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Renaissance Music


1513 Balboa becomes the first European to encounter the Pacific Ocean.
Machiavelli writes The Prince.

1517 Turks conquer Egypt, control Arabia. Martin Luther posts his 95 theses denouncing church abuses on church door in Wittenberg—start of the Reformation in Germany.

1519 Ulrich Zwingli begins Reformation in Switzerland. Hernando Cortes conquers Mexico for Spain. Charles I of Spain is chosen Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sets out to circumnavigate the globe.

Louis Bourgeois, French musician, born. 
Antonio de Cabezon, Spanish composer, born. 
Johannes de Tinctoris dies. 
Arnolt Schlick: "Speigel der Orgelmacher und Organisten on organ building and playing". 
Second Book of Masses by Josquin des Prez
Erhart Deglin, music printer of Augsburg, publishes the "Liederbuch zu vier Stimmen" 
Domenico Ferrabosco, Italian singer and composer, born. 
Gasper van Weerbecke, Flemish composer, dies. 
Cipriano de Rore, Dutch composer, born. 
Josquin des PrezThird book of Masses 
Heinrich Isaak, German Dutch composer, dies. 
Ludwig Senfl made court composer to Emperor Maximillian I in Isaak's place.
Gioseffo Zarlino, Italian music theorist and composer, born.
Jhan Gero, Flemish composer born.
Vincenzo Galilei, Italian lutanist and composer, father of the great astronomer Galileo Galilei, born. 

Louis Bourgeois

Loys "Louis" Bourgeois (French: [buʁʒwa]; c. 1510 – 1559) was a French composer and music theorist of the Renaissance. He is most famous as one of the main compilers of Calvinist hymn tunes in the middle of the 16th century. One of the most famous melodies in all of Christendom, the Protestant doxology known as the Old 100th, is commonly attributed to him.


Next to nothing is known about his early life. His first publication, some secular chansons, dates from 1539 in Lyon. By 1545 he had gone to Geneva (according to civic records) and become a music teacher there. In 1547 he was granted citizenship in Geneva, and in that same year he also published his first four-voice psalms.

In 1549 and 1550 he worked on a collections of psalm-tunes, most of which were translated by Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze. The extent to which he was composer, arranger or compiler was not certain, until a long-lost copy of the Genevan Psalter of 1551 came to the library of the Rutgers University. In an Avertissement (note) to the reader Bourgeois specifies exactly what his predecessors had done, what he had changed and which were his own contributions. He is one of the three main composers of the hymn tunes to the Genevan Psalter.

Unfortunately, he fell foul of local musical authorities and was sent to prison on December 3, 1551 for changing the tunes for some well-known psalms "without a license." He was released on the personal intervention of John Calvin, but the controversy continued: those who had already learned the tunes had no desire to learn new versions, and the town council ordered the burning of Bourgeois's instructions to the singers, claiming they were confusing. Shortly after this incident, Bourgeois left Geneva never to return: he settled in Lyon, his Geneva employment was terminated, and his wife tardily followed him to Lyon.

While in Lyon, Bourgeois wrote a fierce piece of invective against the publishers of Geneva. By 1560 he had moved to Paris. Curiously, his daughter was baptized as a Catholic, and also in 1560 a Parisian publisher produced a volume of secular chansons by the composer—a form he had condemned as "dissolute" during his Geneva years. This was his last publication during his lifetime.

Music and influence

Louis Bourgeois is the one most responsible for the tunes in the Genevan Psalter, the source for the hymns of both the Reformed Church in England and the Pilgrims in America. In the original versions by Bourgeois, the music is monophonic, in accordance with the dictates of John Calvin, who disapproved not only of counterpoint but of any multiple parts; Bourgeois though did also provide four-part harmonizations, but they were reserved for singing and playing at home. Many of the four-part settings are syllabic and chordal, a style which has survived in many Protestant church services to the present day.

Of the tunes in the Genevan Psalter, some are reminiscent of secular chansons, others are directly borrowed from the Strasbourg Psalter; The remainder were composed by successively Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois and Pierre Davantès. By far the most famous of Bourgeois' compositions is the tune known as the Old 100th.

