolongs their time value, settling down and indicating an end. Above triple bar lines it appends a short interval of silence, creating tension between sections of a work.

Romanesca undecima part 100 concludes with a cliff-hanger, switching again from the never tiring and ever surprising sudden impact of the reversal of the Picardy third, going from major to minor, from comedy to tragedy, from happiness to the river of tears, ending without an end:

Romanesca undecima part 100 concludes with a cliff-hanger, switching again from the never tiring and ever surprising sudden impact of the reversal of the Picardy third, going from major to minor, from comedy to tragedy, from happiness to the river of tears, ending without an end

What happens next and where does it end? Vincenzo did not annotate which piece to connect. The manuscript follows with an addition to romanesca uno. This sequence originated in unplanned inspiration and they aren’t supposed to stick.

Inserting the Romanesca undecima con cento parti before the earlier scribed romanesca undecima is troublesome. The creative outburst of the Romanesca undecima con cento parti dwarfs its predecessor and is out of scale with the other pieces of part I of the 1584 Libro.

Could it be that the multiple, growing, developing concepts made the manuscript a too many-headed animal which lastly determined its fate – reason why, despite all the care, inspiration and energy, the manuscript didn’t make it to be published?  

It is like as if Bach inserted Die Goldberg-Variationen to Das Wohltemperierte Klavier.

Skipping the original romanesca undecima and continuing with the saltarello undecima also seems unfulfilling for the same artistic reasons.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “When the ancients were first learning to sing something, they set the pitches of these to the words of the verse while striking the strings of the instrument that was in unison with the voice. ”


A fulfilling candidate to end the ride is the Ritornello Secondo penned on page 78. Designed for closure, suited for its ambiguous role going from one foot to the other, it tiptoes on a short stroll, pirouettes and does what it should do: end it all.

Composed for five courses - this time the lowest bass course is silent - it is a pendant to the last four parts of the Romanesca undecima con cento parti.

The ritornello had a history as the final lines of a 16th century madrigal and functioned as an instrumental refrain or closure for a vocal composition. It confirms the key: starting and finishing with the tonic.

This Ritornello is squeezed in between part 21 and 22 and could also be applied after every part defining an early break. Why was it scribed here? There was short space left on page 78 after part 21 and that part’s last bar resembles the final of part 100, which could triggered and inspired Vincenzo to neatly document this unit over here.

Earlier another hastily penned ritornello was added to page 37 for romanesca sesta, detracting the groomed manuscript.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The difference between modes consisted principally in tension and relaxation of the strings and not as with modern practice where the difference is determined by the final.”

Fronimo’s ending

Vincenzo’s Fronimo handed the final as decisive for the mode. This had a practical reason: a preluding lutenist has to help a singer start on the correct pitch. The last chord or note of the prelude and the beginning of the follow-up were usually the tonic, but the relationship between the two could also be a fifth-tonic cadence formula.

Fronimo’s criterium of the final narrowed the scope of the question and speeded up making a quick decision for a specific situation. It did not implicate Vincenzo was of the opinion that the final in general was decisive.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “I wish to reprint Fronimo with a greater abundance of secrets than in the first edition and other things that are very useful and necessary.”

Ready for print

The 1584 manuscript and Fronimo have many ties. In Fronimo 1584 Vincenzo stated that he had 120 books with intabulations and original compositions ready for publication. He declared that every musician should have a library (more specifically: his library).

The 1584 manuscript with the romanesca undecima must have been the first book he wished to publish. With his dedication of Fronimo 1584 to Jacopo Corsi he must have hoped for a financer for the project. Just as his dedication of Fronimo 1568 to the Duke of Bavaria had been very profitable for him.

The enormous amount of 120 books probably didn’t make a clear financial business case. Starting with one ready for print was an improvement for attracting any participant, but history tells there were none.

Vincenzo’s library was a great treasure – now lost forever, but the surviving distilled 1584 manuscript has more the volume of a gold bar than as a nugget.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “To stimulate great and capable minds to put such a noble science into practice and to seek to restore it to its first and happy state.”

How the manuscript was used

There are some small telling clues. Focussing on the romanesca undecima there are relevant indicators. Part 7 is thoughtlessly repeated and in part 60 three bars are missing: because they are not corrected one might presume that they were not seen after neatly scribing the pages.

Vincenzo’s creative mind didn’t stop when it became clear this book wouldn’t make it to the press. He kept adding new pieces, but because there was no need to be neat the handwriting deteriorated dramatically.

A different kind of clue can be found on one of the last pages: a different hand made a list of copied pieces. One possible scenario is that this is the handwriting of his son Michelangelo who made an inventory of the pieces he had studied.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “They repeated the same kind of one of this airs for each group of lines, not unlike when a capitolo is sung to the lute and also in dance songs.”

Contrapunti a due voci

Contrapunti a due voci

Michelangelo wrote in the 1584 preface of the two-voiced contrapunti that Vincenzo composed them recently in a couple of days, nonetheless some can be found in 1568 Fronimo.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The simplicity of only two voices does not fully satisfy the hearing.”

Fronimo additions

Two copies of Fronimo 1568 are of very special interest: the Landau & the Riccardiana exemplars. Both are bonded with handwritten additions by Vincenzo. They are gold sieves filled with nuggets.

Not all handwriting is by Vincenzo, a none identified hand can be detected in both copies. An substantiated plea can be made that this are time machines giving an image of the young Galileo learning how to compose, play lute and sing poetry. (Galileo’s first biographer and personal assistant wrote that Galileo surpassed his father on the lute in grace and invention.)

More relevant to the issues discussed here are the passemezzi, romanesca con 4 parti, gagliarda, aria de sonetti & aria de capitolli in Vincenzo’s hand. Many things can be deducted from them.

The notation is more elaborate as in the 1584 manuscript - specifying the use of the index finger and dampening of chords: valuable information for the learning lutenist and us. Some romanesca’s are predecessors with rhythmic and harmonic variations of the 1584 manuscript romanesca’s. All are in the tonality c Dorian or C Ionian. They have no bar lines. The passemezzi, romanesca and gagliarda stand in line with airs for singing poetry.

Based on additions to 1568 Fronimo and the 1584 manuscript one can deduce that the 1584 Libro could be spanning a period from 1568 till 1591.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “And seldom if ever was an instrument heard without a voice .”

The Intermezzi - an Ancient Greek music festival

Theoretical writings

In 1579 Vincenzo Galilei composed a monodic madrigal for a Medici wedding, it was sung by  Giulio Caccini to an accompaniment of viols. Qual miracolo, Amore is incorporated in 1584 Fronimo and was a great success.

Giovanni Bardi was asked to contribute to the festivities of a Medici wedding in 1589. He set out the subject matter and programme - which in fact was realising Galilei’s ambition: recreating an ancient Greek music festival.

Members of the Camerata - a name coined by Caccini to commemorate the camaraderie of its participants - came up with Intermezzi. Writers included Bardi, Strozzi and Rinuccini; composers Bardi, Peri, and Caccini.

One composers name is remarkably missing: that of comrade Vincenzo Galilei. Why?

