“I say it’s spinets, and I say the hell with it.”
W.A. Mozart (attributed)
Girolamo Frescobaldi spent his entire documented career as a performer on the organ and harpsichord, and even his most hostile critics acknowledged his preeminence as a keyboard player and composer. No instrument on which he is known to have played has survived unaltered, but the evidences of archival materials and of extant instruments can be combined to suggest the resources available to Frescobaldi in the successive phases of his career, beginning with his service as organist in Ferrara and Rome.
The Italian Organ
Italian organs were built in three general types: large stationary instruments with a richly decorated façade which constituted a notable architectural feature of a church; smaller stationary instruments (positives); and portative organs (sometimes on wheeled platforms) which could be moved as required for church or domestic use.
The basis of seventeenth-century Italian organ construction was a principal at eight-foot or lower pitch. Depending on the length of the fundamental pipe, organ principals could sound at sixteen-foot, twelve-foot, eight-foot pitch, and higher. Upon this fundamental, successive single registers built up a ripieno consisting of a series of octaves and fifths, as opposed to the northern European tradition of mixture stops. Both metal and wood pipes were employed. Although large Italian instruments could have a considerable variety of registers, including reeds, tremolo, voce umana, and incidental effects such as birdcalls, they generally lacked the multiple keyboards and independent pedal registers of Northern organs. Pedal-boards, when present, usually operated pull-downs connected to the lower keys of the manual. Smaller portable organs were furnished with fewer registers—often with open wood (flue) pipes—and were in demand in Rome especially for the increasing performance of polychoral church music. (For continuo accompaniment Monteverdi favored the combination of chamber organ and theorbo.) In 1639 the French gambist André Maugars heard at the Roman Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva a mass for ten separate choirs, each with its portable organ: “One must not be surprised that one can find more than two hundred of them in Rome, instead in Paris one could scarcely find two at the same pitch.” In 1652 the organ-builder Antonio Barcotto asserted: “The best portative organs are those made in Wing shape [a Ala], as are used in Rome, which are much more harmonious that those of this city [Bologna]” (fig. 11.1). Two surviving examples of the wing-shaped portative organ in the Museo degli Strumenti Musicali of Rome are furnished with principal 8’, 4’, [voce umana], XV [2’], XIX [1 1/3’], XXII [1’], [XXVI (2/3’), XXIX (1/2)’]. In 1618 Frescobaldi himself purchased an organ from the estate of Cardinal Innocenzo del Bufalo (d. 1610) for the sum of sc. 120, nearly five times the going rate for a simple harpsichord.
Giovanni Battista Boni describes an anticipation of the harmonium invented by Borbone, Frescobaldi’s pupil and music engraver, imitating “… that sort of Bagpipes that sound by expelling the wind and not by drawing it in (as succeeded most sweetly in a regal made by Sig. Niccolò Borbone, most excellent Organ builder).”
For the performer, seventeenth-century Italian organs differ from modern instruments in many respects. Within a consistent tonal design, they are capable of considerable variety of timbre, from the delicacy of solo stopped flutes to the power and brilliance of the ripieno. The mechanical action permits subtler gradations of articulation than modern electronic systems, a distinction particularly apparent in the smaller positive organ in which the case is open and the pipes at a level with the player’s head. Since the key weight is relatively light, the sensation of mechanical mediation almost disappears. These factors, together with the sustained character of organ sound, combine to produce an impression of extraordinary involvement in the music. Especially in contrapuntal textures, players can almost feel that they are singing independent lines and not simply approximating them through a mechanism.
The Organs of St. Peter’s and Roman Organs
During Frescobaldi’s tenure at St. Peter’s the instruments available to him comprised two large fixed organs and three successive portable ones: of all these, nothing remains but one façade. The portative purchased in 1605 that Frescobaldi played on his debut in 1608 is mostly undocumented and the history of the two stationary instruments is incomplete.
The older of the two large organs was built in 1496 for Alexander VI Borgia by Domenico di Lorenzo da Lucca (see fig. 5.9). From a description made in 1720 for the renovation of the instrument, it had a principal (probably 12’) in the façade, half-keyboard doublings (“raddoppi di mezza tastiera”) of the Principal and Octave, nine registers for the ripieno, two ranks of flutes, and one rank of trombones. In 1609 the organ was salvaged from the Constantinian basilica, overhauled by Armodio Maccione for sc. 350, and reassembled in the Cappella Clementina above the stairway door over the present sacristy door. The renewed instrument was inaugurated by a concert for the Persian ambassador on 2 September 1609.
In 1626 the canons of the Chapter, who had moved to a temporary chapel at the altar of Sts. Simon and Jude in 1609, were established in a permanent Cappella del Coro, which necessitated a re-systematization of the 1496 organ. After considerable work between 1624 and 1626 by the basilica’s new organ builder and technician, Maccione’s nephew Ennio Bonifazi (Bonifatij), the old organ was removed from its previous location and placed in the arch opening between the Cappella Clementina and the new canons’ choir, so that it could sound into both chapels (Lunelli 1958, 82-86). The distinguished architect and wood-worker Giovanni Battista Soria built a new façade on the Clementina side for the organ in 1624. The prospect was divided into three arches, featuring columns carved with Corinthian capitals, putti, foliage, inscriptions, latticework, and the arms of Urban VIII (Ringbeck 1989, 108, Lunelli 1958, 88). On the feast of St. Gregory, 12 March 1626, the restored 1496 organ was inaugurated, presumably by Frescobaldi, in its new site. It was destroyed in 1823.
The second organ, whose case by Giacomo Della Porta survives (see fig. 5.10), was built in 1580 by Marino and Vincenzo of Sulmona and is described as possessing a fundamental pipe of 3.30 meters. According to Tagliavini 2010, xi, both large organs almost certainly had a 12’ principal, the 1580 instrument with a fifty-nine note keyboard (Fº-F5 minus F#º, G#º). As late as 1597 its register of trombones had not been installed. An estimate prepared in 1751 for the repair of the instrument enumerated sixteen registers: three principals, two octave registers, a “quinto registro” (perhaps 2 2/3’), a 2’, a 1 1/3’, another six registers for the ripieno, and ottava bassa and quint flutes. The estimate does not mention zampogna, tremolo, or voce umana registers.
Work on the second organ by Soria and Ennio Bonifaij was in progress by 1627. On 23 April it was reported that “Another façade is being added to the organ of the Gregoriana” (“Si aggiunge un’altra mostra all’organo della Gregoriana”). By 1628 the organ had been moved to a position analogous to that of the older instrument, with the old façade toward the Cappella Gregoriana and the new one facing into the Cappella del Sacramento (Sagrestia Nuova) (fig. 11.2). Of the three principals enumerated in 1751 one faced into each of the two chapels.
In 1611 Armodio Maccione built a new movable organ for San Pietro which was stationed in the new Cappella del Coro. A capitular decree of 1619 forbade its removal to other churches, but it was nonetheless moved in 1623 and 1628. Within the basilica, the organetto was transported according to liturgical necessities, and other similar instruments were rented and tuned as required for polychoral performances. (The basilica’s organ technician was required to furnish one continuo instrument for such performances gratis.) In 1627 Ennio Bonifatij was paid for overhauling the organetto and lowering it in pitch. In the spring of 1634 it was repaired, presumably as a consequence of Frescobaldi’s return from Florence (Cametti 19082, 743). This was apparently insufficient, since on 10 March 1636 the Fabbriceria di S. Pietro commissioned a new portable instrument on a movable platform at the suggestion of Frescobaldi’s patron Cardinal Francesco Barberini, archpriest of the basilica (document in Cametti 19082, 744, n. 1). The wheeled platform was designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini’s brother Luigi and carved by Giovanni Battista Soria. The organ was built by Bonifatij, who finished it in 1638.
The movable organs of the basilica may not have been particularly small. An engraving of 1857 by Félix Benoist of the transept of San Giovanni in Laterano shows two “organi mobili” of 1845-57 modeled on the San Pietro organs. Judging from the print (fig. 11.3: Fronzuto 2008, fig. 3) the organs rose about 10’ above bases ca. 12’ high which were finished with with a lattice-work choir balustrade; the organs were furnished with 16 registers of 50 notes each.
The organ which Frescobaldi played at the church of the Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Sassia had been contracted in 1547 for an instrument at 10 1/2’ pitch, “convenient for the singers for both plainchant and composed music” (“comodo con li cantori così al canto fermo come al canto figurato”), with a façade principal in tin and other registers in lead (see fig. 8.10). In addition to the principal, these registers comprised the usual ripieno of octave, 15th, 19th, 22nd, 29th, plus “a flute with the principals,” another 2’ flute with the principals, and iron pull-downs. The keyboard, originally of the standard 47 keys, was altered in 1604-05 and the bellows moved so that there was room for the choir to stand in the loft, and each register was extended by three notes. In 1620 Armodio Maccione repaired and tuned the organs of the church.
San Lorenzo in Damaso: Organs
In 1638 Frescobaldi’s employer Cardinal Francesco Barberini commissioned Bernini to redesign the apse of San Lorenzo in Damaso, his titular church adjacent to the palace of the Cancelleria (Erwee 2014, 277; fig. 11.4, Bernini 1981). As part of this restructuring the cardinal also commissioned two new large organs for two of the four new cantorie or choir lofts on the sides of the new apse. A scurrilous anecdote recounted by Giovanni Battista Doni suggests that Frescobaldi, a member of the cardinal’s household, may have been consulted about the design of the instruments, as with the organs of Colle Val d’Elsa. (There is a tradition that Frescobaldi also had a hand in designing the new organ of San Domenico in Prato.)
The organ in the cantoria on the Gospel side of San Lorenzo (the left facing the high altar) was built by Ennio Bonifatij for sc. 1,300. It comprised a single keyboard with fifteen registers, including two principals and some registers of the ripieno doubled, and a pedal board. The organ in the loft on the Epistle side of San Lorenzo was built by Giulio Cesare Burzi, who worked on it from 1638 to 1642, at a cost of sc. 1,232. Unusually, it had two keyboards, one with twelve registers, the other a single 16’ chimney flute (“Flauto a cannello in ottava bassa”) “to make loud and soft” (“per fare il piano e il forte”) and—again unusually—fourteen independent contrabassi or pedals on a separate wind-chest. The new chancel was inaugurated in 1640 on the feast of San Lorenzo, 10 August, with a mass for four choirs, one for each of Bernini’s four cantorie; two days later the church was visited by Urban VIII.
