17: Vocal Music

A. Secular Works

Despite Frescobaldi’s prowess as an instrumental performer and composer, his vocal settings were frequently criticised. Giovanni Battista Doni declared him “extremely ignorant and devoid of discrimination” in setting texts. He repeatedly accused Frescobaldi of being so minimally literate that “when some aria is sung at his house, the moment he runs into some word a bit out of the ordinary he immediately has to turn to his wife (who knows more about it than he does), so she can explain its substance and meaning to him.”[1]

The volume of five-part madrigals that Frescobaldi published with Phalèse of Antwerp in 1608 does not seem to have excited much interest. The Madrigali was never reprinted and does not appear to have circulated in manuscript. In the course of time the altus part-book of the exemplar now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford was lost. The one surviving complete copy, formerly the property of Mme. de Chambure, only became generally available after its accession by the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris following her death in 1975 (Catalogue III.A.1).[2] Nonetheless, the collection was well enough known for Muzio Effrem (1549-ca. 1626), who had succeeded Frescobaldi at the Mantuan court, to include Frescobaldi with Monteverdi and “many other Virtuosi of the School of Rome” (“molt’altri Virtuosi della Scuola di Roma”) in his printed attack on Marco da Gagliano’s sixth book of madrigals (Venice, 1623).[3]

The Madrigali begins the series of Frescobaldi’s carefully considered publications and is the first evidence of his often-expressed desire to make himself known. Its contents, however, are not avant-garde in medium or expression but represent one of the last offshoots of the Ferrarese madrigal school of the 1590s—the years of Luzzaschi’s late works and the productions of Alfonso Fontanelli and Gesualdo; the publication of Frescobaldi’s madrigals just after Luzzaschi’s death marks the end of this tradition.

Frescobaldi’s resolution “to begin to submit my things to the judgment of the World,” was embodied in professional and elegant madrigals. Of the twenty-one works in the collection, the texts so far identified include four of the Ferrarese gentilhuomo di corte Annibale Pocaterra (1559-93)[4], whose poems were also set by Gesualdo, Fontanelli, and Milleville; two of Cesare Rinaldi (1559-1636); one of Horatio Ariosti (1555-93), apparently circulated in manuscript before its publication in 1611; one of Scipione Caetano; one possibly of Battista Guarini (1538-1612), on the evidence of G. B. Aleotti[5]; and five lyrics of Giovanni Battista Marino (1569-1625). Of these five, three were set as the three parti of a single madrigal. While the older authors point back to Ferrara, the number of Marino settings suggests a Roman influence, since Marino was in the service of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini 1602-08. Of the seven unassigned texts, at least some may have been the work of Guido Bentivoglio (most likely the opening ones, since they follow directly on Frescobaldi’s dedication to the nuncio), to whom poesia per musica has been attributed.[6]

Title Source Cleffing Settings
1. Fortunata high only
2. Ahi bella high only
3. Se la doglia: Marino, Lira (1602) high ?first by S. Rossi 1603; F. Roccia, T. Massaino, M. Tantucci, Kapsberger, d’India: 32 settings 1603-52
4. Da qual sfera Pocaterra, Due dialoghi (1607) low only setting
5. Perché spesso a veder low only setting
6. Amor ti chiama Pocaterra, Due dialoghi (1607) high Monte XII, 1587
7. Tu pur mi fuggi Pocaterra, Due dialoghi (1607) high only
8. S’a la gelata mia timida lingua Pocaterra, Due dialoghi (1607) high Monte, Giovanni Croce
9. Vezzossima Filli Scipione Caetano, Rime, 1612 low Antonio Il Verso 1607
10. Perché fuggi tra’ salci (Bacio involato) Marino, Lira low 1st known setting
11. Giunt’è pur, Lidia (Partita dell’amante) Marino, Lira low Pomponio Nenna; Melli 1602</td
12. Ecco l’ora Marino, Lira low
13. Lidia ti lasso Marino, Lira low
14. S’io miro Cesare Rinaldi, Madrigali, 1588 low Pallavicino 1593, Rossi 1600, Melioli 1600
15. Amor mio, perché piangi Battista Guarini low set by Raffaella Aleotti
16. Lasso, io languisco: “Alla sua donna” low
17. Cor mio, chi mi t’invola low only setting
18. So ch’aveste in lasciarmi low only setting
19. Qui dunque, ohimè high only setting
20. Se lontana (Amorosa lontananza) Orazio Ariosti high Montella 1605
21. Come perder poss’io Rinaldi, Madrigali high only setting

The texts of the Madrigali closely resemble those of Luzzaschi and Gesualdo. Unlike, for example, the longer texts of Monteverdi’s Second Book of 1590, they are concise: the longest is eleven lines, the shortest six. They resemble the texts of Luzzaschi’s fourth book, short madrigals of 6-9 lines in a mixture of 7- and 11-syllable lines with no fixed rhyme schemes.

Several of Frescobaldi’s madrigals are either the only known settings of their texts or, in one case, the first known. Not surprisingly, most of these unica texts are anonymous and are probably home-made products of Ferrarese court poets: 1, 2, 4 (Pocaterra), 5, 7, 10 (Marino, first known setting), 16, 17, 18, 19, 21 (Rinaldi). One of the most Ferrarese of the madrigal texts is Pocaterra’s Da qual sfera (“Describes the wonderful effect on him of the song of a beautiful Woman,” [“Descrive effetto mirabile in lui del canto di bella Donna”]), which depicts the singing of one of the dame principalissime (Durante 1979, 237). It recalls the madrigale of Orsina Cavalletta De l’odorate spoglie, which invites Laura Peverara to remove her perfumed gloves, take her harp, and sing Wert’s Cara la vita mia (Durante 2010, 62).