Vincenzo’s model was the culmination of a long refined tradition of epic poetry declamation. He had the reputation of using archaic passages and harsh dissonants: not the primary features one would look for in wedding music.

His experiments were designed for one performer without a stage for a small audience.

A presupposition: – this was outdated right on the spot. New possibilities were tested by his fellow composers, inspired by Vincenzo’s studies which opened a complete new spectrum of options. The new directions were funest for the sophisticated art of declamation of accompanied poetry. Opera killed the poetry star. No Ariosto or Tasso stood up in the 17th century: everything was changed. This doesn’t mean that no more ottava rima were made, but the heyday were over.

Vincenzo’s Camerata comrades immediately moved on. Now days Vincenzo is credited for being co-inventor of the recitative. Co-inventor Guilio Caccini wrote with respect about Galilei, but he did not mention Vincenzo when he documented the invention of the recitative.

Recitative was part of the next step, the step stone was monody and clear text declamation. Monody and clear text declamation is what there is to find in Vincenzo’s artistic legacy and there is no such thing as a missing recitative link. Vincenzo’s experiments with sung ordinary speech remained between the borders of the romanesca and the like.

Vincenzo’s polemic nature and his writings against Zarlino in 1587 probably weren’t a guarantee for a sunny mood. Difference of insight was taken personally and he wasn’t able to put it into perspective. He got stuck in the controversy.

For us it resulted in eleven (undecima) theoretical texts from the last decade of his life, with many specifications how Ancient Greek music was to be implemented in the modern. The 1581 Dialogue and the eleven texts bridge concepts to crystal-clear rules. It is a pity that his late writings didn’t reach collective consciousness.

In 1582 Vincenzo wrote to the Duke of Mantua that he liked to see his speculations corroborated by a practical art. In 1589 he wrote about the Camerata as something of the past. Something must have gone seriously wrong.

The Intermezzi of 1589 were a result of many working together; all talented man with strong opinions. Vincenzo’s vision and character had made a cooperative goal impossible.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Ancient musicians were not accustomed to beat the measure.”


Fronimo 1584 is dedicated to Jacopo Corsi. He ran a salon like the Camerata. His star protégé was Jacopo Peri. They wrote the very first opera Dafne in 1597 – Vincenzo did not live to see and hear this, he died in 1591.

Peri wrote a crisp description of the recitative in the preface of his opera Euridice. Notes of Galilei and Mei appear in this account. In ancient tragedies actors sung all words but the melody was free of regular rhythm.

In the Romanesca undecima Galilei elaborated irregular rhythm which kept a pulse:

( ⅜ + ⅜ | ¾) ⁴ | ( ⅜ + ⅜ | ¾) ⁴ | ( ⅜ + ⅜ | ¾) ² 

Peri stunned and convinced with his inventive recitatives by abandoning the beat of the measure.

The music of Vincenzo’s experiments is lost and there is no record of his presence at Corsi’s meetings. In modern literature his concrete contributions to the originating of the recitative is something like a black box (a black vase). But it is possible to separate it from the well documented artistic innovations Peri can be credited for.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The song was performed with care for the meaning of the ideas of the text: which was designed to express the affections that the author wanted to signify with the words.”


Piero di Bardi a Giovanni Doni

Our single source for Vincenzo’s experiments is the music historian Giovanni Doni, who corresponded about it with Piero son of Giovanni Bardi in the early 17th century.

Doni was on a mission the restore the custom of reciting epic poems & in vain fought against its decline while opera flourished. He approached musical settings in the first place as literature and was preoccupied with subtle and clear text expression.

In Doni’s doctrine the stile recitativo was not appropriate for the theatre but more suitable for recitation of heroic poetry. He set out requirements.

The solo performer should sing many strophes of ottava rima on the same bass, through varying to some extent the main aria as the words require.

For accompaniment he suggested to be composed not one voice with a simple basso continuo, but the instrumental voices of an ensemble. The singer was accustomed not to follow any beat but with several instruments he was obliged to follow the meter.

Piero Bardi wrote that Vincenzo sang with a corpo di viole. This ensemble was in well-tempered tuning. Galileo's experiment apparently created some confusion for a certain roughness and too much antiquity was felt. Undoubtedly, it was generally liked, although jealous persons were not lacking, who, green with envy, at first even laughed at him.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Judicious and learned people investigate afterwards the agreement and proportion of its elements and its properties and nature.”

Corpo di viole

Why didn’t the experienced lutenist Vincenzo Galilei play lute at his Camerata experiments?

Suppose the romanesca undecima is representative for the monodic accompaniment Vincenzo composed for these occasions, and zoom in on this fragment:

The soprano part in this measure starts with the prolonged note g from the previous measure. That note is easy to sing or to sustain on a viol. On a lute it’s sounding is a miracle. The passage is dramatically important because it is short of an end – finishing a line just before the parts without canto. Bringing all four voices clearly and balanced on a lute is not impossible, but it is an Olympic achievement after an hour of playing.

The soprano part in this measure starts with the prolonged note g from the previous measure. That note is easy to sing or to sustain on a viol. On a lute it’s sounding is a miracle. The passage is dramatically important because it is short of an end – finishing a line just before the parts without canto. Bringing all four voices clearly and balanced on a lute is not impossible, but it is an Olympic achievement after an hour of playing.

For one case we know that Vincenzo had set 10 Furioso stanzas in a hurry – there wasn’t much rehearsal time. Writing out four voices for an ensemble restricts the need for intense rehearsal – professional players would even be able to sight read and play the parts instantly. This way the singer could fully concentrate on the vocals, applying what he had learned from the Zanni.

It was the singer who leaded the tempi, the instrumental players followed. The high voice was doubled: brought by a vocalist and an instrument.

In the 17th century the lute’s role in musical life would be replaced by the keyboard and ensembles of viols.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Perhaps people searched for a stringed instrument that had the ability to hold notes for their full time value, which conscientious players wanted to do without repercussing them.”

The theatre

Camerata meetings were frequently held not only at Bardi’s palace but also in a room of the Pallazo Strozzi. The same room was occasionally stage for intermezzi - in between fillers that had evolved into the main act on special occasions. Epic and drama took place at the same spot. But things were about to change. Florence’s first theatre was built in the years 1583/84 – it opened in 1586 with a play written by Bardi.

Vincenzo considered music of the theatre as tuneful and cheerful, but it had a fatal flaw: it didn’t nourish the soul, it was nothing but entertainment. He was harsh about it: this was for servants with their mental deficiencies, not appropriate for the noble.

Aristotle learned him that the fruit of true music was purgation of the soul by giving vent to and mitigating the passions. The false music of the theatre was for the common people.

By adapting this point of view Vincenzo had painted himself permanently in the corner. The floor was for drama.

Vincenzo might willingly excluded himself from participation because he considered it empty entertainment for the mass.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The music of the theatre: tuneful and cheerful, pass a little time in recreation, deriving delight from the sense of hearing without otherwise thinking – owing to a mental deficiency – to nourish at the same time the soul with virtuous and honest instrumental playing and singing.”