The subject of organ registration was treated at some length by Girolamo Diruta and Costanzo Antegnati in their instruction books (Il Transilvano, 1593/1609, L’Antegnata, 1608). Both presuppose an instrument consisting of the usual ripieno built in fifths and octaves above an eight-foot or lower principal, to which were added registri da concerto: a principal divided so that the treble was connected to the keyboard and the bass to the pedals; flutes (4’, 2’, perhaps 2 1/3’ to be employed with the principal); a separate 1’ register which could be combined with the 4’, 4’ flute, and 1 1/3’ to produce a concerto di cornetti; fiffaro or voci umane; and tremulant (not a separate rank).
Diruta’s registrations were conceived according to the affective characters of the various modes or tones as classified by Henrieus Glareanus (Dodecachordon, 1547) and Gioseffe Zarlino (Istituzioni harmoniche, 1558) and employed in such collections as Andrea Gabrieli’s 1595 Ricercari [Gabrieli’s finals are given here in brackets]. Diruta’s descriptions generally agree with those of Zarlino, whom he includes among his “precettori” (see Stembridge 19941).
I. [d] “Serious, delightful” (“grave, dilettevole”: Diruta III/3, principal (8’) with 4’ flute or 2’ played in its natural range renders the Harmony serious, & and simple (“… sonato nelli suoi tasti naturali rende l’Armonia graue, & modesta”)
II. [g/Bb, transposed up a 4th=d] “Melancholy” (“malenconica”: Diruta III/3, 5: played in its natural range renders the Harmony sad, & and tragic (“… sonato nelli suoi tasti naturali rende l’Armonia mesta, & calamitosa”): principal solo with tremolo, played in its natural range with sad modulation; see Tone IV
III. [e] “The nature of this is to move to tears” (Diruta III/3, p. 4: “è di questa natura di commovere al pianto”): principal, 4’ flute
IV. [e] “Lamenting, sad, and doleful” (“lamentevole mesta, & dogliosa”): principal with tremolo, or flutes in their natural range. … when [the Organist] wishes to play something sad, & devout, as one must at the elevation of the Most Holy Body, & blood of Our Lord JESUS CHRIST, when all the faithful in this action contemplate his Most Holy Passion. Thus the Organist must imitate with the Harmony of the Fourth, or Second Tone this effect of the Most Holy Passion …” 
V. [c, down a 4th=f, = XI] “Cheerful, modest, and delightful” (“gioconda, modesta, è dilettevole”: 4’, 2’, and flute
VI. [f with Bb, = XII] “Devout, and serious” (“diuota, e grave”): principal, 4’, flute
VII. [g] “Happy and sweet” (“allegra, e soave”): 4’, 2’, 1’
VIII. [g] “Lovely, and delightful” (“vaga, e diletteuole”): solo flute; flute and 4’ or 2’
IX. [d, down a 5th=a] “Happy, sweet, and sonorous” (“allegra, soave, & sonora”): principal, 2’, 1’
X. [a] “Somewhat sad” (“alquanto mesta”): principal with 4’ or + flute
XI. [f, down a 5th =c] “Lively and full of happiness” (“viua, & piena di allegrezza”): “solo flute; flute, 2’; flute, 2’, 1’; 4’, 2’, 1’
XII. [c] “Sweet and lively” (“dolce e vivace”: flute 4’?) less happy than its authentic [tone] (“meno allegra nel [!] suo autentico”); solo flute.
Antegnati’s suggested registrations are based not on the mode of the piece to be played but on the genre of the work and its liturgical context, with slight variations owing to the differing specifications of the Antegnati family instruments (fig. 11.5) . The Brescia duomo organ comprised twelve registers: a full principal; a divided principal; 4’; 2’; 1 1/3; 1’; 2/3; 1/2’; 1/3; another 1’ to make a consort of cornetti with 4’, 4’ flute, and 1 1/3’; 2’ flute; 4’ flute. (A 2 2/3’ flute, when included, was always played with the principal). The full ripieno (first principal, 4’, 2’, 1 1/3, 1’, 2/3’, 1/2’, 1/3’) was to be employed at the beginning of a service, for introits and intonations, and at the end (Deo gratias) with toccatas and with the pedal. A half-ripieno was composed of principal, 4’, 1’, 1/2’, 1/3’, 4’ flute; or principal, 4’, 1’, 2/3’, 4’ flute. Other combinations comprised principal, 4’, 4’ flute; or principal, 4’ flute—the latter two for general purposes and for accompanying motets. Bright registrations (principal, [4’], 2’ flute; principal, 2 2/3 flute [4’, 4’ flute without tremolo]) were suited to diminutions and canzoni alla francese. The addition of the tremolo to the combination 4’, 4’ flute or solo 4’ flute or the fiffaro with solo principal rendered it appropriate only to slow, legato pieces without diminutions, although tasteless players employed it also for diminished canzonas. Of softer combinations, the solo principal accompanied motets for few voices, and Antegnati was accustomed to play it also at the Elevation: the addition of either tremolo or fiffaro (also called voce umana) again demanded a slow legato style without diminutions. For a dialogue effect Antegnati recommended 4’ flute plus divided principal, in which the flute sounded with the principal in the soprano of the keyboard and alone in the bass, against the principal in the pedal. On large organs a 12’ principal could be played up an octave, giving the effect of an 8’ principal on a medium-size instrument. According to Diruta (III/3, p. 4) “… because most organs are high, beyond choir pitch” (“… perche la maggior parte de gl’Organi sono alti, fuora del Tuono Choristo”), in order to accommodate the choir the organist must be able to transpose down by a whole tone and by a minor third in addition to the usual transpositions of a fourth up and a fifth down.
To avoid boredom Antegnati advised changing registers and styles, “now playing seriously with suspensions, now quickly, now with diminutions…” (“suonando or graue con legature, or presto, or con diminutioni…”). Three of Banchieri’s organ pieces in L’organo suonarino specify register changes, and Monteverdi also indicated them in the large Magnificat of the 1610 Vespers. The player could change registrations only at breaks in the music where a hand was free unless an assistant drew stops. All the registers of the ripieno could be brought on by drawing a single lever, the tiratutti (although the first documented Roman tiratutti is dated to 1646, after Frescobaldi’s death [Barbieri 2012]).
The Italian Harpsichord
The Italian harpsichords of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as the instrument that Maugars described Frescobaldi playing at the Oratorio del Crocifisso, were extremely satisfying musical instruments. Italian harpsichords typically had a sharp curve in the bentside tapering to a narrow tail, the product of a true or Pythagorean scale (string-length doubling each octave) extending down into the tenor register (fig. 11.6). The case was light and the case walls were thin enough that steaming or molding was not necessary to produce the curve of the bentside; the sides were simply nailed and glued to the deal bottom (or sometimes glued and held in shape by jigs, as in viol-construction) and braced by a line of wooden knees at the join. The soundboard was made of cypress, spruce (fir), or maple, woods used also for the case; the wrestplank was sometimes of walnut. The keyboards had box, bone, or ivory naturals with arcaded fronts and ebony or dyed pearwood accidentals.
These thin-walled instruments were undecorated and were placed in a solid outer case (“inner-outer” construction), which was often covered with cloth or stamped leather (corame) and elaborately decorated (fig. 11.7, Harpsichord lid, Ferrara, Alfonso II: Leggenda 1996, 144; fig. 11.8 corame case). For performance the inner instrument could be withdrawn partly or entirely from its outer case (except when register-stops were cut through the outer case wall), although sometimes the case was left closed so as not to overpower a delicate solo when accompanying. Pull-down pedals like those of Italian organs were sometimes attached to the bass keys. Instruments were also made with a “false inner-outer” construction, a single case simulating a double one.
The acoustical results of this construction are admirable. Although there are regional differences in the sound of Italian harpsichords, all of them have a full, clean sound marked by a strong percussive attack and a fairly rapid decay. What seem to be limiting factors—the single keyboard, the restricted number of registers and the difficulty of changing them—direct the player to the instrument’s real strengths: clarity of contrapuntal exposition, a potentially rich palette of articulation, and, owing to its relative dryness of sound, a wide spectrum of possible arpeggiation.
Most surviving authentic Italian harpsichords have only one keyboard and one or two sets of strings. However, instruments with two or three keyboards and as many as eight registers are known to have existed, and at least two authentic two-manual instruments (2 x 8’ lower, 1 x 4’ upper or 1 x 8’, 1 x 4’ on both manuals) survive. Two unsigned 3 x 8’ Roman harpsichords were identified by Denzil Wraight as the work of Orazio Albana and Giovanni Battista Boni da Cortona, both of whom were employed by Frescobaldi’s patrons.
The revaluation of the Italian harpsichord in Frank Hubbard’s influential Three Centuries of Harpsichord Building (1965) led to the concept of the one-manual, 2 x 8’ instrument as a normative and relatively unchanging model from the sixteenth through the seventeenth century. More recent scholars have developed closer analysis and new tools such as case moldings and cheek outlines to “read,” identify, and date instruments more accurately. Employing such methods, Denzil Wraight’s dissertation (Wraight 1997), which surveyed 748 (now 751) extant instruments, modified many of Hubbard’s conclusions. The single-strung harpsichord (1 x 8’) was as important as the double-strung instrument, and where a harpsichord built in the sixteenth or earlier seventeenth century was double-strung the original disposition was often 8’ x 4’, altered later (sometimes as early as the seventeenth century) to the “typical” 2 x 8’ disposition. Toward the end of the sixteenth century the earlier long scale with iron stringing began to be replaced by a shorter scale in yellow brass (sometimes with red brass in the bass), resulting in a shorter instrument and a different sound color without a change in pitch. The standard sixteenth-century harpsichord compass was C/E-f3, superseded by 1650 by C/E-c3. The lowest octave in the bass was generally short, C/E [i.e., the key E sounds the pitch C], D/F#, E/G# or—in later replacements—GG/BB, AA/C#, BB/D#. Full bass octaves were uncommon enough to warrant the specification “with an extended octave” (“all’ottava stesa”). “All’ottava bassa” (“at the lower octave”), on the other hand, indicated a 16’ register. In addition to iron and brass, gold and silver wire and gut were also sometimes employed. The greater density of precious metals permitted shorter bass strings, especially useful for compact virginals.