The musical style of the Madrigali matches the amorous and sometimes pastoral character of the texts. In general, the opening and closing sections of the madrigals are the most clearly organized: well-defined areas treated in a variety of ways. The beginning of the third madrigal, Marino’s “Se la doglia e’l martire,” for example, is built by a favorite device in these works, the juxtaposition of contrasting motives derived from the first two phrases of the text. While the texture is punctuated by the anapests of the second phrase, the long line of the structure is maintained by the appearance of the opening phrase in one voice or another. The following sections display careful alternation between homophonic and contrapuntal textures (another characteristic of the Madrigali). Phrases originally presented by a few voices are reorchestrated as tuttis (again, a hallmark of the collection). Like Luzzaschi, Frescobaldi often employs chordal declamation, although unlike his master he does not always throw it into high relief by preceding it with a general pause. The expressive fifth- and octave-leaps of “dite” (“say”) show Girolamo’s clear, albeit restrained, sensitivity to the declamation of his text. Another Ferrarese trait appears in the cadence on “l’hore” (“the hours”) where the texture is thinned by the omission of voices before the conclusion (again a Luzzaschian trait). The last section, beginning at “Mille volte morir,” is built on two contrasting motives, one, “mille volte morir,” the other, “ma in braccio a voi” (“a thousand times to die, but in your arms”: cf. the end of Monteverdi’s “Hor ch’el ciel e la terra”).

In many cases the ending of a madrigal is stressed by sheer weight, the repetition of the concluding phrase. On the other hand, Frescobaldi sometimes takes advantage of a surprise ending in the text to reflect it in the music, as in the concluding “io ardo” (“I burn”) of Pocaterra’s “S’a la gelata mia timida lingua” (“If to my shy frozen tongue”) with its unexpected chromatic inflection, or the swift antithesis at the end of Scipione Caetano’s “Vessosissima Filli; “Se quella fé ch’io non ti feci in vita, Ti farò, Filli mia, con la mia morte” (“If that faith that I did not bear to you in [my] life, my Phyllis, I will make it with my death”). The three parti of “Giunt’è pur Lidia” are unified by the quotation of the falling third C-A in the soprano at the beginning of each part, and the final cadence is emphasized by close stretto writing. In the setting of Ariosti’s “Se lontana” the opening octave depicting “lontana” (“distant”) is repeated with musical if not pictorial justfication at the end of the madrigal.

Frescobaldi’s representation of his texts, either in isolated madrigalian images or affective harmonic progressions, rarely approaches the boldness of Gesualdo or even of their common mentor, Luzzaschi. Words such as “funeste” (“funereal”) in “Ahi bella si” and “cieco” (“blind”) in “Perchè spesso” and “Amor ti chiama” are registered in a few passing note nere. The text of Pocaterra’s “Amor ti chiama il mondo” is built on the paradox that Amor is such in name only; the line “Tu crud’empio tiranno” (“You, cruel pitiless tyrant”) prompts Frescobaldi to suspensions and some clashing seconds, the most extreme affective devices in his madrigalian vocabulary; “ira” (“anger”) is decorated by a little melisma (other pictorial touches are the running notes on “invola,”“fly,” in “Cor mio,” “vittoria” in Ahi bella, “Perché fuggi … corsi”). The word “tormento” (“torment”) is set expressively, but the same musical pattern continues on through the word “dolore” (“sorrow”); one cannot imagine Gesualdo passing up a chance to underline their contrast. Frescobaldi seems to enjoy combining contradictory affetti, as in the opening of “Cor mio” or the antitheses of Rinaldi’s “S’io miro in te”: “io moro,” “tu ridi” “(“I die, you laugh,” pictured in running passages); “ucciso,” riso” (“killed, smile”—a text that comes dangerously close to self-parody):

Ex. 17. 1. “S’io miro in te,” mm. 19-27: “A te dà il riso gioia, La morte a me dà noia” (“To you laughter gives joy, Sorrow gives me death”)

The choice of texts for the collection does not seem to have any obvious linear thrust, unlike some madrigal volumes. The Madrigali opens with a reminiscence of past happiness, when the beloved confessed “I love you,” followed immediately by a reversal in which the beloved becomes a “beautiful but cruel enemy” and then a text playing on the love-death parallel. This in turn is followed by “Da quella sfera,” the madrigal in praise of an unnamed female singer, presumably one of the dame principalissime. There follow images of disappointed love, flight, the perfidy of Cupid. The plea to Phyllis to open the lover’s heart recalls the text of Caccini’s ubiquitous “Amarilli.” At the heart of the Madrigali are the three Marino settings. The ensuing seven variously despairing texts are followed by a concluding one in which the lover sees hope dawning in the eyes of his beloved.

In general, the Madrigali shows Frescobaldi as a highly competent product of the late Ferrarese madrigal school. Both in his choice of texts and in their musical realization he avoids the deeply emotional, preferring to produce works that charm by their craftsmanship rather than impress by their depth. Openings are never composed to rivet the listeners’ attention. His rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary is generally bland, and contrapuntal complexity is rare. One has only to compare Girolamo’s setting of the opening phrase of “Lasso io languisco e moro” with what Gesualdo made of “Moro lasso” to realize the limitation of the former’s expressive range. On the credit side, in his manipulation of the formal clichés characteristic of the late madrigal Frescobaldi displays a sensitivity to text-declamation and a concern for clarity of musical structure. But his very real sense of drama was not stimulated by literary texts, and these works show no trace of the striking innovations in Monteverdi’s fifth book of madrigals, published in 1605 but famously in circulation in Ferrara by 1600. After this bow to Ferrarese tradition, it seems that Frescobaldi preferred to retire from a field in which he had talent but not genius.