Cipriano de Rore

Cipriano de Rore (occasionally Cypriano) (1515 or 1516 – between 11 and 20 September 1565) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in Italy. Not only was he a central representative of the generation of Franco-Flemish composers after Josquin des Prez who went to live and work in Italy, but he was one of the most prominent composers of madrigals in the middle of the 16th century. His experimental, chromatic, and highly expressive style had a decisive influence on the subsequent development of that secular music form.




Early years

Little is known of Rore's early life. His probable birth years (1515/1516) are known from his age at death (49, recorded on his tombstone in the cathedral in Parma), and his probable birthplace was a small town in Flanders, Ronse (Renaix), right on the boundary between the French- and Dutch-speaking areas. Recent research has established that his parents were Celestinus Rore (died before 1564) and Barbara Van Coppenolle, and he had at least two siblings, Franciscus and Celestinus. The family was active in Ronse at least since 1400, and their coat of arms appeared both on his personal seal and his tombstone in Parma Cathedral.

Where he got his musical training is unknown. Based on a suggestive phrase in a 1559 madrigal dedicated to Margaret of Parma, the illegitimate daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which implied a long association with her, he may have accompanied her when she went to Naples in 1533, prior to marrying into the Medici family. Margaret was born in a town within walking distance of Rore's birthplace. Prior to that speculative trip Rore may have had some early music instruction in Antwerp. Many gifted singers from the Netherlands went to Italy as children or adolescents, often when discovered by visiting nobility; both Lassus and Giaches de Wert traveled to southern Italy in similar circumstances. When Margaret married Alessandro de' Medici in 1536, Rore may have gone his own way; however, he is believed to have received some of his music education in Italy during his period of service with Margaret.

Venice and Ferrara

While it has long been claimed that he studied in Venice with Adrian Willaert, and that he was a singer at San Marco, no specific documentation of either of these events has been found; some dedicatory material in his Venetian publications mentions him as a "disciple" or "follower", but not specifically as a student. Yet he was closely connected with Willaert and his associates for much of his career, and visited Venice at least once before 1542. Beginning in this year, documentation on Rore's whereabouts becomes more clear. A letter written on 3 November 1542 indicates he was at Brescia, where he was known to have remained until 16 April 1545. It was during this period that he began to acquire fame as a composer, publishing, with the assistance of the Venetian printer Scotto, his first book of madrigals in 1542, as well as two books of motets in 1544 and 1545. The reprints of these works two years later by both Scotto and Gardane indicated their high regard. Their technical mastery, and stylistic indebtedness to Willaert and his circle, make an early connection with Venice a reasonable supposition.

Rore then went to Ferrara, where payment records show he was maestro di cappella (choirmaster) beginning on 6 May 1546. This was the beginning of an extraordinarily productive portion of his life; while in the service of Duke Ercole II d'Este he wrote masses, motets, chansons, and of course madrigals, many of which were topical, some involving matters concerning the court itself. In 1556 Duke Ercole awarded Rore a benefice for his exceptional service. Also during the Ferrara years, Rore began cultivating his relations with the court of Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich, sending them music, and having 26 motets produced in an elaborately illustrated manuscript with miniatures by Hans Müelich. In 1558 he requested a leave of absence from his employer in Ferrara in order to return to his homeland to care for his ailing parents. He stopped in Munich on the way, reaching the city on 1 May, where he assisted in preparation of the motet manuscript, and posed for the Müelich portrait. A document of September 1558 places him in Flanders, where he was helping his sister-in-law with estate matters on the death of Celistinus, his brother. By December he had returned to Ferrara.

Departure from Ferrara; last years

In July 1559 he left his post in Ferrara again, possibly because the new Duke Alfonso II d'Este preferred Francesco dalla Viola, a member of an old Ferrara family, to the foreigner. Once again he went north to his homeland; this time he was not to return to Este service.