Several pitch-levels were available to the seventeenth-century performer on harpsichord as well as organ. In addition to “normal” eight-foot pitch, plucked keyed instruments could be tuned at quint and four-foot pitch or higher. Other instruments were constructed at sixteen-foot pitch, with or without registers at higher pitch. In all these instances octave transpositions in performance were also possible.
Regional differences have emerged from Denzil Wraight’s examination of a large pool of surviving plucked string keyboard instruments. Venetian harpsichords were characterised by a long iron scale and cypress for case, soundboard, and bridges, with a compass C/E-f3, 8’ x 4’. Florentine harpsichords favored cypress or spruce soundboards and were strung in brass. Roman instruments more often employed spruce or fir than cypress for soundboards and were usually strung in sonorous brass at ca. a= 415 Hz. (For a summary of Neapolitan keyboard building traditions see Nocerino 2010, 43.)
Harpsichord plectra were usually of quill, although hard leather and other materials were also employed. In the case of 2 x 8’ harpsichords, the differing plucking points of the two registers would have resulted in two solo stops, one round, the other more nasal in timbre. Owing to the narrow gap between the jack-slides, however, the difference would not have been very great and was not of much interest. (In fact, in an instrument dated 1631 in the Yale Collection the maker, Stefano Bolcioni of Prato, has gone to considerable trouble to equalize the scaling and plucking points of the two 8′ registers.) In many historic 2 x 8’ harpsichords it is impossible to change registers without removing the jack-rail, and in some instruments one jack plucks both unison strings. (Contrariwise, in a surviving Florentine 1 x 8’ instrument two sets of jacks pluck the same set of strings.) Venetian instruments with a 4’ register did have stop-knobs projecting through the right cheek, allowing register changes and the use of a solo 4’. (Here again, the evidence of existing instruments is modified by written descriptions of mechanisms for changing registration.) The tone quality of the harpsichord also could be altered by closing the lid, and Doni 1640, 367, even proposed a device for raising the lid gradually which foreshadowed the eighteenth-century machine stop.
Smaller Plucked Keyboards
Smaller instruments of the harpsichord family were produced in great quantities in seventeenth-century Italy. Their terminology has fluctuated considerably, and modern typology does not always follow seventeenth-century usage. Wraight 1997 applies the designation “virginal” to most such instruments, which may be either rectangular, sometimes with the corners cut off, or pentagonal, a type rarely produced after ca. 1625. Trapezoidal instruments were often at 4’ pitch. Keyboards on virginals were located in the center of the instrument and could be either recessed or projecting. The rectangular virginal had a standard compass of C/E-f3 and the pentagonal one a compass of C/E-f3 or later C/E-c3, like the trapezoidal instruments. A particularly resonant type of virginal, a “spinet” (Wraight 1997, 2) at high pitch invented by Girolamo Zenti and datable from a surviving example of 1637, has an extended spine and a curved bentside to accommodate longer bass strings (fig. 11.9). These instruments were generally single strung, which permitted a longer scale with no increase in tension.
Italian virginals had an excellent sound, quite different from that of the harpsichord. “The timbre is rounder, revealing a stronger box resonance; the bass is less hard, more ‘tubby,’ and the treble is purer, although less brilliant.” These smaller instruments could be inventoried as “spinetta” or “spinettina,” a category which included as well instruments at higher pitch (quint or 4’) and perhaps small spinets strung with gut. The rectangular or polygonal virginal was called “arpicordo” until the mid-seventeenth century, then “spinetta.”
Frescobaldi and “la Gioia”
One plucked string keyed instrument that Frescobaldi knew and clearly esteemed appears in the additio of 12 June 1643 to the testament dated 12 April 1638 of Lelio Guidiccioni (d. 7 July 1643), author of the Latin preface to Frescobaldi’s Liber secondus diversarum modulationum: “The Arpicordo called by Frescobaldi ‘the Jewel’ [or ‘the Joy’].” This may be one of two instruments mentioned in the posthumous inventory of Guidiccioni’s household goods: “A large Harpsichord with its Cover [Case] of red leather” (“Un Cimbalo grande con la sua Coperta di corame rosso”) (Archivio 2009, 310) in the first room next to the sala (a relatively private space); or “A Spinet colored dark blue outside covered with two pieces of dark blue cloth” (“Una Spinetta tinta di fora di color turchino coperta con dui pezzi di tela turchina,” Archivio 2009, 324) housed in an upstairs apartment together with portraits of Frescobaldi and Cifra in places of honor among Guidiccioni’s patrons and members of his distinguished family.
Clavichord and Claviorgaunum
Although the early history of the clavichord is traceable largely from Italian sources, by the seventeenth century the instrument seems to have fallen into disuse in Italy. It does not occur in inventories of household instruments and the instructions for tuning the “clavicordio” given by G. P. Cima in his Ricercari of 1606 (“the manner of tuning the clavicordio for any mode”) must actually refer to the harpsichord since they would require enharmonic adjustments of tangents impossible on the fretted clavichords of the period (Brauchli 1998, 102).
Seventeenth-century inventories do however attest the frequent presence of an instrument so far underrepresented in the revival of early music, the claviorganum, which united the sustaining power of the organ with the incisiveness of a plucked instrument. This combination, in which each component could be played separately or both together, was completely unstandardized. The thirty-odd surviving claviorgana variously combine organs having wood pipes, metal pipes, and regals, with both spinets and wing-shaped harpsichords. The provision of register-stops in the harpsichord component of early claviorgana and divided registers in the organs suggest that the makers aimed at the greatest possible variety of tonal combinations. The one documented use of the claviorganum in actual performance was as a continuo instrument in opera, but a copy of a lost painting by Antiveduto Grammatica (1571-1626: fig. 11.10, ca. 1611) shows a chamber ensemble of transverse flute, theorbo, and a claviorganum whose plucked component is a one-manual Italian harpsichord, played by a richly dressed woman.
Temperament and Pitch: Temperament
Two problems complicate our understanding of seventeenth-century keyboard instruments: temperament and pitch. The problems of temperament arise from mathematical incompatibilities such as those of a series of three perfect (2:1) octaves with a series of five perfect (3:2) fifths (in Pythagorean tuning all fifths are perfect except for a “wolf,” B-F#). Their difference is a Pythagorean diatonic semitone (e.g. C#/Db) with a ratio of 256:243.
Bottrigari and Artusi distinguished three types of instruments according to their division of tones and the size of their semitones. The simplest category was instruments with no fixed size of tone or semitones such as trombone, violin, and voice. A second group comprised instruments with equal tones divided into two equal semitones—equal temperament. According to Bottrigari and Artusi this tuning was employed as a compromise for fretted instruments: lute, viol, viola bastarda, cetera, lira, although not all authorities agreed. On the standard keyboard with twelve notes to the octave equal temperament meant dividing the octave into twelve equal semitones. This had the disadvantage that except for octaves all the simple mathematical consonances (fifth, fourth, major and minor thirds) were variously out of tune.
In his Aggiunta to the Note di Pietro della Valle Sopra la musica antica e moderna (July 1640-March 1641) Pietro Della Valle argued that equal temperament, although newly fashionable (as witness the attacks by Della Valle’s mentor Doni on Frescobaldi), was in fact no novelty. Among the defects of equal temperament he cited unbearably false thirds and sixths; no difference between diesis and bmol, which serves for “espressione degli affetti”; and an excessively small semitone between the sensibile [leading tone] and the tonic. Della Valle also denied one advantage claimed for equal temperament, full accords on every note (i.e. no “wolf”), “because even with meantone tuning [l’accordo participato], on the instruments that have split keys, a good player will know how to find perfect consonances on every pitch.” Another advantage claimed for equal temperament, that it goes better with viols and other fretted instruments, is “false, as is the basic assumption … that fretted instruments have equal semitones”
The third possible temperament described by Artusi and Bottrigari was that of equal tones divided into unequal (large and small) semitones. This was meantone tuning, used on the organ, harpsichord, spinet, clavichord, and double harp. “Meantone” denoted any temperament dividing a syntonic comma, 81:80, in which selected fifths were flattened slightly in varying degrees, while a larger “wolf” fifth was generally banished to G#-Eb. The term is usually applied to its most frequent variety, “quarter-comma meantone,” where every fifth is tempered by 1/4 comma, and selected major thirds are tuned as almost “pure” or beatless. (“For a large portion of the Renaissance keyboard repertoire, however, tunings in the vicinity of fifth- or sixth-comma meantime would seem to be more appropriate historically, and musically…”: Koster 2013, 130). The just major thirds of quarter-comma meantone had the effect of emphasising the purity of the major triad, throwing contrasts between consonance and dissonance into higher relief and making acoustical realities of the affective characters of the various modes or tones. Doni seems to have been referring to the third category of division when he accused Frescobaldi of being “so little knowledgeable that he does not know what is a major or minor semitone and scarcely plays on the metabolic keys (which one commonly calls chromatic).” Elsewhere Doni defines “metabolic or mutative [change-making] strings, or notes” as “used for mutations, or going out from the mode.”
A “Regola per accordare il cembalo” of Frescobaldi’s colleague Giovanni Battista Ferrini begins by tuning middle C to any desired level. Octaves and thirds are to be tuned pure (“unite”), the fifths are to be made “a little bit narrow” (“un tantino scarsa”) by tuning them perfect and then lowering the top note a bit. This results in a quarter-comma meantime with B- and E-flats, F-, C, and G-sharps.
Example 11.1: Regola per accordare il cembalo cavata dalla mano propria originale di Gio. Batta Ferrini, alias della spinetta (Barbieri 1987, 246*).