Between the Madrigali and the two books of Arie musicali published in 1630, Girolamo issued only three secular vocal works: two strophic settings for single voice and continuo and one through-composed madrigal for two high voices and continuo, all published in anthologies. In the first of these, “Alla gloria alli honori,” (Ghirlandetta amorosa, 1621), he sets the six stanzas of the text over a varied bass. (Adriano Cavicchi sees a paraphrase of Luzzaschi’s “O Primavera” [Madrigali, 1601] at the words “ecco la primavera.”) “O bell’occhi” (Giardino musicale, 1621) consists of three six-line stanzas, comprising an increasingly ornamented vocal line over a repeated bass. The text of Frescobaldi’s “Era l’anima mia,” published in Fabio Costantini’s L’aurata Cintia of 1622, is a madrigal of Battista Guarini (Madrigali, 1598, p. 92), also set by Monteverdi in his fifth book of madrigals (see Catalogue III.A.2, 3, 4).

The two volumes of Arie musicali are described on the titlepage as “to sing to the Harpsichord, or Theorbo” (“per cantarsi nel Gravicembalo, o Tiorba”)[7]. Unlike the earlier settings, they present a considerable variety of poets, media, and genres. Only ten of the texts have been identified, less than a quarter of the total. Three poems were chosen from the poetry of Francesco Balducci (1579-1642), two each from that of Francesco Della Valle (d. after 1623) and Girolamo Preti (1582-1626); one each by Giovanni della Casa (1503-56), Giambattista Marino, Giacomo Marmitta (1504-61), Giovanni Andrea Rovetti (Mormorio d’Elicona, 1625), and Desiderio Cavalcabò.[8]

If we accept Doni’s account of Frescobaldi’s meager literary culture it is not surprising to find Girolamo resorting to an anthology or to standard poets such as Marino or Della Casa, but his choice of three texts by Francesco Balducci is more interesting. Balducci was a Palermitan living in Rome, a favorite of the Barberini circle and the author of two early oratorio libretti. Frescobaldi presumably encountered Balducci’s poem in manuscript, since it only appeared in print in the same year as the Arie.[9] This suggests that some of the works in the Arie may predate Frescobaldi’s journey to Florence, which in turn may explain the notable absence of the standard Florentine authors of poesia per musica from the Arie. (Frescobaldi’s association with the composers of Cardinal Montalto’s circle around 1615 may also have influenced his vocal compositions: see Hill 1987.)

Despite the scarcity of identifiable texts in the Arie, the collection reflects the influence of contemporary models of vocal chamber music. The heroic bass aria seems to have had a special attraction for Roman composers, judging from Stefano Landi’s setting of Castiglione’s “Superbi colli” (Arie, 1620) and Caccini’s “Chi mi confort’ahime” from the Nuove musiche (albeit by a Roman working in Florence). It is exemplified here by Marino’s sonnet “Donna siam rei di morte,” a text that evoked a particularly personal expression from Sigismondo d’India (Musiche III, 1618). The vogue of the lettera amorosa, crystallized as a poetic genre by Marino (madrigals CVI, CVII) and as a musical type by Monteverdi and d’India (Musiche IV, 1621), is reflected in Biagio Marini’s “Le carte in ch’io” (Madrigali, 1618) and in the settings of Preti’s lettera by Giovanni Valentini (Musiche a due, 1622) as well as by Frescobaldi (see Fabbri 1986, 246, for a list of lettere amorose).

Of the forty-three works in the two volumes of Arie (“Voi partite mio sole” occurs twice, once for tenor and, transposed up an octave with slight modifications, for canto), twenty-seven settings are scored for solo voice (canto, tenor, or bass) and continuo, ten are duets (two cantos, two tenors, or canto and tenor) and continuo, and six are trios (canto, alto, tenor, or alto, tenor, bass) and continuo. Despite the multiplicity of designations such as sonetto, canto, canzona, madrigale, and aria, the contents of the Arie fall into four main musical categories: works in continuous recitative style; arias entirely in melodic style (either strophic or with written-out varied stanzas); works mixing the two styles; and settings over bass-patterns (see Fabbri 1986, 238-39 for a chart of poetic forms).

In view of the fact that no other works of Frescobaldi in unmixed recitative style survive, the inclusion of no less than twenty recitative settings in the Arie suggests some strong external influence. In 1635 G. B. Doni advised against setting sonnets in recitative style, perhaps prompted by Frescobaldi’s Arie: “Sonnets … generally should be set for a single voice; but rather in Madrigal Style (as far as seeking out many pitches, & intervals is concerned) than Recitative [Style]” (“I Sonetti … comunemente si doverebbono modulare à una voce sola; ma più tosto in Stile Madrigalesco (quanto al ricercare molte corde, & intervalli) che Recitativo”: Hill 1987, 157-58).

Frescobaldi’s setting of a sonetto spirituale on the Magdalen at the foot of the Cross (“Maddalena alla Croce”) may have been inspired by the “Maddalena chiedendo a Dio pietate” of Andrea Falconieri (Quinto libro, 1619) and perhaps forms a delicate compliment to the Archduchess Maria Maddalena, who had herself painted as the Magdalen.