1589 the Chitarrone | Theorbo

Antonio Naldi was a lutenist employed at the Medici court. He was the inventor of the chitarrone, in later days called the theorbo, which made its debut and was to serve in the 1589 Intermezzi in the role of ancient cithara.

The last part of Vincenzo’s 1581 Dialogo was a thorough study on ancient and modern instruments and made a big contribution to these developments. Vincenzo may not have been on the setlist, but he didn’t write on water, he was all over the place.

Vincenzo had argued against the use of more than six courses in Fronimo, based on his experience with the quality of strings. But additions to the 1584 manuscripts shows he changed his mind in later years: several pieces are written for a lute with seven strings, an indicator that the quality improved.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “At that time neither the quantity nor the valour of the illustrious musicians of the past flourished any longer, and musical practice from that time on was dedicated to the theatre and little else.”

Madrigals 1587

Music theory is usually of not much use to contemporary composers because it describes archaic rules of preceding generations. Vincenzo's work was an exception.

His theories on vocal music must be separated from his ideals for instrumental music. The complex, well-ordered art of counterpoint was admirably suited to pure instrumental music, to which it should be confined.

Vincenzo had turned against the vocal art of counterpoint, which he had mastered. Galilei was poor and had a family. He was married to Guilia Ammannati who had a terrible temper. She was prickly and quarrelsome and never tired of pointing out that she came from a very noble family from which also came the famous cardinal Jacopo of Pavia and that they have to live accordingly in splendour.

Vincenzo had to make a living. One way could be exploiting the art he mastered: the art of counterpoint. In 1574 he had published his first book of madrigals – which might have been a profitable project. It was dedicated to Bianca Cappello – who married in 1579 and for which occasion Galilei composed his successful madrigal Qual miracolo, Amore.

In 1587 Vincenzo Galilei published a second book with madrigals written in prima pratica: full of every means he had so thoroughly mastered, dissect, mocked, disdained and had passionately fulminated against. The honourable Vincenzo Galilei swallowed a lot of pride to be able to eat. Putting his money where his mouth was had left him empty pocket.

The elements of the romanesca undecima undergo diminutions, augmentations, inversions and additions characteristic of four part counterpoint writing - but the result is monody. The romanesca undecima has a Janus head.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Great artists sometimes want to experiment to test the boundaries of their principles.”

A colourful metaphor

Georg Victorinus - Siren Coelestis

Johannes Donfrid - Quae Aestivi Temporis

The devotion of his son and first-class composer Michelangelo solely to instrumental music might have been motivated by the playground it represented: one without a voice telling him what to do. But when he was asked for a vocal composition he brought a telling tribute to everything he was taught.

In 1616 Michelangelo Galilei delivered a motet Filiae Jerusalem | Daughters of Jerusalem for three sopranos for an anthology compiled by the director of the Munich Jesuits Georg Victorinus. The anthology captured new developments in the field of composing. The motet was dressed in second practice, as the new way of composing was called.

Did Michelangelo address the Artusi - Monteverdi dispute about the new practice?

Giovanni Artusi had wondered how Claudio Monteverdi has preserved the chaste of the Daughters of Jerusalem (singing nuns) while he had made them become like a painted whore.

The polemic recapitulated the Zarlino - Galilei debate about composing wherein the prima and second pratica, the old and the new, were attacked and defended. In his treatise on counterpoint Vincenzo had compared the function of consonances in music with colours in painting. The colourful new way of composing sounded to Zarlino ears as going beyond what was decent. The dispute was followed by many.

The choice for three sopranos could have been a salute to the legendary singing girls of Ferrara who had given a great impulse to the art of the second pratica.

Michelangelo's motet was a clear artistic statement and like Monteverdi he didn’t theorize and diss but showed.

Vincenzo Galilei Nobile / Aristotle 1581: “We affirm that instrumental music is not for freeman but for servants and mechanical craftsman.”

Instrumental features

The romanesca was used as an aria formula for singing poetry and as a subject for instrumental variation. There is no watershed between vocal and instrumental music.

The Romanesca undecima has features typical for instrumental variation. Timbres are put next to each other by playing the same passages on different strings.

The Style brisé makes it mark and meets the list Wallace Rave compiled in 1972:

    o   the avoidance of textural pattern and regularity in part writing

    o   arpeggiated chord textures with irregular distribution of individual notes of the chord

    o   ambiguous melodic lines

    o   rhythmic displacement of notes within a melodic line

    o   octave changes within melodic line

    o   irregular phrase lengths

The broken style is at odds with the regularity of the romanesca scheme and adds an umpteenth ambiguous characteristic.

Part 80 opening measures | alternative positioning & broken style:

Part 80 opening measures | alternative positioning & broken style

Choosing undecima for a lengthy composition is practical because of the distribution of the function of the open strings. Open strings can be plucked and their sustaining sound is not depended of the left hand.

Course one is the tonic of the Phrygian scale, course two is characteristic as fourth of the Lydian and as sixth of the Doric, course three is the Picardy third for a scale on d, course four is the d tonic, course five its dominant, course six is leading tone to the tonic of the Lydian scale.

Course one and six are both an e (differing two octaves), but they are used very differently. Remarkable is that the sixth course is not regularly applied as tonic for the Phrygian scale: that must have been to undermining for the Romanesca’s harmonies.

Part 18 final bars | alternative positioning & open strings:

Part 18 final bars | alternative positioning & open strings

Vincenzo’s study of the ancient solo instrumental practice yielded a double-minded image: it didn’t exist & festivals with instrumental competitions were nothing but entertainment for simple minded servants.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “It is evident that the same affection can be expressed more efficaciously by the similar than by the different.”


Sarge Gerbode

Vincenzo was sent by Bardi on many travels to investigate sources for his study for the 1581 Dialogo. In 1588 Vincenzo noted that his library contained 14.000 intabulated pieces. This amount is sometimes qualified as mythical – surpassing what is plausible. To do some math: Vincenzo was born in 1520, when began at fifteen he had to intabulate five pieces a week.

When that was the only thing he did, he could go out fishing lifelong six days a week, meanwhile contemplating how to impress with numbers, easy chords and mostly classical ladies.

Compare this (the numbers) to the work of Sarge Gerbode who started using the computer program Fronimo (named after Vincenzo’s book) in the late 90’s to encode all lute music. Gerbode’s matching quantity put Vincenzo’s numbers in acceptable perspective.

Sarge Gerbode editions all use the same font and format, providing clarity and readability with a digital cleaned up copy of the original next to modern French tablature. The facsimile scans has mainly outdated quality.  The French tablatures neglects every individuality and opts for the generic in the writing, but it is very reliable and completed with annotated corrections. They include Vincenzo’s 1584 Intavolatura.

Although Vincenzo’s Library is gone forever it is appropriate that centuries later a digital library is compiled with tools bearing Fronimo’s label: and actually Gerbode’s books probably partly overlap the lost treasure.

Composers Vincenzo studied were among others Josquin des Prez, Jean Mouton, Nicolas Gombert, Arian Willaert, Cipriano de Rore, Giovanni Palestrina, Allessandro Striggio, Orlando di Lasso, Giaches de Wert, Annibale Padovano, Claudio Merulo, Constanzo Porta, Pietro Luinej, Gioseffo Guami, Claudio da Coreggio, and Luzzasco Luzzaschi. Galilei had a deep understanding of counterpoint and knowledge of its history.