P. O Tasto
On a standard keyboard, meantone temperament precluded enharmonic pairing. The black key adjacent to C could be tuned as C# with A or as Db with F, but not both. The usual choices were F-, C-, and G-sharps, B- and E-flats, as in Ferrini’s temperament: C C# D Eb E F F# G G# A Bb B. Intervals such as C/Db constituted a major (diatonic = d) semitone, with a difference of 117 cents; C / C#, a minor (chromatic = c) semitone of 76 cents, with a difference of 41 cents. On a keyboard in meantone a chromaic scale would produce a mixture of major and minor semitones:
Keys could be split to accommodate the most common problematic pitches in quarter-comma meantone, G#/Ab and D#/Eb. (Keys could also be split to fill out a short octave in the bass.) The split sharps were ca. 1/5 tone lower than the flats, producing microintervals such as C#-Db. The usual pattern for harpsichords was C/E-c3 + F#, G# [short octave], split d#, ab, d#1, ab1, d#2; for virginals: C/E-f3 + F#, G#, D#, ab, d#3, ab1 (Wraight 1997, 1, 161). The treble g# was not split, which suggests that it was not used for the frequent upward transpositions of a fourth.
Most of the instruments which display or once displayed split keys are now attributed to the Roman Giovanni Battista Boni da Cortona (d. 1641) and to the Florentines Francesco Poggi (d. 1634, instruments dated 1586-1620) and Stefano Bolcioni (instruments dated (1626-31), whose father Vincenzo “is truly a worthy man in this profession and it is he who made the cimbalo of S.ra Ippolita and S.r Cesare that certainly has turned out to be the best cimbalo in Rome because it has a big sound and one can sing to it …” Boni is represented by two harpsichords with split keys dated 1619 with the C/E-c3 compass (Wraight 1997, 2, W51, W7). Denzil Wraight also ascribes to Boni a harpsichord which once had the disposition 3 x 8’ (W355) and another with split keys (W500). Stefano Bolcioni, in addition is credited with five virginals with split sharps, a harpsichord of 1627 with either three or eight split accidentals, and a 1631 instrument in the Yale collection (Wraight 1997, 2, catalogue W44). A four-octave harpsichord in a corame case with six split keys, the lowest bearing the initials “G A” and dated 1630 (Rome, Museo National di Strumenti Musicali, Cervelli 1994, 305, 317) has been attributed by Wraight to the Roman craftsman Girolamo Acciari (W 139), who also made harps for Cardinals Francesco and Antonio Barberini (Kirnbauer 2013, 225-26, Granata 2015).
The Cimbalo Cromatico
A more coherent solution to the problem of temperament than quarter-comma meantone with two split keys was embodied in the Neapolitan cimbalo cromatico, such as a harpsichord dated 1631 by Francesco Faber of Senigallia in the Marche (Wraight 1997, 2, W117). The cembalo cromatico was tuned in 1/3 comma meantone, in which the minor thirds were perfect and the octaves were divided into nineteen pitches by split accidentals. The Faber keyboard has been reconstructed as having the accidentals C/E, F#, G#, B#, c#/db, d#/eb, e#, f#/gb, a#/bb repeating to f2, then the normal compass to c3 (Wraight 1997, 2, 154). The result was an almost perfect equal temperament.
In his Secondo libro di diversi capricci per sonare of 1609 Ascanio Mayone published two toccatas “per il Cimbalo Cromatico,” apparently the first such written specification. The Toccata quarta calls for B-, E-, A-, and D-flats, plus F- and C-sharps, while the Toccata quinta requires F-, C-, G-, D-, A-, E-, and B-sharps. (Stembridge points out that both toccatas can be played on an ordinary keyboard with a little selective retuning: for example, if a Db is required only in one octave, the same key can be left as C# elsewhere.) In his Secondo libro of 1615 Giovanni Maria Trabaci included a “Toccata terza, & Ricercar sopra il Cimbalo Cromatico à Quattro” requiring the same repertory of sharps plus F double sharp (indicated by what Trabaci calls a “semitone with six feet,” resembling a modern double sharp) and B-flat. Unlike Mayone’s “chromatic” work, no fudging is possible here (Stembridge 1992, 11). Trabaci offers a somewhat involved explanation of his system in a note.
Enharmonic Keyboards, for want of a better term
The majority of known instruments with non-standard keyboards seem to have been designed to deal with meantone temperament, but from time to time instruments were constructed with the more recondite aim of reproducing the three ancient Greek genera (diatonic, chromatic, enharmonic) and what were considered to be the ancient Greek modes. Derived from ancient Greek musical theory, the genera represented three ways of dividing the four pitches of the tetrachord or perfect fourth: tone, tone, semitone (diatonic); minor third, semitone, semitone (chromatic); major third and two quarter-tones (enharmonic).
The complexities of Nicola Vicentino’s archicembalo (L’antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica, … Rome: Barre, 1555: fig. 1.10), on which Luzzaschi performed so notably, were described feelingly by Bottrigari:
… a large Clavacembalo, with all three Harmonic genera, according to the invention, & division made of twenty-six Diatonic pitches in more than one-hundred-thirty strings, with two keyboards full of semitones, or double black keys, & split [keys], by Don Nicola Vicentino… it is only rarely used owing to the great difficulty, in part in tuning it, & in part having tuned it in maintaining it, in part in playing it; therefore there is no master tuner no matter how excellent, [or] practiced & experienced Organist of worth, who is not terrified just at being presented with so great a number of strings, with these keys divided, as I have said, into two keyboards with the usual black semitones, split in two, & still others added; in addition in order to facilitate somewhat such difficulty it is often necessary for the the player to press and hold down with one hand some keys of both keyboards at the same time: & occasionally do the same at the same time with one, & the other hand.
On both manuals the black keys were divided to produce both sharp and flat variants; in addition the lower manual had black keys between E/F and B/C. The octave was divided into thirty-one pitches in an extended quarter-comma meantime of thirty-one tempered fifths, practically equal temperament. The remaining five keys per octave were duplicated on the upper keyboard, which was tuned a quarter-tone higher than the lower, making it especially convenient for modulations. In the division of the octave into thirty-one parts a whole tone = 5/31, a diatonic semitone = 3/31and a chromatic semitone = 2/31.
In 1548 Domenico da Pesaro built a harpsichord to the specifications described in Gioseffe Zarlino’s Istituzioni harmoniche of 1558. Both major and minor semitones were divided into two parts, producing a division of the tone into four parts, with twenty-four notes to the octave. The blind Venetian organist Martino Pesenti (1600-c. 1648) claimed the Domenico instrument as “the first Harpsichord that was ever built with the Diatonic, Chromatic, and Enharmonic” (“il primo Clauicembalo, che fosse mai fabricato col Diatonico, Cromatico, & Henarmonico”). It resembled the cimbalo cromatico with the addition of F##, C##, G##, D##, and A##. From 1621 to 1634 Pesenti had the use of an instrument built in 1601 by Vito Trasuntino “which was Diatonic, Chromatic & Enharmonic” (“il quale era Diatonico, Cromatico & Henarmonico”) and had twenty-eight keys to the octave. In 1641 according to Pesenti the Zarlino instrument “happened into my hands” (“mi capitò alle mani”). Comparing the differing systems of the two instruments, he found that of Zarlino “the best ordered of all” (“il più regolato di tutto”).
The only instrument still extant constructed according to Vicentino’s theories, with thirty-one pitches to the octave comprising a total of 125 keys capable of all three ancient Greek genera, is the the “Clavemusicvm Omnitonvm Modulis Diatonicis, Cromaticis, et Enarmomns [sic]” built by Vito Trasuntino in 1606 for Camillo Gonzaga, Duke of Novellara, and now in the Museo internazionale e Biblioteca della musica of Bologna (fig. 11.11: van der Meer 1993, #141, pp. 146-48, Wraight 1997, 2, W270). The keyboard has a range of four octaves, C to C, with thirty-one keys to the octave, arranged in one keyboard with two banks of split black keys. The main keyboard was tuned to the diatonic scale: C D E F G A B. The first row of split keys was tuned to the usual accidentals (C# Eb, F#, G#, Bb) on the front half of the key and their alternate readings (Db, D#, Gb, Ab, A#) on the back half. The black key between E and B was split into E#/Fb, and the one between B and C into B#/Cb. The second row of split keys was tuned to micro intervals of the first: e.g., C C#/Db; Cx (front)/Dbb (back).
Figure 11.11 a
Figure 11.11 b
Perhaps inspired by Luzzaschi’s performances on the archicembalo, Scipione Stella (1558/9-1622), a member of Gesualdo’s entourage in Ferrara, designed an enharmonic harpsichord with eight ranks of keys and thirty-one keys to the octave. This was simplified into a clavichord with six ranks of keys by Fabio Colonna (1567-ca. 1640), an important Neapolitan member of the Roman Accademia dei Lincei, who described it in his Sambuca Lincea (Naples: Vitale, 1618, dedicated to pope Paul V Borghese). The Sambuca Lincea contains what seems to be the only surviving music specifically composed for such an instrument, commissioned from Ascanio Mayone: “Signor Ascanio Mayone who without practical experience of the Instrument, by his excellence in Music, at our request has made the following examples, having only seen the notes of the Tetrachords [i.e the genera].” Stella himself had also composed for the instrument: “we hope that there will soon appear the compositions of Padre Stella, who has made a special study of this, from which each one can be more greatly satisfied, since he has discovered beautiful things with his Instrument, which he does not communicate before he has printed them.”
Within Frescobaldi’s own orbit, Pietro Della Valle invented a cembalo triarmonico or “Hessarmonico,” which Virgilio Mazzocchi played for the 1640 performance of Della Valle’s Dialogo di Ester at the Crocifisso. Doni described it as “a Harpsichord … made by Gio: Pietro Polizzino [c. 1602-58], a most expert and most ingenious maker of this sort of instruments, for the Most Illustrious Sig. Pietro della Valle, with two ranks of strings on the soundboard, of which the higher comprises those of the Phrygian Harmony, and the lower those of the Dorian and Hypolidian.” The “Hessarmonico” consisted of three keyboards with five orders, one above other, the each tone being divided into five intervals. The middle keyboard produced the Dorian mode, with the Iastian on the black keys; the upper keyboard, sounding a third higher than written, produced the Aeolian, Phrygian, and Lydian modes, using split keys; the lower produced the Hypolidian mode. Della Valle acknowledged that playing on the black keys of his triarmonico was “deemed most difficult … Sig. Gino himself, who is one of the best players in Rome for boldness, says that it is impossible, that one has to learn a new skill.”