Ex. 17.2. Sonetto Spirituale. Maddalena alla Croce.

“Maddalena alla Croce” exemplifies Girolamo’s treatment of the expressive recitative style. The rhythm of the music follows closely that of the text. Important words are emphasized by setting them to higher pitches. Unusually affective words or phrases receive expressive melodic or harmonic inflections, as in the phrase “my soul is united with you (you know it, my Redeemer, my God)” (“l’anima unita ho teco [il sai, mio Redentor, mio Dio]),” where within the space of four measures the harmony moves from F major to F-sharp major by a brutal diminished seventh in the bass.[10] The only exception to the unadorned declamation of these works and to their general avoidance of organizing elements such as sequence and repetition is the virtuoso bass sonnet, “Donna, siam rei di morte.”

Frescobaldi opens the first volume of the Arie, dedicated to the Grand Duke, with two poems in praise of Ferdinando presumably written especially for the collection. A Sonetto in stile recitativo, “Signor, c’hora fra gli ostri,” praises Ferdinando II, referring obliquely to one of his principal preoccupations, military action on land and sea against the Turk. This is followed by a Canto in stile recitativo, which directs the dedicatee’s attention to heavenly harmony.

The musical sections of the Sonetto follow the textual divisions of the poem. The settings of the two quatrains of the octave both end on the tonic D. The first tercet of the sestet ends on A, the second again on D. In the smaller structural articulations Frescobaldi’s setting similarly fits the poem, as in the descending phrase with B-flat on “c’hora fra gli ostri” (“now among the purple”), balanced by a rising major phrase with B-natural on the antithesis “hora fra l’armi” (“now among arms”) or the tritone on “morte.” In the Canto in stile recitativo the structural articulations are, if anything, even more marked. The first section of the poem is set off not only by a rest but also by a change of key. The harmonic palette is more varied, with structural cadences on D, B-flat, E, and D (with side stops on C, g, F, A, F-sharp, G). The subordinate phrases of the text are always mirrored in the music.

Ex. 17.3. Sonettto in stile recitativo, “Signor, c’hora fra gli ostri”

The arias form the most numerous genre in the collection, consisting of some fifteen repeated strophic settings, three settings in which the variations are written out (not including the settings on bass patterns), and three mixed settings also employing elements of recitative style. The simplest strophic settings have a unified rhythmic character; others incorporate changes of meter into the setting of the strophe.

Some works in the Arie seem to foreshadow the cantata in their juxtaposition of declamatory sections and passages with the regular rhythmic writing of the arias. The most successful of these are the duets, which often include changes of meter and quasi-recitatives. These settings include “Dove ne vai,” “Eri già” (famously also set by Monteverdi), “Bella tiranna,” “Se m’amate,” and, of the trios, “Quanto più sorda” and “O dolore.”

Ex. 17.4. Madrigale a due voci, “Se m’amate,” mm. 1-17

The bass variations comprise one setting each on the Romanesca, the Ruggiero, the Passacagli, and the “Ceccona.” The Romanesca and Ruggiero settings, whose originals are closed structures, both consist of four variations over the bass. The settings based on the Passacaglia and Ciaccona, on the other hand, show that these were still regarded as motivic-harmonic materials without built-in structural connotations. Despite the employment of such preexisting materials, both works are treated as free alternations of the bass patterns (which can modulate) with recitative sections, in a variety of mensurations:

Ex. 17.5. Ceccona a due tenori, “Deh vien da me,” mm. 19-35

The general stylistic orientation of the Arie musicali is difficult to explain satisfactorily. It seems simplest to attribute it to the musical taste of the Florentine court, but the next published collection of Florentine court music, Domenico Anglesi’s Arie of 1635, in its avoidance of recitative and its reliance on saraband rhythms appears to belong to a later generation. In addition to local Florentine influences and the models of Girolamo’s Roman contemporaries exemplified in the collections of the 1620s, it is possible to hypothesize also the influence of Claudio Monteverdi as displayed in his seventh book of madrigals, published at Venice in 1619 and reprinted in 1622, 1623, 1627, and 1628, as well as that of the Lamento d’Ariannacon due lettere amorose (1623). Although the settings for two voices are not the most numerous items in Frescobaldi’s collection, they are among the most successful, and it is this combination that forms the basis of Monteverdi’s Book VII. Further parallels include the presentation of a Romanesca setting and a lettera amorosa in both collections; Frescobaldi’s Ciaccona for two tenors seems a forerunner of the brilliant “Zefiro torna” of Monteverdi’s 1632 Scherzi musicali.[11]

B. Sacred Works

Frescobaldi’s vocal music was roundly attacked by Antimo Liberati in 1685:

And for that reason many Musicians are incapable of this harmonic science and who knows who could teach it, more so that a great part of the Maestri di Cappella, and Composers are so ignorant of letters, that they barely know how to write their own name correctly [con ortografia]; and so much the less do those who have learned to compose at the keyboard [per sonare di tasto] or other instruments know this vocal harmony, having made their exercise, & habit in composing Ricercari, in the same manner they also compose for vocal style, which is quite different from the other, as this truth is authenticated by the example of Girolamo Frescobaldi, who having been the keyboard wonder of our times, both with the hands and with the pen, [as] so many of his writings and prints display, was equally unfortunate and indeed inept in vocal composition, as have been and are at present many other Players, but not thus the above-named [Giovanni] Valentini, D. Giovanni Salvatore in Naples, & [Francesco] Turino of Brescia, the Master of many Masters in Lombardy, who were most valorous in the one, and the other skill, and as there are in these days, especially in Lombardy. And in truth we do not know who may teach it, if not one’s own taste, the knowledge of the Latin language, and the long experience and application of the Composer.[12]