The situation in his homeland had deteriorated due to the ravages of the Wars of Independence, and when he reached it in autumn 1559, he found that his home town, Ronse, had been destroyed. Unable to regain his employment in Ferrara, he re-entered the service of the House of Farnese, and after a stay in Antwerp, returned to Italy again, this time to Parma, in 1560. Unhappy there – Parma was not an intellectual and cultural center on the level of Ferrara or Venice – he left in 1563, briefly taking the prestigious position of maestro di cappella at St. Mark's on the death of his mentor Adrian Willaert. However he only kept this post into 1564, at which time he returned to Parma; he gave as his reason for departing Venice the disorder in the chapel and an insufficient salary.

He died at Parma the next year, of unknown causes, at the age of only 49, and was buried in the cathedral in that city. Lodovico Rore, his nephew, erected his tombstone, indicating in the epitaph that his name would not be forgotten, even in the distant future.

Music and influence

Rore was one of the most influential composers in the middle of the sixteenth century, mainly through the dissemination of his madrigals. His 1542 book was an extraordinary event, and recognized as such at the time: it established five voices as the norm, rather than four, and it married the polyphonic texture of the Netherlandish motet with the Italian secular form, bringing a seriousness of tone which was to become one of the predominant trends in madrigal composition all the way into the seventeenth century. All of the lines of development in the madrigal in the late century can be traced to ideas first seen in Rore; according to Alfred Einstein, his only true spiritual successor was Claudio Monteverdi, another revolutionary. In his sacred music, however, Rore was more backward-looking, showing his connection to his Netherlandish roots: his masses, for example, are reminiscent of the work of Josquin des Prez.

Rore wrote 107 madrigals that are securely attributed to him; 16 secular Latin compositions, similar in form to madrigals; at least seven chansons; 53 motets, of which 51 survive; a Passion according to Saint John; five settings of the mass; some Magnificats; and a handful of other works.

Cipriano de Rore - Alla dolce ombra

Sacred music

While Rore is best known for his Italian madrigals, he was also a prolific composer of sacred music, both masses and motets. Josquin was his point of departure, and he developed many of his techniques from the older composer's style. Rore's first three masses are a response to the challenge of his heritage and to the music of his predecessor, Josquin. In addition to five masses, he wrote about 80 motets, many psalms, secular motets, and a setting of the St. John Passion.

Secular music

It was as a composer of madrigals, however, that Rore achieved enduring fame. With his madrigals published primarily between 1542 and 1565, he was one of the most influential madrigalists at mid-century. His early madrigals reflect the styles of Willaert with the use of clear diction, thick and continuous counterpoint, and pervasive imitation. These works are mostly for four or five voices, with one for six and another for eight. The tone of his writing tends toward the serious, especially as contrasted with the light character of the work of his predecessors, such as Arcadelt and Verdelot. Rore chose not to write madrigals of frivolous nature, preferring to focus on serious subject matter, including the works of Petrarch, and tragedies presented at Ferrara. Rore carefully brought out the varying moods of the texts he set, developing musical devices for this purpose; additionally he often ignored the structure of the line, line division, and rhyme, deeming it unnecessary that the musical and poetic lines correspond.

In addition, Rore experimented with chromaticism, following some of the ideas of his contemporary Nicola Vicentino. He used all the resources of polyphony as they had developed by the middle 16th century in his work, including imitation and canonic techniques, all in the service of careful text setting.

He proved to be the model whom many of the great madrigalists of the late sixteenth century followed, including Claudio Monteverdi. According to Alfred Einstein, writing in The Italian Madrigal (1949), Rore's true spiritual successor was Monteverdi. Einstein also said, "Rore holds the key to the whole development of the Italian madrigal after 1550."

Rore also composed secular Latin motets, a relatively unusual "cross-over" form in the mid-16th century. These motets, being a secular variation of a normally sacred form, paralleled the sacred madrigal, the madrigale spirituale, which was a sacred variation on a popular secular form. Stylistically these motets are similar to his madrigals, and he published them throughout his career; occasionally they appeared in collections of madrigals, such as in his posthumous Fifth Book for five voices (1566), and he also included some in a collection of motets for five voices published in 1545.