Inventories show that such instruments occurred in the collections of Frescobaldi’s patrons, and he must have been well acquainted with them. He was the pupil of one of the few competent performers on Vicentino’s archicembalo, he himself was reputed to the the only player in Rome capable of manipulating some sort of similar instrument, and he seems to have transmitted this skill and interest to his pupils Francesco Nigetti and Lucia Coppi. (Frescobaldi did not, however, petition Cardinal Barberini to construct an organ on the model of Doni’s cembalo triarmonico built by Giovanni Pietro Polizzino for Pietro Della Valle, as is sometimes claimed.)
Frescobaldi and Equal Temperament
Frescobaldi’s reputation as a proponent of equal temperament rests entirely on the assertions of Giovanni Battista Doni about Cardinal Francesco Barberini’s new organs for San Lorenzo in Damaso. According to Doni, a certain unidentified “ragged old man recently arrived in this city, who knew how to do nothing except to play the harpsichord a bit,” got to know Ottaviano Castelli (1604-42) “that little court poet … a very impudent and shameless man” [fig. 11.12 a-b: Bernini: Ottaviano Castelli: Drawing by Bernini, engraved by Grimaldi for the book of La sincerità trionfante, Rome, 1638, pub. 1640]. Castelli was an polymath amateur who dabbled in philosophy, medicine, geometry, poetry, music, and the visual arts, even painting his own stage sets. He provided the libretto for the opera La sincerità trionfante, presented some eight times by the French ambassador in Rome in 1638 to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a dauphin, the future Louis XIV.
Convinced by the ragged old man of the superiority of equal temperament, Castelli did his utmost—by begging, by promises with little gifts or with the display of empty words—, so that he inveigled many composers and succeeded in drawing them over to his side, and by offering frequent drinks he captured that famous organist Frescobaldi, who was then the head of the music at San Pietro [!], to the point that he was not ashamed—against the opinion of his own ears—to praise this discovery to the seven heavens to his worthy prince [Cardinal Francesco Barberini]. He [Castelli] also spread the rumor, always for the same reason, that this latter had given a golden chain of great value to that exceptional old man: a lie that precisely was to furnish to the uninitiated the proof of how much this new temperament imported by him had pleased; and to render more believable so subtle a sham, having had himself loaned a necklace of notable weight by Jewish bankers, the old man—more burdened than honored—showed it to his followers.
A really ridiculous deed, you would say: in truth, however, more than ridiculous, it was lamentable. In fact the matter reached such a point that the same prince (who as it happened at that time was restoring one of the principal and most ancient basilicas of Rome, especially the apse and the choir lofts) had given orders that the excellent organ of that church be tuned according to that dissonant type of temperament; and the operation would certainly have been carried out if our Doni had not demonstrated—with solid reasoning—the uselessness of the undertaking, the waste of money, the dishonor and the shame that would have fallen on the musicians of Rome.
Doni repeated the attack with a few additional trimmings in a letter to the theorist Père Marin Mersenne, 29 February 1640:
[…] there has been here an old man, who, having spent most of his life in Calabria and in Sicily, having retired to Rome, has tried to introduce, as a fine and new invention, equal semitones on the spinet and has found some one of our Musicians (so ignorant are they) who have trusted him. But finally recognizing the imperfection of this tuning and since good singers did not wish to sing to these instruments (as I had predicted) they have abandoned it, and everything has ended in laughter. Your [Mersenne’s] French book [Harmonie universelle, 1635] has also contributed to this, because I showed Cardinal Barberini what you say about one Sieur Gallé who had sought to introduce the same thing, but fruitlessly, since the harshness of these thirds and the smallness of the semitone in the superius cadences of fa, mi, fa did not at all please your Musicians.
Even Doni concedes that Frescobaldi, sodden with free booze, approved equal temperament “against the opinion of his own ears.” In fact, even the appearance of enharmonic pairs in the same Frescobaldi piece does not necessarily require equal temperament. Where the “bad” accidental is a passing note, the disturbance is slight; where it seems to be a calculated device (as in Toccate II/11, mm. 63-64), the result can be hair-raisingly effective. A more Draconian solution was simply to touch the offending note briefly. Diruta considered the case where with a signed B-flat an F-sharp was lacking for a correct cadence. Some instruments, he said, had split keys (“tasti scauezzi”) capable of producing the correct accidental. If not, “make this fa on the keys that are there: it is enough to touch it, and whoever wished to hold it for a Breve, or Semibreve, would give too much annoyance to the ear.” Even if the presence of incompatible accidentals in the same piece were an indication of equal temperament, such instances are rare in Frescobaldi’s earlier work. Only the passage cited above goes beyond the limits of normal meantone tuning in the toccatas of Frescobaldi’s second book of 1627. The greater frequency of enharmonic pairs in the 1637 Aggiunta (notably in the Cento partite) may reflect Girolamo’s increasing familiarity with the split-key instruments of Boni da Cortona in the Barberini instrumentarium.
On instruments lacking such refinements, in an age when many performers tuned their own instruments slight adjustments could have accommodated most of the problems arising from meantone tuning. Like all systems of temperament, both meantone and equal temperament were historical, variable solutions to an eternal and insoluble problem. Even in the seventeenth century a little healthy skepticism was expressed about the finer points of tuning. “In Ensemble Music [Musica Harmonica],” declared Giovanni Andrea Angelini Bontempi (1695), “not even a whole Comma is perceptible, let alone some tiny part of one.”
Advocates of early music have come to realize that an indiscriminate adherence to “old” pitch (i.e. A=415) is far from being the whole story about pitch in Frescobaldi’s Italy (or anywhere else). Further, the evidence of contemporary written sources does not always square with that of surviving instruments. Several statements imply that different cities had different pitch levels. Writing from Florence in 1612, Marco da Gagliano reported “in Rome they sing a tone lower than here.” In 1639 André Maugars implied that there was an accepted Roman pitch, to which were tuned the two hundred or so small portable organs rented to accompany polychoral works. In 1640 Doni claimed that pitch rose as one ascended the peninsula: Neapolitan organs and harpsichords were tuned a semitone below those of Rome, while Florence, Lombardy (including Ferrara), and Venice were successive semitones higher than Rome. Diruta, writing in Venice, concurred: “The greater part of the Organs are high, beyond Choir pitch…” According to one modern authority, by about 1600 Roman pitch (sometimes known as the corista di San Pietro) was about two semitones below A=440. Doni observed that Roman pitch had been lowered by a semitone in the last forty years, explaining this by the laziness of singers, the influence of castrati, the prevalence of bassi profondi in Rome. Antonio Barcotto confirmed in 1652 that Roman organs were among the lowest used in Italy and Venetian instruments the highest.
The sources that have suggested to some scholars that the pitch-level of Roman organs declined in the course of the seventeenth century need to be read with some care, since they are often predicated on documents that are cited without reference to one important fact. Organ pipes are tuned by tapping a mandrel into the top of the pipe: therefore instruments inevitably rise in pitch. Eventually an organ had to be restored by a wholesale lowering of pitch, moving all the pipes down and adding the necessary new ones at the top. When Ennio Bonifatij was paid sc. 10 in 1627 for the overhaul of the portable organ in St. Peter’s in his “List of the work on the partitive organ of St. Peter’s” he noted: “I have pieced together all the pipes to lower it a half-tone or a bit less, put it back together, Voiced, and Tuned it, making it play.” This is not the deliberate lowering of a previously-established corista, but a restoration to a normative pitch-level.
Denzil Wraight’s survey of surviving Italian keyboard instruments reaches more radical conclusions about pitch and geography. In contradiction to the traditional concept that different areas of the Italian peninsula had different pitch standards throughout the period 1585-1750 and that a change in pitch occurred in the first half of the seventeenth century, Wraight finds that pitch standards were similar for the peninsula as a whole but that each important city had a variety of pitches, and that no major change occurred during the period c. 1500-c. 1750 (Wraight 1997, 1, 292).
Such a variety of pitch levels is indicated by Costanzo Antegnati (1608): “establish the tuning, as you wish a Corista of tutto punto, or mezzo [punto], or high, or low [tuning], as you wish, & is convenient.” For Venice and the north Wraight found a tuono corista: a1 =+- 409 Hz; mezzo punto: a1 = +- 470 Hz; tutto punto a1 = +- 443 Hz. Instruments in Rome and Naples appear to have been at similar pitches, about a semitone lower than in Venice (Wraight 1997, 1, 331-32). For Florence and Rome Wraight found a range of five pitches a semitone apart and a corista of a=415. For Venice, Wraight found some twelve different pitches.
Perhaps we need to rethink the whole question of pitch, starting from Grant O’Brien’s concept of a Reference Pitch, which he employed in his study of the products of the Ruckers family (O’Brien 1990). Reference Pitch is not a specific Hz. number but an abstract norm in relation to which the pitch levels of various instruments of the same family may be expressed: R, R + 2 (i.e., a major second above R) up to R + 9, R-4, and so on. Once we have unbound the written score from its ties to a “normal” pitch (however calculated and enumerated), as O’Brien suggests, we are also free among the multitude of surviving instruments at “non-standard” pitch levels, and performance on such instruments becomes no longer a “transposition.” A case in point is the Ruckers transposing double harpsichord, in which the two sets of strings are simply “long” and “short,” functioning according to the placement of the keyboards as 8′ x 4′ on the upper and 12′ x 6′ on the lower (see “The Ruckers Transposing Double” by Johannes Wolff on the Internet). Pierre Hantai performs Frescobaldi on an instrument constructed R-4.