The inclusion of the phrase, “the knowledge of the Latin language,” suggests that Liberati is particularly concerned with sacred settings, since the context of the letter is a five-way competition for the post of Maestro di Cappella of the Milan cathedral held on 18 August 1684, and the composers he cites—Giovanni Valentini (ca. 1582-1649), Giovanni Salvatore (ca. 1620-ca. 1688), and Francesco Turini (ca. 1595-1656)—were all well-known composers of sacred music.

Roman church music of the earlier seventeenth century may be divided into three categories: sacred concerti, settings for one to five voices and continuo of liturgical or paraliturgical texts; single-chorus settings, with or without continuo, for liturgical performance (such as vesper psalms and Magnificats); and choral liturgical settings for one, two, three, or more choirs of the Ordinary of the mass and standard texts from the office. Works are attributed to Frescobaldi in all three categories (but see below), but the small sacred concerto seems to have engaged his attention most consistently. Beginning in 1616 he published four sacred concertos in anthologies featuring composers of the Congregazione di Santa Cecilia (Catalogue III.B.1-4); a fifth work—a Tenebrae lesson—survives in a manuscript in Bologna (Catalogue III.B.7).

The Liber secundus diversarum modulationum (Rome: Andrea Fei, 1627: Catalogue III.B.5) is Frescobaldi’s one surviving sacred collection, but its title indicates the existence of a previous volume now lost. The Liber secundus contains thirty-two small sacred concertos for from one to four voices and continuo. It was dedicated to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of the late pope Paul V and Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, in a letter ghost-written by Lelio Guidiccioni and dated 1 June 1627.[13] The statement that the pieces were “recently composed for performance in church and the use of piety” suggests that the volume was intended for performance by the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s. The contents of the Liber secundus may also be connected with Frescobaldi’s service in various Roman churches on feasts such as that of St. Louis in the French national church, San Luigi de’ francesi (for which a text such as “Corona aurea super caput,” “A crown of glory on his head,” would have been appropriate). “O Iesu mi dulcissime” or “O sacrum convivium” suggests the lavish Quarantore devotions to the Sacrament with their important musical component.

TABLE 14.1: The contents of the Liber secundus diversarum modulationum

1. Aspice Domine
Magnificat ant., 1 Vespers second Sunday of November
2. Ipsi sum desponsata
St. Agnes
Anerio, Antiphonæ
3. Deus noster refugium
Ps. 46
4. Exsultavit cor meum
Magnificat antiphon, I Vespers Immaculate Heart of Mary
LU 1612
5. O Iesu mi dulcissime
[Feasts of Our Lord, Holy Name]
6. Vidi speciosam sicut
C, C+
Assumption BVM, Resp. I
7. De ore prudentis
C, C+
Fer. III infra Oct. Paschae, Resp. II
8. Sicut mater consolatur
C, C+
Dom. II Adv., Resp. V
9. Beatus vir qui suffert
C, B
Com. I Mart., Capit. II Vesp.
10. O mors illa quam amara
C, B
[Sacred Heart]
11. Benedicta tu Mater
C, B
12. Viri sancti
T, T
Com. plu. mart., Resp. II
13. Tempus est
A, T
Dom. III Sept., Resp. VI
Cf. John 16
14. Benedicite Deum
T, T
Ps. antiphon, II Vespers of St. Raphael, Archangel
15. Tota pulchra es amica mea
C,+ T
Ps. antiphon, I Vespers of the Assumption (St. Mark’s, Venice)
16. Decantabat populus Israel
C, T
Dom. III post Pasch.
17. Exurge Domine
B, B
18. Reminiscere
B, B
Dom. II Quadr.
19. O bone Iesu
20. O Sacrum Convivium
C, C+, T
Magnificat antiphon, II Vespers Corpus Domini
LU 959
21. Vox dilecti mei pulsantis (prima pars)
C, C+, T
[BVM, female saint]
Song of Songs
22. Quam pulchra es, & speciosa (seconda pars)
C, C+, T
23. Sic amantem diligite
A+, T, T
24. Ego flos campi
C, C,+ B
25. Iesu Rex admirabilis
C, C,+ T
26. Exaudi nos Deus
A+, T, B
27. Ego clamavi
C, A+, T, B
Fer. III post Dom. III Quadr.
28. Civitas Hierusalem noli
C, A+, T, T
Dom. II Adv.
29. Ego sum qui sum
C, A+, T, B
Ugolini, Motecta
30. Corona aurea super caput
C, A+, T, B
Com. 1 Mart. Pasch.
31. Iesu flos mater Virginis
C, A+, T, B
32. Ave Virgo gloriosa
C, A+, T, B
Note: + = missing part; LU = Liber Usualis. The motets are numbered according to the index of the basso continuo part-book. Compare the liturgical assignments and sources given in Roche 1986, where dates are based on the formal papal recognition of cultus.