Domenico Ferrabosco

Domenico Maria Ferrabosco (Ferabosco) (14 February 1513 – February 1574) was an Italian composer and singer of the Renaissance, and the eldest musician in a large prominent family from Bologna. He spent his career both in Bologna and Rome. His surviving music is all vocal, consisting of madrigals and motets, although he is principally known for his madrigals, which musicologist Alfred Einstein compared favorably to those of his renowned contemporary Cipriano de Rore.


Interior of San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, whereFerrabosco was a singer, and later choir director.

Born in Bologna, Domenico was one of four sons of Annibale Ferrabosco, members of a distinguished Bolognese family whose genealogical records date back to the middle of the 15th century. Domenico is the first of the family known to be a musician. Little is known about his early life. He was a singer at the cathedral of San Petronio, and by 1540 had established a high enough reputation for his various musical activities that the city officials gave him a lifetime stipend to oversee the palace musicians.

Sometime in the 1540s he went to Rome, and he became magister puerorum (director of the boy's choir) for the Julian Chapel in 1546. However, due to family obligations he returned to Bologna in 1547, and became maestro di cappella (choir director) at San Petronio, the church where he had previously been a singer, in 1548. The Bolognese Senate also granted him a non-musical position, Regulator et scriba campionis creditorum Montis portarum. He moved back to Rome in 1550, where he was appointed to be cantore pontificio (singer in the papal chapel) on 27 November, although he did not begin performing the duties of this position until April 1551. Palestrina was one of the other composers and singers working in the principal Roman chapels at that time, and the two of them, along with all the other married singers, were removed from their posts, on pension, in September 1555 under an edict by the new Pope Paul IV, who decided to more rigidly enforce the rule on celibacy for his musicians than had his predecessors. Ferrabosco probably did not go back to Bologna after this, but instead went to Paris with his family, where three of his sons – including Alfonso, who was to become a renowned musician in England much later – enjoyed the patronage of the influential Cardinal of LorraineCharles de Guise.

By 1570 Ferrabosco was back in Bologna taking care of his estate, arranging for succession of his Senate-granted scribal position to his eldest son, and making out his will, which was dated 1573. He died in February 1574 in Bologna; by this time his most famous son, Alfonso, was making a name for himself in England.


Ferrabosco published only one book of his works, a large collection of 45 madrigals for four voices in 1542 (by Antonio Gardano in Venice). They were similar in style to the early madrigals by Jacques ArcadeltPhilippe Verdelot, and Costanzo Festa. Alfred Einstein praised the book, saying of Ferrabosco's art: "His work lasts, because he has access to a form of expression which was completely closed to Cipriano de Rore, namely the expression of the graceful and the attractive." Regarding the music itself he adds: "...homophony is enlivened by light polyphony and reflects a noble sentimentality which is not easily disturbed in its spiritual equilibrium." Unlike Rore, who was the most innovative madrigalist of mid-century, as well as one of the most famous, Ferrabosco was content to write in the style of the pioneers of the 1530s, such as Verdelot, in a light and graceful manner, avoiding the chromaticism and expressive intensity that defined the mid-century madrigal. Yet his music appears alongside Rore's, for example in that composer's second madrigal book for five voices (1544) which includes Ferrabosco's setting of the sonnet Più d'alto Pin ch'in mezz'un'orto sia.

Some of his music shows the influence of the contemporary French chanson, for example a strambotto he set prior to 1554, in the collection De diversi autori il quarto libro de Madrigali a quattro voci a note bianche indicates a possible connection with a set of chansons published in 1548 in Lyon by Dominique Phinot, both in its subject matter, rhythm, and sonority.

Domenico Ferrabosco - Io mi son giovinetta

As texts for his madrigals, Ferrabosco preferred love lyrics, including works by PetrarchPietro BemboLudovico Ariosto, and others; many of the poets remain anonymous.

By far Ferrabosco's most famous composition was the madrigal Io mi son giovinetta, a ballata from Boccaccio's Decameron (Neifile's song from the end of the ninth day), a madrigal which became so extraordinarily popular that it appeared in dozens of madrigal prints for the next hundred years, matching the popularity of Jacques Arcadelt's Il bianco e dolce cigno. It appeared in the 1542 anthology Primo libro d'i Madrigali de diversi eccellentissimi autori a misura di breve, along with the works of many other composers; Palestrina used it as the basis for a mass for four voices, presumably after making Ferrabosco's acquaintance in Rome; he published the mass in 1570. Vincenzo Galilei, father of the astronomer, arranged it for lute, and its last known reprint dates from 1654.