The Collections of Frescobaldi’s Patrons
When we turn from a general consideration of seventeenth-century keyboard instruments to a detailed examination of the harpsichords and organs available to Frescobaldi in the course of his career, it becomes apparent that these basic types—stationary and portable organs, large and small plucked keyboard instruments, and claviorgana—were realized in a wide variety of detail. A testamentary inventory of goods belonging to Alfonso II d’Este compiled in 1598 lists fourteen keyboards. Of these, four are claviorgana, containing harpsichords of two and three registers. The organ of the first was pitched “a fourth low” (“alla quarta bassa”), another had a register of reeds, and the third was the mysterious “soft and loud instrument … with its organ below” (“instrumento piano e forte … con il suo organo sotto”). A gilded instrumento piano e forte “His Highness used for the musica” (“… S. A. si serviva per la musicha”). Among the other keyboard instruments of the duke’s collection we find a nasino; a chromatic instrument with two keyboards, one above the other (presumably Vicentino’s archicembalo, which ended up in the house of Antonio Goretti); a chromatic instrument with two registers and split keys; and harpsichords of one and two registers, including one with an “ottava bassa” (here a long octave) in the bass. The chromatic instrument may have been the one whose name board was later altered to include the duke’s monogram, ALF[ONSVS] II DVX FER[RARIAE], now in Schloß Köpenick in Berlin. This, the oldest extant Italian instrument apparently with split sharps, was perhaps once part of a claviorganum (fig. 11.13) Wright 2010 has reconstructed the original compass as C/E-c3, with F#, G#, d#, ab, d#1, ab1, d#2.
Alfonso d’Este’s sister Lucrezia, Duchess of Urbino, willed to the singer Laura Peverara an istrumento piano e forte “the same one used for her Musica” (another consertino delle dame): “in her last withdrawn chamber where there is usually a harpsichord tuned like the one in the Duchess [of Ferrara]’s rooms so that it may always be in tune for those angelic voices …”
An inventory dated December 1600 of instruments inherited by Alfonso’s cousin Don Cesare d’Este and stored in his Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara lists ten organs of varying sizes, including an organo grande, a portable organino, an organ and a regaletto of cypress, an organ with paper pipes, and an organ to be set on a table. The harpsichords are summarized as “twelve instruments to play, with two registers, one of various sorts.”
Flanders and Rome: the Bentivoglio, Pietro Aldobrandini, and Others
There is no surviving inventory of the household goods of Guido Bentivoglio during his nunciature in Flanders. Given Frescobaldi’s interest in the musical life of the Spanish Provinces as demonstrated by his journey to Antwerp, it is likely that he investigated keyboard instruments of local manufacture. These differed markedly from their Italian counterparts both in structural principles and in outward appearance. The instrument and its outer case were combined into a single heavier case. The string scaling, while longer than that of seventeenth-century Italy, was also less true in the tenor and bass, so that the curve of the harpsichord bentside was more gradual than that of an Italian instrument. (See fig 11.13) The sound of a typical Flemish harpsichord has been described as having less initial impact than that of an Italian instrument, slower decay, less definition but great smoothness, and a more resonant bass.
The Ruckers family, the most famous of Antwerp makers, made instruments in a variety of types greater than that of Italian builders. These included one-manual harpsichords with two registers, 8’ x 4’; a two-manual transposing instrument with 1 x 8’, 1 x 4’ serving both manuals, the lower keyboard a fourth or fifth lower in pitch than the upper, the two uncoupled (see fig. 4.6: recent research and reconstruction have demonstrated such instruments are more than curiosities); two models of virginals with 1 x 8’ and various models at higher pitches; two types of virginals with 1 x 4’; and a double virginal combining an eight-foot ‘mother’ with an ottavina ‘child,’ which could be played separately or placed on top of the parent to provide a four-foot enrichment (fig. 11.14).
In the smaller types a distinct difference in tone resulted from the placement of the keyboard to the right or to the left of center and the consequent difference in plucking point. Those in which the keyboard stands toward the left “are even and playable— these are called spinetten.” “In some the jacks stand about half way between the bridges, and these are the most common; they are called ‘muselars’”; according to another authority, they are “good in the right hand, but grunt in the bass like young pigs” (quoted in O’Brien 1990, 35). Nonetheless, they are ideal for some compositions, notably dance music. There is also evidence for buff and “harping” stops (“harpsichordium”), soft metal pins on a batten which can be moved up against the strings to produce a buzzing sound, a popular effect. These latter occurred only in the bass register of Flemish muselars. Flemish instruments were well known in Italy. As late as 1682 a “harpsichord of four registers with two keyboards, the work of Bucres [Ruckers] of Germany” (probably a transposing double) was taken out of storage and requilled on all four registers, replacing more than half of the strings, and cleaned for a Roman opera performance.
Enzo Bentivoglio’s papers give little information about his household instruments. Indeed, in line with his policy of borrowing wherever possible, he may not even have owned a harpsichord, since in 1610 Cesare Marotta, a musician in the service of the melomane Cardinal Montalto, had his own “cimbalone” moved in for a performance chez Enzo. In 1613 an instrument was rented for training a singer: “there has been no Harpsichord except for the last week, which Harpsichord was rented and is satisfactory to the said S.ra Francesca, because it suits her voice.” In 1616 Marotta wrote Enzo that “Your harpsichord is with all your other things in the house on the Lungara, and it is well taken care of and is in good condition. It is not necessary to bring it to my house, because I had put in order the one that I had, that Baldassare [another singer] used for studying the time that he stayed here.”
Marotta performed and accompanied his wife, the celebrated singer Ippolita Recupita, on an exceptional instrument belonging to Cardinal Montalto. This is called a “spinetta,” but also a “cimbalo” and “cimbalone,” suggesting that it was in fact a harpsichord or at least something larger than the usual spinet. It was made by the Florentine Vincenzo Bolcione, “who is truly a worthy man in this profession and it is he who made the cimbalo of S.ra Ippolita and S.r Cesare that certainly has turned out to be the best cimbalo in Rome because it has a big sound and one can sing to it …” The sonority of the instrument was enhanced by the fact that the lower strings were gold. Marotta borrowed the spinetta for a party (without informing the cardinal), where the gold strings were stolen. Since no one in Rome could draw such strings Marotta had to send to Florence for new ones.
Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini’s stay in Ferrara may have influenced his musical tastes. His account-books for 1593-96 show traces of a consort of viols, but this was later replaced by polyvocal instruments. An inventory of 1603 shows that the cardinal, Frescobaldi’s other Roman patron in his early years, possessed a rather motley array of keyboard instruments: a small cabinet-organ with three registers; two large Neapolitan harpsichords with split semitones and another Neapolitan instrument in a leather case with a painted lid; a harpsichord of unspecified provenance with the Cardinal’s arms, and a Venetian harpsichord with two registers; two regals, one with wood pipes, the other with brass pipes; a large organ formerly the property of the Cardinal of Aragon; a claviorganum in bad condition and a French spinet, as well as various plucked instruments; a large organ with wood pipes and  a book-shaped spinet. In addition to the keyed instruments, the 1603 inventory mentions a lute and two guitars. A theorbo, a guitar, and a lute were purchased in 1604, perhaps reflecting the presence of the Ferrarese Piccinini family of lutenists in his service.
Later inventories of the Cardinal’s palaces after they had passed into the Pamphilj family describe additional instruments. The garden-villa at Monte Magnanapoli housed a “grave organo made like a large harpsichord,” “A large Neapolitan harpsichord with split semitones,” and the cabinet organ. The villa at Frascati, where Frescobaldi performed, contained two harpsichords, one upholstered in leather with a red painted lid and stand. The cardinal’s Roman palace on the Corso displayed six harpsichords, one of three registers, two of two registers, and two of one, all richly decorated. The organ room of the palace featured a handsome instrument with eight registers. The 1666 inventories of the family palace in Nettuno attribute to Girolamo Zenti (ca. 1609/11-1666/7), inventor of the 1637 bentside spinet, a spinetta and a spinettina in red cases picked out in gold.
Frescobaldi performed on the instruments of other Roman patrons. In the dedication of his first book of toccatas to Cardinal-Duke Ferdinando Gonzaga of Mantua he states that Ferdinando “in Rome deigned with frequent requests to stimulate me to the practice of these works.” A letter of 2 March 1611 from Giovanni Giacomo Maggi to Ferdinando gives a somewhat disconcerting picture of one of the cardinal’s instruments on which Frescobaldi might have performed:
… on the occasion of the pastorale that was done at home this carnival I employed the harpsichord that was in the house of Your Most Illustrious Lordship which I found had been very ill-treated by a harpsichord-builder because he had begun to make the tuning-pins larger to hold its tuning, but the over-large size had damaged the harpsichord, and now it holds its tuning less than before, I keep it in my room cared for as best I can until the return of Your Most Illustrious Lordship. In the meantime I remind you to please order, and to have made a good harpsichord in Florence from Mastro Vincenzo Bolcione who is truly a worthy man in this activity …
In September of 1619 Frescobaldi performed in the Roman palace of Cardinal Alessandro d’Este on a special instrument sent by the cardinal from Modena, perhaps a version of Vincentino’s archicembalo (see Chapter 8).
Florence and the Medici
There is no extant list of the instruments in the possession of the Medici court during Girolamo’s employment there from 1628 to 1634. However, an inventory of 1640 includes items from the previous decade, and their description is sometimes amplified in succeeding lists for 1652, 1654, and 1669. Aside from a Geigenwerk,whose progressive disintegration can be traced through the four inventories, the first keyed instruments encountered are two spinets (at 8’ pitch, corista) by Stefano Soldini (not in Boalch 1995), furnished with outer cases and having five split semitones. The other plucked stringed keyboards in the Medici inventories comprise a small green spinet, a harpsichord in a black case on a carved walnut stand, a black and yellow Neapolitan harpsichord (attributed in a later inventory to the Venetian Trasuntino family), and a Neapolitan harpsichord in a case of red leather on loan to the castrato Domenico Sarti, who performed with Frescobaldi for the French ambassador in 1630. An 8’ spinet with five split keys built by Girolamo Bolcioni in 1619 was delivered to Muzio Effrem on his appointment in June of that year and returned on his departure in August 1622 (Montanari 2008, 166).