Vincenzo’s work putting together a library gave him an excellent view on what was happening. He must have had a clear picture of the rise of instrumental music. He likely noticed the major steps Andrea Gabrieli took. Harpsichordist Glen Wilson observed that Gabrieli’s ricercare’s are a quantum leap beyond previous efforts and that he is the ancestor of Bach's fugues.

Gabrieli was a master in the use of augmentation - magnifying the length of his themes up to 4 times. His subjects have character and personality, there is unity by singularity and his ricercares are clear instrumental music: going where no singer or choir is able to go.

In 1585 Gabrieli composed choruses for a revival of an Ancient Greek tragedy, staged at the opening of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, which was a new approach separating parts.

Galilei and Gabrieli: their paths have likely crossed. Both composed a cycle of ricercares going through all degrees of the chromatic scale. Vincenzo’s lifelong friend Claudio Merulo, (they studied together at Zarlino in Venice) was first organist at the San Marco which housed two organs – Gabrieli was second organist.

Vincenzo Galilei 1589/91: “I repute to be most new and useful.”


Intavolature de Lauto di Vincenzo Galileo fiorentino, madrigali, e ricercate 1563

Ricercare Vincenzo Galilei juniore

Galilei published three sets of ricercares; in his first book 1563 Intavolature de Lauto and in his Fronimo editions 1568 & 1584.

The index of 1563 Intavolature does not specify who composed the six included ricercares, but in the preface Galilei states that he has added some ricercares by Francesco da Milano. On stylistic grounds it is more likely he composed them himself, the compositions lack typical instrumental features Francesco would have applied. As a musical pastiche it depends more on loosely quoting than on displaying a sharp understanding of specific compositional principles.

Vincenzo’s motives for handling this ambiguous way: attributing it in the preface but not subscribing it in the index - are unknown but could be manipulative marketing. Francesco’s pieces were in high demand.

The original compositions to which Vincenzo did put his name were all poetry set to music. Words were by Dante, Petrarch and Ariosto. He had a profound love for poetry.

Peter Argondizza has recently described the changes between Fronimo 1568 and Fronimo 1584 as a Foucauldian (meaning abrupt) shift. This puts asides Vincenzo’s gradual development after his study with Zarlino and conversations with Mei, Bardi and members of the Camerata which ultimately led to the Dialogo of 1581 and in which the extension from 8 to 12 modes is verbalised.

Bestseller Fronimo is about how to intabulate. Vincenzo’s library contained 14.000 intabulated pieces: they had vocal originals.

The short homophonic ricercares in Fronimo are meant as preludes for vocal or intabulated music - they do not stand alone as independent compositions. They serve and show no trace of the individuality of its subjects and the structures as achieved by Gabrieli or others in the frontline of purely instrumental music. Vincenzo’s interest was focused on vocal music.

Vincenzo’s library didn’t survive – but besides the 1584 manuscript there was another handwritten libro that did: one with an exceptional and monumental ricercare, squeezed in between madrigals by Constanzo Porta and Pietro Luinej. It is not unlikely that precise this ricercare is the reason why it was preserved, kept by the unknown composer.

The exceptional ricercare is a typical instrumental elaboration. It is an emulation on a subject and development by Andrea Gabrieli, it has 104 bars and ingenious counterpoint. It is written in a different hand. Likely candidates for subscription are his sons and outstanding lutenists Galileo and Michelangelo, and the son of Galileo: the talented poet Vincenzo Galilei (as in the 19th century outcome of Homer studies which concluded that the works of Homer probably weren’t by Homer, but by someone else, possible also called Homer).

According to Bardi it suits the player devising fugues, double counterpoints or other inventions, when voices are absent to make the parts move so as not to bore his listeners.

Vincenzo Galilei 1589/91: “Only those rules of counterpoint ought to be applied that serve to provide an accompaniment to the voice, not those that would produce independent parts to compete with it.”

Counterpoint treatises

The counterpoint treatises from Vincenzo’s late years 1589 – 1591 are an effort to allow greater latitude for text-expression. (Viviani - Galileo’s assistant and first biographer - scrupulously collecting the Galilei legacy, got these manuscripts mid-17th century tellingly from the son of Bardi.)

The human voice has limitations and instrumental music tends to escape from those boundaries. See, for example, features of the style brisé which originated in the limitations of the sound of the lute: more suggested as sounding long melody lines, spread over suggested multiple voices, with irregular leaps. This instrumental latitude is not playground in this late manuscripts describing how to use consonances and dissonances.

Vincenzo did not intend to theorise about instrumental counterpoint. He hoped that the famous composer and also good friend Allessandro Striggio would someday write an treatise on this aspect of composition because he was such a master of it. Striggio would write the libretto for Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Vincenzo Galilei 1589 - 1591: “But apart from the expert craftiness of instrumental music and of such activities, those who use this artful music to serve the spectacles do not strive for any virtuous goal but to give pleasure to listeners, and this pleasure is procured in a vile manner.”

Bardi’s idea

In 1578 Giovanni Bardi wrote a lengthy letter to the singer Guilio Caccini, who also played lute. The text is an eloquent prequel of Vincenzo’s 1581 Dialogue. In his discussion of instruments he wrote:

“I thought of revealing to you an idea that has often occurred to me. I would like you, from whom for various reasons a singular music would come, to adapt some beautiful air so that it can be played on a fitting instrument, an air with a grand and magnificent character, like that composed by the philosopher Memphis, to the sound of which, without speaking a word, by movements of his person, Socrates represented all the precepts of Pythagorean philosophy.”

For a moment visualise Socrates dancing Pythagorean philosophy.

. . . . .

Let’s proceed.

Caccini’s daughter Francesca, a very successful singer and lutenist, friends with Galileo, would compose an opera based on Orlando Furioso - which she labelled to be a ballet.

Vincenzo Galilei 1589 - 1591: “The ancient used to proceed in playing and singing by conjunct steps rather than by separate leaps and to seek out few notes.”

Vocal features

How does the 1584 libro fit this picture? Are there features that can be related to singing or text?

In 1591 Vincenzo wrote two essays about melodic composition and accompaniment. The secret of Greek art was limitation of means. The melody has to be constructed out of four notes. These four notes were not apt for expressing all affections. A voice can reach eight to ten notes without straining. A musician will use these according to the affection he wants to represent.

Tranquil soul seeks the middle notes, the excited spirit suit the high, the lamenting the low. Vincenzo noticed that the standard soprano melody of the romanesca does not extend the compass of a sixth.

The part sung was called aria or modo and it was the soprano who had the aria. Vincenzo referred to formula for terza rima and romanesca for ottava rime as soprano melodies.

Popular modern songs were a model for the qualities he appreciated in Greek art: their text-declamation was worth of imitation because it approached common speech. Their homophonic idiom embodied the ideal. The simple melodic style demanded simple harmonisations: triads in root position.

Counterpoint had developed into a complex well-ordered art and achieved a state of ultimate perfection. This art had to confine to purely instrumental music.