Unfortunately, the Altus part-book of the Liber secundus, which also contains parts for Cantus II, is missing from the only known set of part-books for the collection, so that only fourteen of the thirty-two concertos can by transcribed in their entirety (a fifteenth is recoverable from another source). Unlike the collections of Frescobaldi’s contemporaries at St. Peter’s, the Liber secundus does not seem to have been selected or arranged on any very clear liturgical principles (see Table 17.1). In addition to texts for a few specific liturgical occasions, the settings of the collection provide motets for feasts of Our Lord, the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart, the Ascension, martyrs, and male or female saints, some with additional alleluias for Eastertide. In the Vatican manuscript Chigi Q. VIII. 205-206 Frescobaldi copied three excerpts from Virgilio Mazzocchi’s 1640 Sacri flores for 2-4 voices and continuo: “Nel motetto Veni sponsa Christi del Mazzocchio Alleluia,” “Nel motetto Sacerdotes Dei del Mazzocchi,” and “Omnes sancti.”

A comparison of the Liber secundus with the paradigm of the small sacred concerto, Viadana’s Cento concerti ecclesiastici of 1602, indicates that Frescobaldi gathered his texts from a wider, less strictly liturgical body of sources; in some cases it is impossible to ascertain the precise destination (if any) of these works.

Five of the motets are scored for solo voice (canto or tenor) and continuo, seven for three voices of various ranges, and six for four voices (usually CATB); these are far outnumbered by the fourteen settings for two voices of varying ranges and continuo. (Unfortunately, the motets for CC/bc are all incomplete since the C2 was printed in the Altus partbook.) The motets for solo voice generally show a relatively rapid ornamental vocal line deployed over a slower-moving bass and often working in syncopation against it. Each solo setting contains a brief section in triple meter. 27/31 of the motets contain triple sections: O3/1, 3/1, 3/2,O3/2, all three whole notes to the measure, and C3/2, three halves, more or less prompted by some aspect of the text, e. g., “bless God and declare all his wondrous works”:

Ex. 17.6 Tempus est, mm. 14-27: Benedicite Deum, et enarrate omnia mirabilia eius.

Despite Liberati’s strictures, Girolamo does attempt to portray the aspects of the text, as witness the suspensions on “tristitia” (“sorrow”) or the melisma on “qui consoletur” (“who will console”) in “Aspice Domine,” and the obtrusive G on “Sol” in “Ipsi sum desponsata.”

Where the motets include a vocal bass, like many of the basses in Frescobaldi’s instrumental canzonas it is characterized by a somewhat retrogressive treatment. The lower voice is not an independent line but an embellishment—sometimes highly ornamented—of the continuo bass (or the continuo is a reduction of the lowest vocal line). In the tripla sections that occur also in these works the two lines are virtually identical.

Although the trios and quartets of the Liber secundus are incomplete owing to the missing Altus part-book, some idea of Frescobaldi’s treatment of the three-voice medium can be gained from his earlier occasional publications. One item of the collection can be recovered, since “Iesu rex admirabilis” was issued two years earlier in the anthology Sacri affetti. These three-voice works—”Iesu rex admirabilis,” “Ego sum panis,” and “Peccavi super numerum”—show many of the characteristics of the Liber Secundus motets: relatively slow harmonic motion, highly ornamented melodic lines, and a lowest voice that outlines the continuo bass. Perhaps because of the serious nature of the texts, however, only “Iesu rex” employs a triple section. The larger number of voices permits a greater variety of texture without breaking the continuity of the musical fabric. The gradual rhythmic crescendo (a textural one as well, from complete homophony to syncopated imitation) in the second half of “Ego sum” is longer and more controlled than anything in the earlier portions of the Liber secundus.

A setting from the Lamentations of Jeremiah for Maundy Thursday Holy Week is attributed to Frescobaldi in the Bologna manuscript Q 43, an anthology probably assembled in Rome about the middle of the seventeenth century (the paper has been identified as Roman, after 1650). The collection comprises works by Carissimi, “I. C.”, Carlo [Caprioli] del Violino, Carlo Rainaldi, G. F. Marcorelli, and “M.M.” (?Marco Marazzoli)—Roman maestri di cappella of the 1630s. Frescobaldi’s setting is a dignified and expressive account of its moving text and at least partly refutes Liberati’s blanket condemnation of Frescobaldi as a sacred vocal composer.

2. Polychoral Sacred Music

The polychoral sacred music attributed to Frescobaldi is of doubtful authenticity and generally mediocre musical quality. As with the keyboard manuscripts reportedly in Domenico Frescobaldi’s possession, there is also a persistent tradition of manuscript sacred works by Frescobaldi. As early as 1620 Superbi asserted that Girolamo had composed “endless Church works, which circulate in manuscript.”[14] An inventory of Schloß Ambras at Innsbruck made in 1665 includes under “various Vocal Songs with Basso continuo” (“allerlay Cantiones mit Generalbass”) a “Magnificat for four Choirs in the second tone of Girolimo Frescobaldi written on blank Paper” (“Magnificat a 4 Chori del 2.o tono di Girolimo Frescobaldi auf bloßen Papier geschrieben”), part of a collection acquired from the Goretti family of Ferrara.[15] Padre Martini wrote: “I also find that he composed compositions for the church and especially a motet Misericordias Domini &c. for 18 voices and another for 12 Plaudite Jubilate Deo” (“Ritrovo ancora che ha composte composizioni per chiesa e particolarmente un motetto Misericordias Domini &c. a 18 et un altro a 12. Plaudite Jubilate Deo.”)[16] (The index of Padre Martini’s letters contains tantalizing references to unspecified compositions and volumes by Frescobaldi.)[17] None of these polychoral works appears to have survived.