In addition to his madrigals, Ferrabosco wrote motets, some of which appear in anthologies. He wrote a five-voice setting of Ascendens Christus as well as a five-voice setting of Usquequo, Domine. Ferrabosco's complete works are available in an edition by R. Charteris in Corpus mensurabilis musicae, vol. 102 (1992).

Jhan Gero

Jhan Gero (also Ghero, Giero; first name rendered occasionally as Jehan, Jan) (fl. 1540–1555) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, apparently active mainly in Italy, particularly Venice. He was a practitioner of the note nere madrigal style during its period of popularity in the 1540s, and also wrote didactic music, probably intended for teaching beginning singers.


Nothing is known about his early life, but it is inferred that he was from northern Europe, perhaps Flanders, as were many musicians of the time who were working in Italy. He seems to have risen to prominence through the efforts of the Venetian publishing company run by Antonio Gardane and Girolamo Scotto; they may have paid him to make arrangements of works by others, as indicated by his first publication, in 1541, which contained Italian madrigals and French chansons, originally for three or four voices, however in this case arranged for only two singers each. This particular publication went through numerous reprints, all the way until the end of the 17th century.

Gero was employed at some unknown time as maestro di cappella for Pietro Antonio Sanseverino, the Prince of Bisignano, according to the dedicatory epistle to Gero's 1555 book of motets. After this year, during which he published two books of motets, no further records of his life or activities have yet come to light.

Music and influence

In the 1540s, after his initial assumed employment with Gardane and Scotto, Gero published two books of madrigals in the then-popular note nere (black note) style. In music of this style, black notes referred to quick note values (i.e. filled-in note heads, as in modern quarter-notes rather than half-notes); quick passages alternated with slower ones, and syncopation was common.

Gero's music was widely distributed, being popular in Italy as well as Germany.

De Rore

Antonio de Cabezón 

Antonio de Cabezón (30 March 1510 – 26 March 1566) was a Spanish Renaissance composer and organist. Blind from childhood, he quickly rose to prominence as a performer and was eventually employed by the royal family. He was among the most important composers of his time and the first major Iberian keyboard composer.





Cabezón was born in Castrillo Mota de Judíos, a municipality near Burgos, in the north of Spain. Nothing is known about his formative years. He became blind in early childhood, and he may have been educated at the Palencia Cathedral by the organist there, García de Baeza. At the time, the country was slowly entering its Golden Age. On 14 March 1516, Charles V was proclaimed King of Castile and of Aragon jointly with his mother, the first time the crowns of Castile and Aragon were united under the same king. After the death of his paternal grandfather, Maximilian, in 1519, Charles also inherited the Habsburg lands in Austria, and later went on to become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and one of the most powerful monarchs in the world.

In 1525, Charles married Isabella of Portugal, further strengthening his position in Spain. It was Isabella who employed Cabezón into her service in 1526. His duties included playing the clavichord and the organ, and he also assumed the position of organist at the chapel Isabella organized soon after her wedding. The composer remained with the royal family for the rest of his life. Through the court, he met such important composers as vihuelist Luis de Narváez, known today for his advanced polyphonic fantasias, and Tomás de Santa María, theorist and composer whose important treatise on instrumental music, Arte de tañer fantasía, was examined and approved by Cabezón.

In 1538, Cabezón was made músico de la cámara (chamber musician) to Charles (who as a child was educated in music by the noted organist Henry Bredemers). After Isabella's death in 1539, Cabezón was appointed music teacher to her children: Prince Felipe and his sisters Maria and Joan (Maria would later become the most important patron of composer Tomás Luis de Victoria). In 1543 Felipe became Regent of Spain, and he made Cabezón his court organist. Cabezón's duties included playing a portative organ for Felipe on his journeys. On 19 July 1546 Cabezón's brother Juan, also an organist and composer, was appointed musician in the royal chapel of Prince Felipe. Since the late 1540s Antonio and Juan both accompanied Felipe on his various trips, and visited Italythe NetherlandsGermany (in 1548–49), and England (in 1554–56), where Antonio's variations may have influenced William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, who latter took up the form.