Vocal music had to return to the simple style of airs like the romanesca and passemezzo. Versus sung to the lute were “l’aria commune della terza rime, e quella della romanesca”. The latter tune was used to sing ottave rime.

In Vincenzo’s late essays romanesca’s are theoretically connected with singing – not with the technique of  instrumental variation.

The Romanesca undecima con cento parti meets the mentioned vocal characteristics. Facing the real problem of how a return to ancient monody was to be effected, he put in practice as phrased in his 1591 essays that four principal notes should construct the melody.

The melody of the romanesca undecima has four constructive notes d – e – fis – g.

Unstrained a singer can reach ten notes: the soprano melody in the romanesca undecima should not compass D6 – A4.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “One is not entirely satisfied to hear an air played without the song, or solo singing without hearing an instrument playing the air.”

Ottava rime accompaniment

In 1551 Girolamo Muzio described how ottava rime were performed: a pair of verse lines is song with accompaniment and ends with a cadence, the singer pauses and a short instrumental episode is played. The cadence prevents the audience from making faces, expressing dissatisfaction with the performance.

Each part of the romanesca undecima has the structure that allows to perform two hendecasyllabic (undecima syllables) lines and a short interlude. This is a simple explanatory model for the three groups of every part: group one and two have verse lines, group three is the instrumental bridge: a florid reprisa that prevents a singer from tiring.

It also explains why four parts are merged to one affect and closed by three barlines: it completes one stanza of the ottava rime.

How should verse lines fit the melody? Fitting meant following the rhythms and accents of the poetry and avoiding florid passages. The composer must move the listener to the passions expressed by the text.

Vincenzo Galilei1581: “There are not lacking examples of those who first composed the notes according to their fancy and afterwards adapted words to their taste.”

Fitting lines - the Barbaric and the Rigid

The Bottegari Lutebook, Air for terza rima & Air for ottava rima

The tradition of epic poetry declamation has ended, poorly documented it sank into oblivion.

There was a popular solution using short cuts for accompanying epic poetry. A survived stock melody and a few chord changes noted by Cosimo Bottegari shows how this was done.

Some historians have clung to Bottegari’s straw. This blurs the image: Bottegari’s templates, straight from the toolbox of the troubadours, are terrain of the improvising amateur with limited technical ability, tight theoretical and narrow historical knowledge, and restricted artistic imagination. It is an old song: this doesn’t mean they didn’t have great success, forms were used that had proven themselves to be of great effectiveness. But for true enthusiasts this kind of superficial performance with its generic approach was barbaric.

Besides a recipe for making accent mistakes there is another fatal flow that determines its fate: for effectively communicating profound and generic emotions one has to be specific. The ambition and strategy of expressing the epic in the short run will strand soon to a critical eye: the barbaric is boring.

There was an opposite solution, with strict rules striving for ultimate control. In Paris, in a parallel universe, not Bardi but Baïf (the music of chance is language-sensitive) had founded the Académie de Poésie et de Musique. Striving against barbarity and for a revival of Ancient Greek ethos they came up with something new: Musique mesurée. The Professionels: composers and singers set longer syllables to longer note values, and shorter syllables to shorter, in a homophonic texture but they sacrificed the metric.

Bardi and Baïf were not connected, but the specific, rigid rules of the Musique mesurée probably would have appealed to Girolamo Mei: the house historian of the Camerata (and Vincenzo’s vital entrance to Ancient Greek resources). Vincenzo Galilei with his free mind was a far better artist than to follow this kind of oxygen poor moulds.

There is common ground in the Barbaric and the Rigid: one from lack of and the other from knowledge, both came to a result where the bones stick out of the flesh.

Vincenzo Galilei was a gifted artist and found connection with the refined tradition of epic poetry declamation.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “After studying carefully the poem, what tonos and harmonia and which air suited it they sang it to the kithara impromptu and out of their heads.”

Keep the verse free

Giovanni Bardi’s 1578 letter to the singer and lutenist Giulio Caccini contains practical instructions:

“Sing music expressing as well as you can the long and the short and the rhythm of the entire verse. If for the pleasure of listeners you wish to make florid embellishments, for example, in a line of eleven syllables – our heroic – you will do it on the sixth or tenth syllable, which are almost always long. Nor should it seem to you to little if from one stanza of eight lines you draw sixteen charming, varied, delightful florid, passages, keeping the verse free and beautiful, without doing it any violence.”

Dividing ottava rima lines with a comma by means of passages set the verse musically free.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “They not only sang the same words and the same air at the same time with the same pitches but also the same meter and rhythm.”


Italian hendecasyllables have irregular accents. An accented syllable must coincide with a metric accent and unaccented syllables do not have to. Statistically most accents fall on the fourth, sixth and compulsory tenth.

Vincenzo’s ambiguous metrical design has flexibility and keeps the driving force of the impulse of the meter.

His ( 3/8 + 3/8 | 3/4 ) for one line has four accents that match in 3/8 and 3/4:

Vincenzo’s ambiguous metrical design has flexibility and keeps the driving force of the impulse of the meter.

There are four waves that could break as irregular as a hendecasyllable line.

The matching metrical accents could function as beacons for the singer. This is not strict mathematics: it is a smart design that allows for different choices.

His plan overcomes defects of the Barbaric and the Rigid, there is wisdom in the system.

Properties of the hendecasyllable simply explain the ambivalent rhythm of the Romanesca undecima.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “I will content myself to show them where and from who they may learn without much effort or trouble, and with the greatest joy how.”

How it was done

Vincenzo wrote that it was done in the same way the orators Cicero and Demosthenes expressed affections.

If modern composers wants to understand how orators did it they have to go to all sorts off plays and observe the Zanni (a nickname for actors, derived from the name Giovanni) in what manner and at what pitch, volume, accents and gestures, and tempi they speak and pay attention to the different characters.

From these characteristics, observed with attention an diligently examined, they could take the norm of what suits the expression of any other idea that might come to hand.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Every musical interval in the octave sees itself as if in a mirror, like the planets do in the sun.”


Diversarum speculationum mathematicarum et physicarum liber 1585 Giambattista Benedetti

The mathematician Giambattista Benedetti (1530 – 1590) formulated a law of motion which is sometimes unjustly described to Galileo. It is thought that Galileo derived his initial theory of the speed of a freely falling body from his reading of Benedetti's works.

A river is a free falling body.

Benedetti earned a title that sounded as music to Galileo’s ears: Court Mathematician and Philosopher. When Galileo in 1610 became famous overnight, he was in the positioning of setting requirements & insisted on getting this long-wanted title.

Benedetti was one of the first to embrace and defend Copernicus – and as specialist he knew what he was talking about. He had other preoccupations too: he was interested in music theory and corresponded about it with Cipriano de Rore. In 1581 he published some of these letters.

In 1581 Vincenzo published his Dialogo and it contained a heliocentric metaphor: laconically stating that planets orbit the sun as intervals do the tonic. (A similar laconically demonstrated acceptance of Copernicus's theory can be found in the essay An Apology for Raymond Sebond written by his contemporary Michel de Montaigne.)