In 1933 Rafaelle Casimiri published the results of his examination of manuscripts in the musical archive at San Giovanni in Laterano. Among the contents of the collection he found a group of masses for eight voices in two choirs and continuo, identified in nine part-books as masses “sopra l’aria della Monaca” and “sopra l’aria di Fiorenza”; a mass on the first (corrected to eighth) tone; a “Missa Portae Nitent Margaritis”; and a “Missa a 8.” The first two Lateran masses are copied on a single fascicle in the part-books and presumably belong together. The first page of the organ part-book for the Monaca contains the letters “G. F.di,” which Casimiri interpreted as “Girolamo Frescobaldi”:

Ex. 17. 7. Rome, S. Giovanni in Laterano, Ms. Mazzo XI, 8, organo, c. 1 (from Mischiati 1975)

(The third mass bears the abbreviation “di P. T.,” which Casimiri resolved as “Paolo Tarditi.”) As Casimiri himself noted, such ascriptions are no more fanciful than others in Roman manuscripts, including unica now accepted as genuine works of Palestrina.

Following Casimiri, in their edition Oscar Mischiati and Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini attribute the first two masses to Frescobaldi. The manuscripts are not dated, but according to one theory the most likely time for Frescobaldi to have based a work on the Aria di Fiorenza or Ballo del Granduca would have been during his service at the Tuscan court in 1628-34, possibly for the Corsini canonization.[18] Mischiati and Tagliavini date the “Missa Portae Nitent Margaritis” before 1643, but it may be earlier since the texts of Urban VIII’s reformed Breviarium, whose version of the hymn “Urbs beata Ierusalem” it incorporates, were published in 1629.[19]

The attribution to Frescobaldi of the two masses has been questioned by Claudio Annibaldi, who has reached the conclusion that the scribe of the Lateran manuscript (as well as the keyboard manuscript BAV, Chigi Q. IV. 25) was Nicolò Borboni, the engraver of Frescobaldi’s two books of toccatas, and that Borboni copied the masses during his tenure as organist of the Lateran, 1638-41, which would weaken any putative Florentine connection. Annibaldi ascribes other notations in the manuscripts (including the “G. F.di”) to Frescobaldi himself, not as composer or copyist but as performer of the “basso per organo.” [20] This in turn has raised the objection that an outside organist would have been unlikely to substitute for the regular organist of the basilica.

Certain formal procedures are common to both masses. In each the first Kyrie is set in eight parts, the Christe in four, and the concluding Kyrie again in eight, in triple meter. In both Glorias the rapid alternation of phrases in the text is mirrored by the alternation of the two choirs. In the settings of the Credo, the Crucifixus of the Fiorenza mass and the Et incarnatus and Crucifixus of the Monica setting are allotted to a single choir; in both masses the Et Resurrexit prompts a change to triple meter. In both masses the Sanctus and Agnus Dei movements are shortened, the Sanctus by setting the text only up through the first Osanna, omitting the Benedictus; in the Agnus by setting only the first of the three invocations. Such abridgements have been related to liturgical custom at San Giovanni. A Lateran source from 1656 states: “… when the sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated in this Basilica, while Agnus Dei is repeated three times, Dona nobis pacem is not added, but the Miserere nobis is doubled.”[21]

The principal musical interest of the two masses lies in their composer’s manipulation of the given material, and in his alternation and combination of the two choirs. The basic material of the two masses differs greatly. The Monica, earlier employed by Frescobaldi for a set of keyboard variations (see Chapter 13), is a widely disseminated monophonic tune, whose original words make it highly inappropriate for a sacred setting, not to mention in direct contravention of the Ceremoniale episcoporum: “Mother, don’t make me a nun / because I don’t want to do it; / Don’t cut me the habit / because I don’t want to wear it.// All day in choir / at vespers and at mass,/ and the mother abbess /does nothing but scream.// She should drop dead.”[22]

Although more decorous in tone, the Ballo del Granduca is scarcely a more appropriate source, since its original, the ballo “O che nuovo miracolo” written by Emilio de’ Cavalieri for the intermedi of La Pellegrina in 1589, recounts the descent of the Olympian gods to earth in celebration of the marriage of Ferdinando I of Tuscany (an ex-cardinal) with Christine of Lorraine. While the Monica provides a tune, the Fiorenza comprises a melody and bass, the resultant harmonic skeleton, and even an integral rhythmic pattern. (Alexander Silbiger has pointed out that of the many Fiorenza settings attributed to Frescobaldi none is provably authentic.)

The treatments of the two mass originals might almost be distinguished as paraphrase and parody. Although the mass on the Monica employs harmonic progressions drawn from the original, in general the two sections of the tune are more important as sources of thematic material for a predominantly imitative texture. The Fiorenza mass quotes larger segments of its model, the six harmonic phrases that constitute the refrain of the ballo, but it is perhaps significant that the composer largely ignores the most striking progression of the original, ii-I, which he usually alters to a blandly tonal II-I.

One other surviving sacred work is attributed to Frescobaldi, a bichoral setting in eight parts of Psalm 30, vs. 1-6, In Te Domine Speravi (Catalogue III.B.7). The work currently survives in a recent copy lacking the bassus ad organum, presumably made for a performance in Ferrara in 1908. The original manuscript belonged to Franz Xaver Haberl, who considered it to be the only known Frescobaldi autograph. The work displays all the qualities of liturgical Gebrauchsmusik: regular overlapped alternation of the two choirs, continuous rhythmic texture—competence without excitement. Beside a work like Monteverdi’s setting of Nisi Dominus from the 1610 Vespers, composed for the same medium in the same conventions, the In Te Domine almost justifies Liberati’s polemic.