Practically nothing is known about Cabezón's personal life. He married one Luisa Nuñez de Mocos from Ávila, and the couple had five children. One of Antonio's sons, Hernando de Cabezón (1541–1602) became a composer and it was through his efforts that the bulk of Antonio's oeuvre was preserved. Another son, Agustín de Cabezón (who died before 1564), became a chorister of the royal chapel. Cabezón died in Madrid on 26 March 1566.

Antonio de Cabezon - El canto llano del caballero


A few of Cabezón's works appeared in print during his lifetime in Venegas de Henestrosa's compilation Libro de cifra nueva (Alcalá de Henares, 1557). However, the majority of his compositions were published posthumously by his son Hernando in a volume titled Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela (Madrid, 1578). Together these collections contain some 275 pieces, most for organ or other keyboard instruments. Cabezón also composed instrumental music for plucked string instruments and ensembles, and vocal music, but only a single vocal piece survives: Invocación a la letanía, in the Cancionero de la Casa de Medinaceli. A mention of a mass by Cabezón is contained in a 1611 inventory of music from Cuenca Cathedral, but the actual music is lost, as are, presumably, many other works by the composer. A good keyboard improviser, many works by Antonio de Cabezón transcribed by his son Hernando were "mere crumbs from my father's table".



Gioseffo Zarlino

Gioseffo Zarlino (31 January or 22 March 1517 – 4 February 1590) was an Italian music theorist and composer of the Renaissance. He was possibly the most famous European music theorist between Aristoxenus and Rameau, and made a large contribution to the theory of counterpoint as well as to musical tuning.



Zarlino was born in Chioggia, near Venice. His early education was with the Franciscans, and he later joined the order himself. In 1536 he was a singer at Chioggia Cathedral, and by 1539 he not only became a deacon, but also principal organist. In 1540 he was ordained, and in 1541 went to Venice to study with the famous contrapuntist and maestro di cappella of Saint Mark's, Adrian Willaert.

In 1565, on the resignation of Cipriano de Rore, Zarlino took over the post of maestro di cappella of St. Mark's, one of the most prestigious musical positions in Italy, and held it until his death. While maestro di cappella he taught some of the principal figures of the Venetian school of composers, including Claudio Merulo, Girolamo Diruta, and Giovanni Croce, as well as Vincenzo Galilei, the father of the astronomer, and the famous reactionary polemicist Giovanni Artusi.

Works and influence

While he was a moderately prolific composer, and his motets are polished and display a mastery of canonic counterpoint, his principal claim to fame was his work as a theorist. While Pietro Aaron may have been the first theorist to describe a version of meantone, Zarlino seems to have been the first to do so with exactitude, describing 2/7-comma meantone in his Le istitutioni harmoniche in 1558. Zarlino also described the 1/4-comma meantone and 1/3-comma meantone, considering all three temperaments to be usable. These are the precursors to the 50- 31- and 19-tone equal temperaments, respectively. In his Dimostrationi harmoniche of 1571, he revised the numbering of modes to emphasize C and the Ionian mode.

Zarlino was the first to theorize the primacy of triad over interval as a means of structuring harmony. His exposition of just intonation based on proportions within the "Senario" (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and 8 is a departure from the previously established Pythagorean diatonic system as passed on by Boethius. See: Ptolemy's intense diatonic scale. He was also one of the first theorists to offer an explanation for the prohibition of parallel fifths and octaves in counterpoint, and to study the effect and harmonic implications of the false relation.

Zarlino's writings, primarily published by Francesco Franceschi, spread throughout Europe at the end of the 16th century. Translations and annotated versions were common in France, Germany, as well as in the Netherlands among students of Sweelinck, thus influencing the next generation of musicians who represented the early Baroque style.