Giovanni Zarlino bought one of the early copies of Copernicus’ Revolutionibus. Zarlino’s interest in Copernicus was limited, likely connected with the coming calendar reform of 1582, and the exemplar, which could have gone through Vincenzo’s hands in 1563 during his studies, embarks no annotations.

It was a subject that got Bardi's attention to, in his 1586 and 1589 Intermezzi choruses impersonated planets and moved in symbolic geocentric circles.

Girolamo Mei and Vincenzo Galilei discussed the relationship between planetary movements and those of the chorus in 1581.

It must have been Giambattista Benedetti who inspired Vincenzo to come up with his remarkable equation.

Other remarkable equations can be made.

Vincenzo Galilei 1589 - 1591: “It takes a different effort and knowledge to move the listeners to tears than to laughter.”

Keep it simple

96 simple quotes

In 1632 Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. One of its characters Simplicio is defender of the geocentric view and is portrayed as a simpleton.

Galileo states in the preface of his book that Simplicio is named after the famous Aristotelian philosopher Simplicius (and not represents Pope Urban VIII who’s words he layed in Simplicio’s mouth. Galileo would found out that putting words into the mouth of a simpleton can cause critical problems).

The historical Simplicius coined a famous river metaphor: panta rhei |everything flows to characterize the concept of the philosophy of Heraclitus: everything changes.

Heraclitus is also known as the Crying Philosopher.

Keeping it simple was a crucial devise of Vincenzo Galilei’s 1581 Dialogo. In the positive and negative sense – dialectics were his second nature. To quote one example: “Simpletons often believe that what they read in a book in whatever discipline – owing to their limited experience – is not found in any other book, whereas it is written in many books thousands of years earlier.” This relativation contradicts the concept of everything flows: don’t think everything is new.

It even can be (miss)understood as: don’t think anything is new. In his essays on consonance and dissonance Vincenzo addressed this impact and claimed credit for his original insights.

The word semplici is used 96 times in Vincenzo's Dialogo: providing enough lines to upholster 96 Romanesca parts asking for words. That is of course not something Vincenzo would have in mind. That’s just the music of chance singing along.

Using those quotes would be an illustration of a philosophical law of motion connecting concepts like a flowing river: it is difficult to follow the bedding long after the river has gone.

It would be the opposition of simpleness.

So which lines could Vincenzo have in mind for the romanesca undecima, what verses qualify, which words can be layed in the mouth?

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Every book we have in any important discipline was first composed and written by them.”

Holy week

Concepts and styles can be preserved by the process of imitation. Suppose all music of Jacopo Peri had vanished: we still could have a clear picture of his recitatives because we have Claudio Monteverdi’s Orpheo. In that hypothetical case it wouldn’t be possible to separate imitation from emulation, but we can firmly conclude there is a lot of Peri in Monteverdi.

Apply this mechanism to the monodic music for voice and basso continuo Emilio de'Cavalieri wrote in 1599 for the Holy Week: is there a part imitation of Vincenzo’s experimental music for the Holy Week?

Giovanni Doni, the historian on a mission, made a distinction between secular and sacred. Unrhymed verses, more weighty and free than ottava rima, were best suited to the sacred.

The lamentations of Jeremiah and The Responses for Holy Week were not set in ottava rima & therefore are not likely to be connected to the romanesca undecima.

Vincenzo Galilei 1589 - 1591: “Aristoxenus: a most eminent musician and philosopher.”

A cardinal banquet

Giovanni Mauro d'Arcano

I musici di Roma

The long tradition of declamation of epic poetry is scarcely documented, but there are testimonials.

Accompanying recited poetry was popular at literary academies and cardinal dinners in the years 1530 - 1540 in Rome. For example Giovanni Mauro d'Arcano describes in a letter from 1531 a cardinal banquet where the main topic was poetry and poetics.

The important grammarian Claudio Tolomei was present. Ancient books were thoroughly studied by this circle – Tolomei held twice a week discussions about Vitruvius and edited De Architectura.

Vitruvius is relevant in our context: the book contains clear passages about music, more in specific information about Aristoxenus, the theorist who hit the nail on his head - according to Galilei.

At the banquet the poet Marco di Lodi sang an extract of Dante's Inferno canto III (entering the gate of Hell, abandon hope all ye who enter here) accompanied by Pietro Polo on the lute.

Philippe Canguilhem mentions in his recent article of this milieu that Pietro Polo possessed a manuscript that by coincidence is preserved in a copy of the Divine Comedy, and it is exactly the part Polo had accompanied with his instrument that evening.

From letters from this decade and milieu we can deduce that our high standards of modern concerting practice were equally applicable then. Ultimate compliments: spontaneity, effortless performance and the illusion of improvisation – possible by talent and long, hard endless study and practise   were discussed in writing.

The Venetian Girolamo Ruscelli wrote in 1559 a treatise on composing verses in the Italian language and stated that poetry was almost always sung on such occasions.

Vincenzo Galilei’s early books testify in his selection of composers of his close ties with the Roman and Venetian cultural elite.

Modern history describes the origin of opera as being influenced by many genres. As far as Vincenzo Galilei’s theoretical and musical contributions are involved the tradition of reciting epic poetry stands out.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Men had beards before they knew how to sing well, for they needed in those primitive times to spend so much time learning to sing that the boyish voices were lost before they could be enjoyed.”

Go to hell

Marco di Lodi sang about entering the gate of hell.

Vincenzo Galilei ‘s experiment with count Ugolino is situated in hell.

Vincenzo’s 1584 manuscript includes a piece titled Viva Don Giovanni: that refers to a play about a rake who is dragged to hell by the statue of one of his victims. Galilei, studying the Zanni, must have had a keen eye for the potential of this plot. Tracing a historical performance of this popular play in the years 1584 – 1591 could make it possible to make substantiated presumptions to date Vincenzo’s inspiration for this addition to the 1584 manuscript. Apparently he made a shift from the epic to the melic and told one of his pet topics to go to hell.

Giovanni Bardi’s intermezzi of 1586 and 1589 had scenes located in hell.

In Monteverdi’s 1607 opera Orfeo descents into the underworld to pick up Euridice.

Hell was the place to be.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “The song that the ancient musician recited was most of the time an entire history, fable, or some heroic deed. He often took an hour or two to perform it.”

Hell’s size

On can always count on a Galilei for a grand scale view.

In 1588 Vincenzo’s son Galileo became instructor in perspective at the art academy in Florence after successfully determining shape, location and accurate size of Hell, based on Dante’s Inferno. Soon after he got the job he realised he made a mistake: he had scaled the size of Florence’s Dome to a geographic level, without taking into account that things change when they are enlarged. Grand scale constructions need stronger support.

The larger the animal the sturdier the bones.

When you listen to a lute concert or play from an anthology there is a constant: lute pieces are short. Compared to the romanesca undecima even relatively long pieces are short. The romanesca undecima is exceptional long  and shines on a different scale – taking more than an hour to perform.

Does it need Diplodocus bones or is there stronger material that carries its weight?

Text has the potential to bind together many separate sections. Words are the Trias skeleton that bonds the parts, it’s not the romanesca’s triad bones who does the trick. The romanesca undecima blossoms in a declarant role for vowels and consonants.