[1] See Chapter 10, n. 42.
[2] On the publishing history of modern transcriptions of the Madrigali see the preface to Bianconi 1996. The entire collection has been recorded by the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini (OPS 30-133).
[3] Quoted in Strainchamps 1993, 202. Effrem was a Neapolitan keyboardist and composer who had served Carlo Gesualdo for twenty-two years. He was recruited for Mantua in the fall of 1615 to replace Frescobaldi (Parisi 1989, 581, n. 264); see Chapter 7.
[4] Cavicchi 1983: anon. bio. of Pocaterra (1558-92) in 1607 Due dialoghi della vergogna: 16 Ferrarese mad. poets + Pocaterra.
[5] “Amor perche piangi”: attributed in Vogel 1977 to G. B. Guarini on the basis of the appearance of the same text in Vittoria Aleotti’s madrigals of 1591, which her father, the Ferrarese architect G. B. Aleotti, a friend and colleague of the Bentivoglio, declared were set to texts of Guarini.
[6] Attributions of texts to Guido Bentivoglio in BAV, mss. Barb. lat. 4201, 4219, 4222, 4223.
[7] Dedications in Prefatory Material, 11-12.
[8] “Ben veggio, donna, homai”: Monsignor Della Casa, Il secondo volume delle rime scelte di diversi autori … (Venice: Giolitti, 1590), 607; Rime di M. Giacomo Marmitta Parmeggiano (Parma: S. Viotto, 1564), 60; “Donna siam rei di Morte”: Marino, Lira III, 3; “Dopo si lungo error”: Della Casa, Rime, Sonnet LXXI; “Dove, dove, signor”: Francesco Della Valle, Rime (Naples: S. Bonino, 1617), 77; “La mia pallida faccia”: Le rime del sig. [Francesco] Balducci (Rome: G. Facciotti, 1630), 143; “Ohimè, che fur”: Della Valle, Rime, 80; “Oscure selve”: Desiderio Cavalcabo, Il secondo volume…, 597; “Ti lascio anima mia”: Idilli, e rime di Girolamo Preti … (Venice: T. Bortoloti, 1614), 87: “Partenza. Per una musica.”; “Vanne o carta amorosa”: Idilli … di Girolamo Preti, 53; “Voi partite o mio sole”: Le rime del sig. Balducci, 31.
[9] On Balducci see Smither 1977, 179-82; on Balducci settings see Holzer 1990.
[10] On the expressive nature of the setting see McClary 2012, 137-48.
[11] Naomi J. Barker SSCM 2017.
[12] Antimo Liberati: Lettera scritta in risposta ad una del Signor Ovidio Persapegi che gli fa istanza di voler vedere ed essaminare i componimenti di musica fatti dalli cinque concorrenti nel concorso per il posto di maestro di cappella della Metropolitana di Milano fatto sotto il dì 18 agosto … e voler dare il suo parere quale de’ cinque concorrenti sia il migliore: Rome, Mascardi, 1685, 55-56: “E perciò di questa scienza harmonica vocale pochi Musici ne sono capaci, né si sà chi l’insegni, maggiormente che gran parte de’ Maestri di Cappella, e Compositori sono così ignoranti di lettere, che à pena sanno scrivere il loro nome con ortografia; e tanto meno sanno questa harmonia vocale quei che hanno imparato di comporre per sonare di tasto, o d’altri stromenti havendo fatta la lor prattica, & assuefattione nel componere i Ricercari, in quell’istesso modo ancora compongono per lo stile vocale, il che è molto diverso dall’altro, conforme s’autentica questa verità dall’essempio di Girolamo Frescobaldi, il quale essendo stato ne’ nostri tempi lo stupore del tasto, e con le mani, e con la penna, come tanti suoi scritti, e le stampe ce lo dimostrano, fu altrettanto infelice ed inetto affatto nella composizione vocale, come sono stati, e sono al presente molti altri Sonatori; ma non già così il nominato [Giovanni] Valentini, D. Giovanni Salvatore in Napoli, & il [Francesco] Turino di Brescia, Maestro di molti Maestri in Lombardia, i quali furono valorosissimi nell’una, e nell’altra scienza, e come ve ne sono in questi tempi, specialmente nella Lombardia. E questo scienza veramente non sappiamo chi l’insegni, se non il proprio gusto, l’intelligenza della lingua latina, e la lunga esperienza ed applicazione del Compositore.”
[13] BAV: Barb. lat. 2958, c. 85: Morelli 2013, 52; see III. Prefatory Material, 8.
[14] Superbi 1620, 133.
[15] Waldner 1916, 134.
[16] Quoted in Mischiati 1975, v, n. 7.
[17] Schnoebelen 1979.
[18] On the Aria del Granduca see Kirkendale 1972.
[19] Casimiri 1933, Mischiati 1975.
[20] Annibaldi 1986.
[21] Annibaldi 1986: 126-27, n. 5: Rasponi 1656: “… quando in hac Basilica Missæ sacrificium celebratur, dùm tertiò repetitur, Agnus Dei, non adijcitur, Dona nobis pacem, sed congeminatur illud, Miserere nobis.”
[22] For an exhaustive bibliography of the tune in its earlier French text, “Une jeune filette,” and subsequent sacred and secular versions, see Mischiati 1975 xviii-xxx.