Zarlino's compositions are more conservative in idiom than those of many of his contemporaries. His madrigals avoid the homophonic textures commonly used by other composers, remaining polyphonic throughout, in the manner of his motets. His works were published between 1549 and 1567, and include 41 motets, mostly for five and six voices, and 13 secular works, mostly madrigals, for four and five voices. His 10 motets on the Song of Songs used the text of Isidoro Chiari's translation of the Bible.


Vincenzo Galilei

Vincenzo Galilei (c. 1520 – 2 July 1591) was an Italian lutenistcomposer, and music theorist, and the father of the famous astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei and of the lute virtuoso and composer Michelagnolo Galilei. He was a seminal figure in the musical life of the late Renaissance and contributed significantly to the musical revolution which demarcates the beginning of the Baroque era.

Vincenzo, in his study of pitch and string tension, produced perhaps the first non-linear mathematical description of a natural phenomenon known to history. It was an extension of a Pythagorean tradition but went beyond it. Many scholars credit him with directing the activity of his son away from pure, abstract mathematics and towards experimentation using mathematical quantitative description of the results, a direction of utmost importance for the history of physics and natural science in general.


He was born around 1520 in Santa Maria a Monte (Tuscany), and began studying the lute at an early age. Sometime before 1562 he moved to Pisa, where he married into a noble family. In 1564 Galileo was born, the first of his either six or seven children; another son, Michelagnolo, born in 1575, who also became an accomplished lutenist and composer.

Vincenzo was a skilled player of the lute, and early in life attracted the attention of powerful, well-connected patrons. In 1563 he met Gioseffo Zarlino, the most important music theorist of the sixteenth century, in Venice, and began studying with him. Somewhat later he became interested in the attempts to revive ancient Greek music and drama, by way of his association with the Florentine Camerata (a group of poets, musicians and intellectuals led by Count Giovanni de' Bardi) as well as his contacts with Girolamo Mei, the foremost scholar of the time of ancient Greek music. Sometime in the 1570s his interests in music theory, as well as his composition, began to move in this direction. Some of Galilei's most important theoretical contributions involve the treatment of dissonance: he had a largely modern conception, allowing passing dissonance "if the voices flow smoothly" as well as on-the-beat dissonance, such as suspensions, which he called "essential dissonance." This describes Baroque practice, especially as he defines rules for resolution of suspensions by a preliminary leap away from, followed by a return to, the expected note of resolution.

The use of recitative in opera is widely attributed to Galilei, since he was one of the inventors of monody, the musical style closest to recitative.

Galilei composed two books of madrigals, as well as music for lute, and a considerable quantity of music for voice and lute; this latter category is considered to be his most important contribution as it anticipated in many ways the style of the early Baroque.

Vincenzo Galilei - Lute Works


Vincenzo Galilei was one of the pioneers in the systematic study of acoustics, mainly in his research (assisted by his son Galileo) in the mathematical formula of stretched strings. Galileo told his biographer that Vincenzo introduced him to the idea of systematic testing and measurement through their Piza house basement which was strung with lengths of lute string materials, each of different lengths, with different weights attached.

Vincenzo made some substantial discoveries in acoustics, particularly involving the physics of vibrating strings and columns of air. He discovered that while the ratio of an interval is proportional to string lengths [for example, a perfect fifth has the proportions of 3:2] it varied with the square root of the tension applied (and the cube root of concave volumes of air). In the case of strings tuned in a perfect fifth, weights suspended from them needed to be in a ratio of 9:4 to produce the 3:2 perfect fifth.

This work was taken further by Marin Mersenne who formulated the current law of vibrating strings. Mersenne was a regular correspondent to many scientists and, after the death of Vincenzo he maintained a regular link to Galileo, and treated him as a prized member of his scientific network. He communicated Galileo's ideas for a pendulum clock to Christiaan Huygens (who improved on it).

Despite being a priest, Mersenne defended Galileo when he came under attack by the church in 1633, but he also questioned Galielo's claims and disputed the accuracy of some of Galileo's findings. He conducted his own duplicate experiments which improved on their accuracy.



Victoria, the sole ship of Magellan's fleet to complete the circumnavigation

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