On its own without a voice it is seemingly boring because of a functional subordination: giving food to pound over easy chords. That appearance is a pitfall. Vincenzo masterly succeeded to show how to build up a story and not to be boring.

Staring at the simplicity of means ignores the effectivity, depth and meaningful complexities that is achieved with it. An appeal is made to the listener to have a grand scale view.

Presume Vincenzo documented with the romanesca undecima con cento parti his experiments with accompanying epic poetry than a consequence is that it is incomplete without it.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “To persuade people of true music would take the sword of the Paladin Orlando.”


Tutti i principii de' canti dell'Ariosto posti in musica 1559 Salvatore di Cataldo

Primo secondo et terzo libro del capriccio 1561 Jacquet de Berchem

Intabolatura di Liuto 1561 Jacomo Gorzanis

Salvatore di Cataldo set the first line of forty-six cantos from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in 1555. Jacquet de Berchem set 91 Furioso stanzas in 1561. Marginalized by history these madrigalists stood in the front row of artistic developments.

In the fifteen-sixties Jacomo Gorzanis published instrumental lute music: passemezzi and saltarelli going through 24 well-tempered modes. It’s well worth of making a comparison with Vincenzo’s output & among the notable features is the exploration of the different registers high up the neck of the lute.

Jacques de Wert, student and successor of Cipriano de Rore, wrote extensive madrigals with Furioso stanzas. He selected the most tense scenes. In his madrigals De Wert made use of the romanesca scheme. Claudio Monteverdi studied these intensely and copied and quoted large parts in his madrigals. De wert was criticized for using harsh dissonance and archaic passages.

Luzzasco Luzzaschi, who was praised by Vincenzo for many things, wrote a madrigal cycle with poetry from the Divine Comedy.

Out of sight for us, but the curious scribe and interested fisherman and traveller Vincenzo Galilei fulfilling his weekly duties had clear view.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “One is not entirely satisfied hearing solo singing without an instrument playing the air. In this way the actor was best heard by those around him and his voice was tired the last. The kitharist maintained pitch by means of the well-tempered instrument.”


Scherzi musicali Claudio Monteverdi

Cipriano De Rore, who was called the originator of the Seconda pratica by the brother of Claudio Monteverdi, set many Furioso stanzas to music. His text selections display a consistent preference. Some personae and a handful of contemplative aphorisms are enough.

The selected lines express deep felt emotions, honest and sincere but implicit there is awareness of a comforting setting providing consolation. As in The Decameron the teller dwells and attests of his heartbroken loneliness before listening aristocratic friends: there might be wine at hand and in the midst of all the misery implicit there is cosiness lurking around the corner.

Orlando Furioso embarks a broad spectrum of drama. De Rore filtered Petrarchan sighs and suffering. They contrast highly with Vincenzo’s choices.

Not known is which text Vincenzo selected from Jeremiah - also called the weeping prophet - but since they utter an uniform register one can accept it was a passage belonging to the non–comical genre: dealing with terrible misery and the horrific consequences.

We know from Piero Bardi’s report which canto Vincenzo selected from the Divine Comedy. Dante describes in canto 33 how Ugolino is entrapped in ice with his betrayer and had clenched with his teeth where the brain meets the nape.

Ugolino's gnawing of Ruggieri's head is not food for contemplative aphorisms incorporated in stanzas. There’s no implicit wine at hand around here. This is raw and confrontational – potentially crossing the boundaries of the perfect modest Courtier.

Vincenzo imitating the Zanni in volume, accents and gestures and impersonating the personae of this canto was taking a huge risk of entering the ridicule – this might explain why some reacted with laughter but also envied him. Piero Bardi, who as a juvenile might have hang around, declared him to be a genius – so Vincenzo, putting his money where his mouth was, shifting in his experiments the form of the refined tradition of declamation of epic poetry, in the end did succeed.

Dante’s Divine stanzas are terza rimes – a connection between this poetry and the romanesca undecima is therefore not likely. But from Vincenzo’s choice of setting the canto of count Ugolino and passages by Jeremiah we can deduce a selection criterium: complicated high tension scenes with extreme suffering set in the finest lines.

The Furioso is famous for countless cleft bodies. Vincenzo praised De Rore above all for realising the Ancient Greek ideals in modern music – how to explain this text selection difference: simple and immobile versus complex and tense?

Full of action there is an ironic twist to Ugolino’s frozen scenery since the main characters are captured in ice.

Vincenzo was proud of his nobile title but vanity does not characterise his art. Self-centered thoughts vocalised by multiple voices in polyphonic fabric is replaced by a single voice in monodic tissue committed to everyone’s individual fate.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Humans had lamented for many centuries of their miseries after which they began to produce works of letters and music.”


Nel trattato De la purgazione della tragedia

Why the raw misery? Why are people motivated to experience awful scenes? The mystery of the misery is that in the end it makes you a better person.

The mechanism of purgation trough pity and fear was discussed during several meetings of the Academia degli Alterati in 1583. Giovanni Bardi and Giovanni Strozzi attended these sessions.

Inspired by these discussions Lorenzo Giacomini wrote a discourse about purgation in 1586. By inducing pity and fear in the spectators they were purged of these emotions - even Girolamo Mei who had commented on this topic in 1574 agrees with this.

Pleasures compensate for the discomfort by the spectacle of pain. The pleasures are: learning of the represented actions, the marvellous show, the recognition, the beauty of the metaphors, the sweetness of the verse and music, the artfulness of the poet’s plot trough digressions, recognition and reversals of fortune.

Giovanni Bardi 1583: “These verses will be best that have the best rhythm and the best sound. Consequently, they will be the most musical, hence the best singable.”

A possible occasion for 10 Furioso stanzas

Piero Bardi wrote: “Our Messer Vincenzo Galilei having to set to music, in a hurry, poetry that would possess an active character, also chose ten stanzas of his, attracted by their sweetness of rhythm and sound.”

There was a heated debate among literati who was the best poet: Ludovici Ariosto or Torquato Tasso. Giovanni Bardi contributed a lecture presented to the Academia degli Alterati on 24 February 1583.

The remark of Piero Bardi names exactly the main opposite arguments: Francesco Patrizi who in his reaction to Bardi stated that Ariosto indulged in too much action (an active character), while Bardi had argued that the Furioso stanzas were superior because of the ease with which his verses may be sung.

Vincenzo had praised the sword of Orlando in his 1581 Dialogue as the mean to convince people of the superiority of monody.

The lecture of Bardi must have been a perfect opportunity to ask Galilei to demonstrate the validity and persuasiveness of his argument. This time not for the Camerata but the Alterati. It was done in a hurry: he was asked for it and there was a deadline.

With it we might have a date for the first drafts of the romanesca undecima.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “I have several very ancient books that I have with me.”

Galileo Galilei

History shows Galileo Galilei was able to have an opinion on his own, nonetheless, his opinion about Ludovico Ariosto might have been influenced by his father.