The 1640 inventory of the Medici instruments lists no fewer than seven organs of widely varying specifications. “Two double Organs enharmonic and diatonic, with two wooden keyboards of five feet” made of cypress with a double keyboard and one of them with two registers (“Due Organi doppii inarmonici, e diatonici, con due tastature di legno di cinque piedi” ) are qualified in in 1654 as “Gromatico.” These may be the two instruments with two keyboards and 264 cypress pipes commissioned by Emilo de’ Cavalieri for the court and made by Francesco Palmieri in 1596 and 1602. “Two Wood [i.e. flue] Organs one with a principal and octave, and the other at the unison with one principal” (“Due Organi di Legno uno con principale, e ottava, e l’altro all’unisono con un’ principale”) are otherwise unspecified, but the “flue Organino of five feet” (“Organino di legno di cinque piedi”) is listed in 1654 as being at the fifteenth, with partly stopped pipes. The “Large flue Organ at fourteen feet” (“Organo grosso di legno di quattordici piedi”) may be the “Cypress Organ with forty-five keys and a single register” (“Organo di Cipresso di 45 tasti à un’registro solo”), whose range was probably C/E-c3. Another organino with a similar compass combined a regal and a register of cypress flutes.
Judging from its elaborate decoration, a particularly prized instrument owned by the court was a harpsichord built by Jacopo Ramerini (ca. 1596-1674), of whom a transposing instrument was described by Doni and Mersenne. Born in Florence, Ramerini was active in Rome by January of 1627. The Medici harpsichord, built in 1617, had a single register and four ranks of [split] keys, with a poplar [albero] case later painted green and decorated with arabesques of yellow flowers and the Medici arms on a red ground inside the lid. A harpsichord with split keys built in Florence in 1630 by the otherwise unknown Johann Heckelau of Nordhausen (“Johannes Heckelau Northusanus fecit Florent[i]e Anno 1630”) was returned to the guardaroba by Frescobaldi’s pupil Francesco Nigetti in April 1656. Lucia Coppi, another Frescobaldi student, left in her will “Another [keyboard] Instrument with five ranks of keys to pass imperceptibly through all the Modes the invention of Nigetti, made by the son of Master Vincenzo [Stefano Bolcioni]”. The other instruments inventoried after her death in 1664 comprise a claviorganum by [Domenico da] Pesaro; a pair of mother-and-child spinets, playable by two people, by Vincenzo Bolcioni; and a large harpsichord with all split keys.”
The Tuscan cathedral of Colle Val d’Elsa, consecrated in 1630 with the participation of Frescobaldi, was furnished with two organs in cantorie facing down the nave in the transept walls on either side of the high altar, one instrument with metal pipes, the other with wooden ones; the latter was first used on 26 October of 1622 (Salerni 1986, 49, 82). The reports of Frescobaldi’s participation in the design of organs in Prato, Val d’Elsa, and Rome, while imprecise, suggest that this formed part of his professional activity.
The Barberini: Francesco, Taddeo, Antonio
The Medici collection, as reflected in these inventories, was relatively small and contained keyed instruments mostly of Italian origin and pattern. On his entry into the Barberini service in 1634, Frescobaldi gained access to many more instruments, of more than one national tradition. These were parcelled out among Urban VIII’s three nephews in their various Roman residences: Cardinal Francesco’s palace of the Cancelleria, Don Taddeo’s palace in Via de’ Giubbonari, and Cardinal Antonio’s palace at the Quattro Fontane, as well as the family’s country palaces and the cardinals’ apartments in the Vatican.
Cardinal Francesco Barberini’s household inventories record only the few keyboard instruments which were also prominent articles of furniture. A list made in 1631-36 mentions an organ in the form of an ebony cabinet with four registers, wood pipes, ivory keys, and “another similar register that played the spinet” (a claviorganum); and “A Harpsichord to play with three ordini made by the Cortonese [Giovanni Battista Boni da Cortona] who lives at the Matthei.” The ordini may have been either register-stops or the additional banks of keys on enharmonic instruments. This is perhaps the same instrument described in the 1649 inventory of Cardinal Francesco’s possessions in the Cancelleria: “Two Harpsichords together, that is one on top of the other, the one on top with three registers; the one underneath with one register made by Gio: Batta of Cortona.”
The builder was in any case the same, Giovanni Battista Boni da Cortona (d. 1641/42), a maker especially known for instruments with split keys and already active in Rome in 1606. The indication “che sta alli Mathei” refers to the neighborhood of the Roman palaces of the Maffei family, near the Fountain of the Tartarughe (Gnoli 1939, 160: I owe this reference to Patricia Waddy). In 1615 Boni built a new harpsichord for Cardinal Montalto (Hill 1997, I, 41). As early as 1619 Boni was tuning harpsichords at the German College, and four surviving instruments by him are dated from the same year. In 1621 he built a harpsichord with three registers, the earliest known Roman instrument of this disposition, of which there were eventually some forty. Boni also built two-manual instruments with three or four registers, like the one in Cardinal Francesco’s inventory. His first task for the Barberini was apparently the restoration in 1628 “of everything needed” for a valuable “enharmonic Harpsichord with various registers” (“Cimbalo harmonico con diversi registri”) which Cardinal Francesco had bought from the estate of Cardinal Del Monte (d. 1627) for sc. 70.
The Barberini also acquired instruments for their household musicians. Boni made a harpsichord for Cardinal Francesco’s “castratino” Girolamo Zampetti in 1629-30 and another for Don Taddeo Barberini in 1631. In 1633 Cardinal Antonio bought a harpsichord from Boni for sc. 90, and in 1634 Francesco purchased an instrument for sc. 50—both well above the base price of sc. 25. The accounts of Cardinal Francesco and of the Oratorio del Crocifisso, where Frescobaldi performed, show that Boni regularly tuned and repaired their instruments until his death in 1641.
Other instruments enumerated in the 1649 inventory of Francesco’s palace of the Cancelleria comprise “A Harpsichord made [to play] standing up”; “A large Harpsichord with a low octave [16’] and several registers”; “A Harpsichord with two registers with a partly mother-of-pearl keyboard, inlaid with white and black bone with a flue organ with its Case painted” (the details of the keyboard suggest that this was a Spanish or German instrument). Notations in the 1649 inventory (e. g. “il sr. P[ri]n[ci]pe,” “Monte Rotundo,” a fief of Don Taddeo) imply that some of these had been loaned to Taddeo, who had died in exile in Paris in 1647.
The refurbishing of some of Cardinal Francesco’s instruments may be the result of Frescobaldi’s entrance into his service. Just at the time of Frescobaldi’s return to Rome in the spring of 1634 Nicolò Borboni, the engraver of Girolamo’s two books of toccatas, was paid sc. 25 “for having put in order His Eminence’s Graviorgano that is having lowered a tone and turning all the wooden Pipes, forging the bocchette [flues?], taking apart the Bougone [? bugnola, a basket] and dusting and replacing all the Wind channels, and making five new little pipes and [having] fixed the bellows and other things …”
The instruments on which Frescobaldi presumably instructed the “signorini,” the sons of Don Taddeo, were not catalogued until after the prince’s death in 1647. An inventory made in 1648 lists three harpsichords (one of them with three keyboards), two of them in Taddeo’s private rooms in his Roman palace. His wife’s apartment in their palace at Palestrina contained a harpsichord in a case lined with red leather, and the furnishings of their palace at Monterotondo included an elaborately decorated claviorgano. Taddeo’s accounts show that by 1624 he was already paying for the tuning of harpsichords. In 1631 he paid Boni sc. 35.90 for a new instrument, and in 1632 sc. 32 for a graviorgano “furnished in every respect.” In 1635 Boni received sc. 25 for a harpsichord from one of Taddeo’s musicians and in 1638 he was paid sc. 21 for two spinette. In 1635 Girolamo Zenti (ca. 1609/1-1666/67: Barbieri 1989, 155) received sc. 28 for a harpsichord; in 1642 he took over the duties of the recently deceased Boni.
The most fully documented Barberini instrumentarium is that of the younger Cardinal Antonio, who received the dedication of Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali. As early as 1625 Antonio was engaged with the harpsichord-builder Andrea Albano (ca. 1552-19-8-1639: Barbieri 1989, 148), whom he paid sc. 200 “for the price of a double harpsichord and another harpsichord in the shape of a harp without a cespro [cespro, “cluster,” perhaps a soundboard rose?] 11 July 1625.” In 1630 Cardinal Antonio paid Orazio Albano (d. 1648: fig. 11.7) sc. 30 for “a Harpsichord given for s. Marc’Antonio Pasqualini,” Antonio’s favorite singer (and putative lover), and in 1632 Albano provided Pasqualini with a spinet of two registers. (Marc’Antonio inhabited two rooms in the attic of the north wing of the Quattro Fontane palace, where he also kept a harpsichord on loan.) On 17 September 1633 Antonio paid sc. 90, again a large sum, “to the harpsichord-maker Cortona for a harpsichord.”
An inventory of Cardinal Antonio’s possessions taken in 1636-40 lists a church organ with gilded tin pipes; a regal; two claviorgana, one chest-shaped and one harpsichord-shaped with a harpsichord on top; eleven harpsichords of various types; and three spinets. Two of the harpsichords were “long,” with a full octave in the bass; two others were “spezzato con ferri,” provided with split keys and pull-down pedals:
A Harpsichord all covered with red Marocco all gilded [and] worked with various designs with the arms of His Eminence in relief inside the Cover with its stand[,] split keys with pull-downs, with an outer cover of red leather, and gold bands — … / A covered Harpsichord with smooth white Case of White poplar [albuccio] with Column shaped legs Split [keys] with pull-downs …
A particularly elaborate instrument had a columnar stand carved with Barberini emblems:
A Harpsichord covered with a Case of red Crimson Velvet all garnished with fine gold braid with its legs made [in the shape of] colonettes carved with bees …
Several instruments have a Flemish air: “A Harpsichord that plays with two persons” may have resembled a Flemish “mother and child” double virginal or a harpsichord with an ottavina in the bentside. “A Harpsichord like a Spinet with Compartments within the Strings inlaid with grenadilla, ebony, and mother-of-pearl with a cover of white spruce [abete]” suggests an instrument with a recessed keyboard, perhaps played standing. A spinet with gold strings was out on loan, and the cardinal kept a harpsichord in a plain poplar case in his apartments in the Vatican. The star of the collection was
A standing Harpsichord [clavicytherium] in the shape of a harp with three figurines at the Top, all carved and gilded around, adorned before with various inlaid stones and crystals painted on the figurines, placed on a carved table of carved white poplar with its legs [in the form of] Fluted colonnettes, with its case of white poplar …
This is similar to (but not identical with) the upright instrument in Andrea Sacchi’s portrait of “Marc’Antonio Psasqualino musician of His Eminence” (fig. 11.15).
