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The Rossi Codex

In a previous blog on Salamone Rossi (c. 1570 – 1630), I wrote that Salamone had been active at the end of the Renaissance era and the beginning of the seventeenth century.  As a result, I could not understand why the Rossi Codex  was considered a Trecento (1300’s) Codex.  Well, it is a Trecento Codex and, in the early nineteenth century, it had belonged to Giovan Francesco de Rossi, a collector.  Hence the name:  Rossi Codex.  However, it does not contain pieces by Salamone Rossi

I have therefore updated my blog on Salamone Rossi.  The information I had provided is otherwise accurate.  My sincere apologies to my faithful readers.  However, let us look at the Rossi Codex.

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The Rossi Codex

The Rossi Codex, named after collector Giovan Francesco de Rossi, is a collection of 37 secular fourteenth-century manuscripts, a section of which, the largest, 29, is housed in the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rossi 215; “Mus. rari B 35.” ) and the second and smaller section, 8, in the library of the Fondazione Greggiati (Biblioteca musicale Opera Pia “G. Greggiati”), in Ostiglia, near Mantua.  Originally, there existed 32 folios (folios, as I know them, contain four pages), 18 of which have been lost.

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The Rossi Codex is a precious document for musicologists because such collections unveil the origin and history of genres.  Moreover, a Codex can be used to discover and identify composers.  For instance, although the Rossi Codex is an anonymous compilation, pieces have been attributed to Maestro or Magister Piero and Giovanni da Cascia. The Vatican folios contain thirty madrigals, one of which is canonicone caccia (plural cacce)five monophonic ballate (singular ballata) and one rondello.

The Caccia

The caccia is what we know as a canon.  It is a contrapuntal piece with points of imitation.  Imitation simply means that a new voice is introduced, at the right moment, after a first voice, or first statement, has been sung or played.  “Frère Jacques” can be sung as a canon.  One voice goes Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, at which point another voice starts singing what has been sung by the first voice (=imitation).

Many, if not most, contrapuntal works have points of imitation.  As well we sometimes hear a voice repeat what another voice has sung or played.  Suddenly, what has been sung or played in one voice is repeated in another voice.  It is as though a conversation was taking place.  The caccia also gives the impression that one voice is chasing after another voice, chasing as in “hunting.”

The Ballata

The Rossi Codex also contains monophonic (one voice) ballate, plural for ballata.  The ballata is a “forme fixe,” which means that it is written according to the rules of a form, in which it resembles the French virelai and rondeau, both of which are formes fixes.  But the ballata is not a ballade. 

The balatta has stanzas, the first of which opens the piece and the second, closes it.  These two stanzas have the same text.  AbbaA is its musical structure. Each ‘A’ is called a ripresa (refrain), the two ‘b’ lines are piedi  (literally ‘feet,’ units determining the lenght of a verse) and the ‘a’ is a volta (a turn, such as the ‘Yet’ or ‘But’ opening the six final lines of a Shakespearian sonnet).  Later, musicians would compose polyphonic ballate, but in the Rossi Codex, the ballata is monophonic.

The codex also contains a rondello, a form that may have evolved into the rondeau.  It is also called rotondello.  However, I have not found a clear definition of this form. YouTube provides examples of the rondello, but I have not found the rondello contained in the Rossi Codex.

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The mostly anonymous Rossi Codex was composed in the first half of the Trecento, the fourteenth century, and assembled in 1370.  According to Wikipedia, it was gathered by Alberto della Scala in Padua and Verona between around 1330 and 1345Alberto was the son of Can Grande della Scala, Prince of Verona, and Dante‘s patron.

Before it was bought by Giovan Francesco de Rossi, it had been in the possession of

  • Cardinal Domenico Capranica (1400–1458) who gave the manuscript to the
  • college he founded (Collegio Capranica). In the early nineteenth century, the Rossi Codex was in the possession of
  • Giovan Francesco de Rossi, hence its name, but Francesco’s widow gave it to the
  • Jesuit Library, in Linz.  The Codex is now housed in the
  • Vatican Library and in the library of the Fondazione Greggiati, in Ostiglia

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No one knows for certain where Francesco de Rossi bought the Codex, but it would appear that is was composed in Padua or Verona, Italy.

Words are written in the

  • Paduan dialect.  So Francesco de Rossi may have bought it in Padua or Verona and musical elements point to the teachings of
  • Marchetto da Padova,  b. 1274?; fl. 1305 – 1319) the author of Pomerium in arte musice mensurate.  Marchetto is the first theorist to discuss chromaticism (the use of semitones, for example ‘e’ followed by ‘f’ (there are no black notes between these two keys).

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So, we have, composed in the first half of the fourteenth-century and published in the second half:

(Please, click on the title of the piece to hear it)

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I am touched by the beauty of these pieces.  You will note, in particular, that there are two-voice madrigals, (ars nova; or music of the Trecento) that are a testimonial as to the longevity of the madrigal.  Also interesting is the use of instrumental accompaniment.*

Coat of arms of Padova