Galileo had a profound love for Orlando Furioso. Viviani recalled how Galileo in every lecture interweaved an appropriate citation from it by heart. The question of Giovanni Bardi who was best: Ludovico Ariosto or Torquato Tasso - kept him occupied. He made a comprehensive summary of the Furioso, wrote many gloss and accurately corrected hundreds printing errors in his copies.

After Galileo had died Viviani started collecting letters, manuscripts, books. Vincenzo Galilei’s manuscripts are still largely found in this collection, now days in Florence’s Library.

Also found in this collection is Galileo’s extensive library of epic poetry – of which he had expert knowledge and was consulted for by many. He owned old prints. Several old enough to have been previous owned by his father.

They might contain relevant marginal notes.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “They probably knew the poem by heart.”

Canto 34

Piero Bardi’s letter named Dante, sacred texts and Ariosto. The Furioso is suitable for a romanesca scheme because it is written in ottava rime. Vincenzo wrote in his Dialogue that it would take the sword of Orlando to convince people how Ancient Greek characteristics were to be implemented in modern music. Giovanni Bardi praised Ariosto above all.

From Vincenzo’s selection of poetry from Dante we can deduce a criterium that can be applied to the 38,736 lines of the Furioso to select a passage of 96 lines.

The finest words, high tension, extreme suffering. The most inspired part. Dante revisited. Italy lamented. The place to be, and end without and end, a visit to hell: Canto 34.

On can make a reasoned reconstruction of Vincenzo’s experiments with declamation of epic poetry by fitting the first 24 stanzas of Canto 34 of Orlando Furioso to the romanesca undecima.

Ludovico Ariosto 1516 Canto 34:     “O fierce and hungry harpies, that on blind
And erring Italy so full have fed!
Whom, for the scourge of ancient sins designed,
Haply just Heaven to every board has sped.
Innocent children, pious mothers, pined
With hunger, die, and see their daily bread,
—The orphan’s and the widow’s scanty food—
Feed for a single feast that filthy brood.”


Several factors have contributed to the fact that the romanesca undecima has not received the attention it deserves.

Prepared for a publisher the manuscript didn’t make it to receive an audience in print. The tablature is difficult to become and inaccessible to read. The book is packed with original ideas which take an effort to see, understand and appreciate.

Modern reception history has reacted in general with misunderstanding and confusion. This can be attributed to features of his theoretical writings. His known work is full of contradictions, complicated because of the many issues his pioneering studies treats, and conceptual. Concrete prescriptions are buried in little known texts.

You may not expect an artist to explain his work. Art stands alone – even in Vincenzo’s exceptional case the artist and theorist are not the same, caution is advised.

Galilei loved to sing poetry, right from the start. The romanesca undecima has many characteristics fulfilling his prescriptions how Ancient Greek music was to be implemented in the modern. Vincenzo the composer understands his profession, Vincenzo the artist is refined, subtle and profound.

Pure instrumental music didn’t had his attention. His Francesco pastiches did made it into Milano’s modern text edition, but they are uninspired and deficient. Preluding ricercares he wrote are short and prepare a singer to start.

The manuscript’s front dates 1584. The romanesca undecima was scribed after the first part was noted. The proposition is stated that Vincenzo came up with the idea to incorporate the accompaniment from his recent experiments in this book.

The conceptual chronology of the Camerata experiments first followed by the documentation of the accompaniment in the 1584 manuscript makes sense. The time span between these events is short.

This music is declarant for declamation - it blossoms besides a storyteller. An attempt is made to reason which poetry could or would have fit the music. From here on further steps would cross the line from science to art.

Fitting lines is putting it to a test. The arguments of this article might disappear from view, and subjective choices might prevent optional try-outs – time to stop.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “A stream does not seem to have the force and rigor in the presentation of arguments and conclusions as does a dialogue.”


This article has almost no notes. That restricted me not to elaborate on all sorts of interesting side paths. I will not claim it succeeded. The method I followed was first write things down in my own words and thereafter checking it with relevant sources. It released and freed me from thinking about further, which is a happy process. I learned a lot by phrasing what I thought, I didn’t knew what I know.

There is no literature list. Major items would be all primary sources of Vincenzo. From the secondary literature books of Claude V. Palisca are relevant, which are a big pleasure to read because of his eloquent style and erudition. Occasionally I find Palisca as contradictionary as Galilei. Without his insights, however, I would be nowhere, well somewhere, but not close to here.

Primary goal of this document is to provide for an accessible score, handover structural insight and compose a contextual image with puzzle pieces. There are many statements in this article that I didn’t encounter in literature. I alone am responsible for those.

I am very grateful for the help I received from professor Bertinetto for bringing me into contact with Francesco who commented in different stages, Theo for listening and endless talking and Tamara for everything.

Sweetness was the biggest compliment Vincenzo Galilei could think of, and although he could appeal on Aristotle and Dante for this practise, he was capitulated by Girolamo Mei for using such an irrelevant qualification so much. The help I received was very relevant and very sweet.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Well played, it was very sweet to hear, like an ensemble of viols.”

To be done

Set secondary goals. Collaboration, organising, support. Providing online critical editions of texts and scores. Translations, a biography. Generate awareness, debate concepts, analyse scores, involve musicians, stimulate performances. Fitting lines.

Vincenzo Galilei 1591: “If someone reading this discourse of mine fears to drown traversing this river, suddenly become so wide and rapid, he should follow the example of the great Philoxenus and turn back to its origin, until I or others draws arches over these fundaments as I have cast, stretching across its banks a bridge spacious and capable of taking everyone.”

The vase and the Judge

Back:     Terracotta metaphor ca. 490 B.C.E.

A judge guided by a wand adjudicating a musical setting of epic poetry at a competition

Attributed to the Berlin Painter

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Around 490 B.C.E. the Berlin painter decorated an amphora with a singer declaiming poetry at a competition. His clear fluent lines and vibrant colour stands out. Vases like these were awarded as prizes at music festivals. The shape of the amphora is central to the marvellous effect, lively reviving again the scene.

Noble poets and musicians were allowed to dress like a king, with a suit of purple and a laurel crown. The singer holds a plectrum in his right hand which was used with great force to pluck the strings. Some belief the plectrum was made of ivory or the hoof of a goat. What the fingers of the left hand precisely did was not clear, sources opt for muting or striking the strings or supporting the instrument. Vincenzo thought it picked out a melody.

The vase has two ears which can be used to pick it up and turn its Janus head around. On the other side a judge is holding a wand.

The blossoming ground below his feet is made from the same stardust as the other orange speckles and freckles on the vase’s black face.

Mostly classical ladies must have hang around. His magic stick reveals botanical interest, the split branch portrays dialectics.

The judge’s mirroring two fingers make the victory sign in a galaxy far, far away, formed by the mottled terracotta surface. It’s a snapshot of a Big Bang in a Dark Universe.

In his 1581 Dialogue Vincenzo wrote that when you put the right amount of water into vases & when you hit them with a stick, you could hear the same pitches that would come from the strings the Ancient Greek applied.

The terracotta amphora is a metaphor for the romanesca. It is filled with fresh water. Pour it out, drink it, become one.

You hold the wand. Listen and judge.

Vincenzo Galilei 1581: “Now play.”

The Berlin Painter