Other instruments in Antonio’s collection included six viols in a red case with his arms and “a great gilded harp all carved with its strings in the possession of Marco Marazzoli”—the legendary Barberini harp (fig. 11.16).
In September of 1638 Boni overhauled Cardinal Antonio’s organs and harpsichords, and in August of 1639 he “had been for many days with three workmen to put in order all the harpsichords and other instruments of His Eminence.” Antonio’s accounts for 1639 record payments for a long harpsichord, a graviorgano with a harpsichord, a spinet, and a Flemish organ with lead pipes. Antonio’s 1644 inventory shows that his keyboard instruments were disposed around the former apartments of Don Taddeo and Donna Anna Colonna Barberini on the ground floor and piano nobile of the Quattro Fontane palace. The organ, two graviorgani, two harpsichords, and a spinet were grouped in a “Harpsichord room” (“stanza de Cimbali”) on the ground floor, probably Don Taddeo’s former audience chamber. The iconography of its ceiling fresco of Parnassus painted by Andrea Camassei in 1630-31 (now lost) was based on Maffeo Barberini’s Ode hortatoria ad virtutem (Tezi 364/12). Other instruments were placed in an adjoining room and one at the end of the flight looking out toward Rome. Three rooms on the floor above also contained instruments.
The Barberini inventories describe instruments that do not seem to have survived in identifiable form, but we also find surviving Barberini instruments with little firm archival documentation. A one-manual instrument in a private collection (fig. 11.18) comprises a late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century harpsichord, whose long angled tail suggests the earlier date, in an outer case covered with leather (recycled from wall-hangings) and decorated with swirling volutes enclosing the Barberini bees. (The magnificent stand—also composed of recycled elements—is of later date. Family tradition attributes it to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but it may have been designed by his principal collaborator for decorative arts, Giovanni Paolo Schor.) The disposition of the harpsichord is now 2 x 8’, with a range of fifty-three notes, BB/GG-e’. The original stringing was either iron at about A=415 or brass a fourth lower.
The Barberini and Roman Builders
During Frescobaldi’s service with the Barberini they bought or commissioned instruments from Giovanni Battista Boni da Cortona (d. 1641/42), Andrea Albano and his son Orazio (c. 1588-14.11.1648), Girolamo Zenti, and the otherwise unknown Alessandro Urbani at Monte Giordano. Two harpsichords, “all’ottava bassa” or sixteen-foot pitch, were built by Urbani for Cardinal Antonio Barberini’s production of the Rospigliosi-Luigi Rossi opera Il palazzo incantato in 1642; Zenti furnished the stands for the instruments. The Barberini also employed these makers for tuning and repairs.
Of Boni there are currently accepted four surviving harpsichords dated 1619, all with split accidentals. Cambridge 2 x 8’, originally 3 x 8’ (W 355); 1619, Brussels; c. 1619, 1 x 8’W 51; Bristol, 1 x 8’, W500 [this instrument appears in Richard Lester, “Frescobaldi unmasked” on YouTube, 2009, and was sold at auction by Gardiner Houlgate on 17 March for £34,000]; 1619 Miami, 2 x 8’, W 7. The name of his son Giuseppe appears on two instruments, which he may have repaired rather than built. Andrea Albano (ca. 1552-1639) was cited by Doni (Kirnbauer 2013, 226) for keyboards with whole tones divided into four or five parts. Of dependable attributions to Andrea’s son Orazio (ca. 1588-1648) there survive a 4’ rectangular virginal and three one-manual harpsichords: one dated Rome 1628, now 2 x 8’ but originally 8’ x 4’ (apparently the latest instrument with that disposition) and possibly a fourth higher than ‘normal’ pitch (Bologna, Museo Civico); a second 2 x 8’ dated 1643; and a third disposed 3 x 8’, brass, ca. a=390 with an original GG/BB-c3 compass, the earliest GG/BB surviving (fig. 10.17, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Orazio also built an enharmonic harpsichord for the painter Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri, 1581-1648). Of Zenti (now revealed as Boni’s nephew by marriage: Purchiaroni 2007) there survive the important 1637 bentside spinet and two one-manual harpsichords. The earlier of these was built before 1658 and and originally had two registers at sixteen-foot pitch (it was later grotesquely converted by the Florentine forger Leopoldo Franciolini into a three-manual instrument attributed to Cristofori); the later one was built in Rome in 1666 and is now 2 x 8’.
Organ or Harpsichord?
It is sometimes asserted that Italian keyboard music of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was destined indifferently for organ or harpsichord. There was certainly a considerable degree of overlapping between the two media, but Frescobaldi and his contemporaries did in fact differentiate between organ and harpsichord both in repertory and in playing technique. Diruta went so far as to treat organ- and harpsichord players as two distinct species: “…the Player of dances will never or rarely play musical items on the Organ well, & and on the contrary Organists will never play dances on quilled instruments well; because the manner is different…”
The repertory of the church organist was limited by ecclesiastical decrees, notably those of the Cærimoniale episcoporum of Clement VIII (1600). At least in theory, these decrees outlawed dances and works based on secular sources. Permitted were versets, intonations, elevation toccatas, the ricercar and fantasia, the capriccio, the canzona, and the generic category “sonata.”
At the other end of the spectrum, collections of dances from the mid-sixteenth century through Frescobaldi’s lifetime included specific designations for arpicordo, cimbalo, or clavicembalo in their titles. Other secular genres were sometimes described as “intavolatura d’organo” or “per sonar d’organo,” but the first of these, Andrea Antico’s Frottole intabulate da sonar organi of 1517, depicts on the title page a musician playing a harpsichord decorated with the arms of pope Leo X Medici, accompanying a lute-playing monkey. Antonio Valente’s Intavolatura of 1576, which contains ricercars, fantasias, intabulations, and variations, is designated “de cimbalo,” and the preface asserts that the tablature will teach even the musically illiterate to play the harpsichord. In both his collections Trabaci advised that his works might be performed on any instrument but especially on organ and harpsichord; in the 1615 volume he added that “if in this present book there are some things specified for the Harp, it should not supersede the Harpsichord, because the Harpsichord is the Lord of all the instruments in the world, & every thing can be played with ease on it.”
Frescobaldi’s own title pages and prefaces reflect this distinction in repertory. Toccate I, containing toccatas, variations, and correnti, was originally designated “d’intavolatura di cimbalo,” and the directions in the 1616 preface concerning arpeggiation and repetition of chords presuppose the nonsustaining harpsichord rather than the organ. For the 1628 reprint the designation was changed to “cimbalo et organo” with no alteration of the contents, presumably to bring it into conformity with the title of Toccate II, “d’intavolatura di cimbalo et organo,” which did contain organ music. The Fiori musicali were intended “to be useful to Organists” (“giovare all Organisti”), although the capricci on the Bergamasca and Girolmeta, as secular tunes, were more appropriate to the harpsichord. Bartolomeo Grassi’s edition of the 1628 Canzoni could be performed by solo keyboard or with other instruments. His observations suggest that Toccate I was intabulated by non-keyboard players for performance on their own instruments, but—surprisingly—that the Recercari and Capricci, despite their publication in keyboard partitura, “are works only for the use of keyboard players” (“son’opere ad uso solo di chi sona tasti”), whom Grassi seems to consider mainly as “Harpsichord players” (“sonatori di Cimbalo”).
At every stage of his career, Frescobaldi was provided with instruments of professional caliber, in a variety that matches the variety of his keyboard production. The large organs of St. Peter’s, S. Spirito, and S. Lorenzo in Damaso were adequate to the grandest of his pedal toccatas and were the natural medium for the liturgical organ works. Other contrapuntal genres would have been appropriate also to smaller organs or to the harpsichord. This ambiguity is not always a disadvantage. The sustained clarity of the Italian organ may make explicit the contrapuntal relations that the harpsichord can only suggest, and the crisp attack and rapid decay of the Italian harpsichord can emphasize the feeling for color and texture that pervades even Frescobaldi’s “abstract” keyboard writing.
Of the harpsichord works, Girolamo’s dances and smaller variation-sets can be charming on an Italian virginal or spinet (and three works in Grassi’s edition of the Canzoni specify spinettina). However, the most appropriate medium for his major harpsichord works—the toccatas and the great variation sets—is the large Italian harpsichord with one manual, two registers, and little or no means of varying registration, despite the historical exceptions to each of these specifications.
One further possible performing medium, the claviorganum, combines the incisiveness of the harpsichord with the sustaining power of the organ. On the evidence of the two functioning claviorgana known to me, the disparity between the two tone-qualities is sometimes excessive; but if organ and harpsichord registrations are properly matched, the performance of works that require both a clear attack and a sustained sound, such as the eleventh toccata of Toccate II, is particularly convincing on the claviorganum.
Despite the variations that contemporary organology has individuated in seventeenth-century Italian keyboard instruments, they all display consistent characteristics suited to Frescobaldi’s music. They speak easily and forcefully, with a clarity of attack that encourages a wide variety of articulation. Even in the case of relatively large organs, there is a minimum of mechanical intervention and a consequent sense of direct involvement in the sound production. Both organs and harpsichords are ill-suited to rapid changes of registration, but in both the basic sound is generally so excellent that the ear does not need to be titillated by constant changes of color. This in turn frees the performer to use these instruments to their best advantage, to employ their incisiveness and clarity in realizing the vocal declamation and passionate rhetoric of Frescobaldi’s music.