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Francesco Landini

The Squarcialupi Codex  (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Med. Pal. 87) is a compendium of pieces of music.  It was published in Florence in the Trecento, the fourtheenth-century or the dawn of Italian Renaissance.

Surprisingly, it contains 216 pieces of music.  I have extracted  the following information from Wikipedia, not a frivolous source.  On the contrary!

Included in the Codex‘s 216 pieces are 146 pieces by Francesco Landini, 37 by Bartolino da Padova, 36 by Niccolò da Perugia, 29 by Andrea da Firenze, 28 by Jacopo da Bologna, 17 by Lorenzo da Firenze, 16 by Gherardello da Firenze, 15 by Donato da Cascia, 12 pieces by Giovanni da Cascia, 6 by Vincenzo da Rimini.  There are sixteen blank parchment folios which may have contained pieces by Paolo da Firenze and Giovanni Mazzuoli.

The Codex is organized according to composers and includes a richly illuminated, in blue, gold, purple and red, portrait of each composer.  The illustration I have placed above our text is from Squarcialupi Codex, shows Francesco Landini, the most prolific among composers whose pieces constitute the Florentine Codex. The Squarcialupi Codex is also a testimonial to fraternity, the raison d’être of schools.

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The Squarcialupi Codex is an important document because it supplies us, in one book, with an illustrated history of Italian songs before Franco-Flemish Adriaan Willaert (c. 1490 – 7 December 1562) travelled to Venice to found the Venetian School (1550 to around 1610).  The enlumineur is unknown.

San Marco, in Venice

The Fall of the Byzantine Empire:  the Italian “ars nova”

When the Bizantine Empire was replaced by the Ottoman Empire, in 1453, scholars first travelled to Italy carrying books and a fully-fledged culture, mainly Greek. Western Europe’s Renaissance had begun and San Marco’s dome would be of Byzantine inspiration.

The Renaissance: the Italian “ars nova

It may be useful to use the works of Francesco Landini (c. 1325 or 1335 – September 2, 1397), as the turning-point between the early Renaissance music and the Venetian School, except that Landini’s style is abundantly ornamented as would be the case with later madrigals.

Francesco Landini was blind from childhood and worked as organist in at least two Florentine churches.  He played several instruments, and built one, the ‘syrena syrenarum.’  He is protrayed above holding his portative organ or organetto.

The organetto

We also owe Landini a cadence (end of a piece of music), the eponymic Landini cadence in which the sixth degree of the scale, the ‘la’ (the sub-mediant) is inserted between the leading-note (note sensible [sensitive] in French), the ‘si’, and the tonic (the ‘do’) = si-la-do.

Landini wrote twelve madrigals and may have written sacred music, but the compostions we know are secular. Most are ballate in two or three voices and are included in the Squarcialupi Codex.

The ballata finds its origins in the songs of trouvères, the virelay, in particular. However, Florentine chronicler Filippo Villani (b. 1235) describes Landini as a true Florentine.  Yet, Landini’s compostions display “madrigalism,” which is an abundance of ornamentations, including roulades.  As well, his compositions demonstrate northern influences.  According to the Encyclopædia Britannica

he [Landini] was crowned with a laurel wreath as the winner of a poetical contest at Venice in 1364. In Il Paradiso degli Alberti del 1389, Giovanni da Prato described Landini as playing his songs so sweetly “that no one had ever heard such beautiful harmonies, and their hearts almost burst from their bosoms.”[i]

In the Encyclopædia Britannica, we also read that “in addition to his 140 settings of ballate (91 for two voices, 49 for three), his surviving compositions include 12 [mentioned above] madrigals a virelay, and a caccia.”

It would appear, however, that they are early madrigals.  So let us keep away from possible Procrustean Beds.  Landini may be an example of this or that, but Landini is also Landini, a brave man who not only coped with blindness, but used hearing to everyone’s benefit.

No wonder he was a close friend of the great Petrarch (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374), whose sonnets are an homage to Laura de Noves (1310–1348), the wife of Hugues de Sade.  Petrarch caught a gimpse of her and started to write about her.

Laura de Noves

There always remains that unknown dimension that characterizes creativity, that seminal idea one dares to pursue…

(click to hear Ecco la primavera; Squarcialupi Codex)


[1] “Francesco Landini.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2011. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/329369/Francesco-Landini>.

 November 24, 2011