18. Last Works: The Fiori Musicali of 1635 and the Aggiunta to Toccate I of 1637

            “There is really too much to say.”
Henry James, Introduction to the New York Edition of The Portrait of a Lady


Titles such as Fiori musicali, Sacri flori, and even Sudori musicali were commonplaces of seventeenth-century music publishing.  Nonetheless, Frescobaldi’s Fiori, the last complete collection that he issued, does in fact represent a final flowering in its summary of the genres that he had cultivated throughout his career—the toccata, canzona, capriccio, ricercare, and organ-verset—and in its integration of the two complementary strains in his work, Renaissance counterpoint and Baroque keyboard virtuosity.  The choice of three organ masses (Sundays, feasts of Apostles, feasts of the Virgin Mary) carried on the learned tradition reaching back to Girolamo Cavazzoni and the composers of the Castel d’Arquato manuscript.[1]  The avowed contrapuntal and didactic conception of the Fiori is emphasized by its presentation in keyboard partitura or open score.  Despite this intention, however, Girolamo’s preface also insists that the Fiori are to be played with the same concern for affetti and expressive, flexible execution as the two books of toccatas.

The Cærimoniale episcoporum specifies that the organ play at the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus of the mass ordinary, alternating with the choir singing the sections not performed by the organ.  Adriano Banchieri left the boundary between Introit and Kyrie unclear: Conclusioni: “When the introit is sung, to which when the verset Sicut erat has been sung, one plays a ripieno which serves as the repeat of the introit, alternating with the Choir five responses to the Kyries & Christe briefly.”  Organo suonarino: “The repetition of the introit serves as the first Kyrie.”  Of the mass propers, the organ played “when the Epistle is finished [Gradual], likewise at the Offertory […], likewise in a more serious and sweet sound while the Most Holy Sacrament is elevated, […] at the versicle before the post Communion [prayer],” as well as at the beginning and end of mass (see Chapter 3).[2]

Frescobaldi’s three masses differ somewhat in their provisions for the ordinary and the proper (see Table 18.1).  The contents of the Fiori provide substitutions for all the items of the proper, but of the ordinary Frescobaldi sets only the Kyrie.  (On solemn feasts in St. Peter’s the Kyrie was performed in music with organ interpolations, which may explain the provision of no less than twenty-six Kyries in the Fiori.)[3]  The Creed was frequently omitted, and at a silent low mass the music at the Offertory might extend to the consecration, where the Elevation would replace the Sanctus and Agnus Dei.[4] Frescobaldi’s omission of the Gloria is surprising, however, although it was not performed in the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent.  One scholar has speculated that the Fiori were not so much alternatim masses as a collection of music for a large church where the ordinary was customarily performed in polyphony and instrumental pieces were substituted for items of the proper.[5] Giovanni Salvatore (1641), Antonio Croci (1642), and Giovanni Battista Fasolo (1645) provided settings for all four movements of the ordinary, Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus.

The toccatas which preface the three masses employ a repertory of gestures that is clearly related to the 1627 Toccate, but the genre is now realized on a tighter scale (the longest toccata occupies only ten breves) with all the conciseness of the liturgical versets in the earlier collection.  Owing in part to the firm control of the bass line, these epigrammatic miniatures compress an astonishing variety of figuration and affect into their small compass (e.g., Toccata avanti la Messa della Domenica, mm. 1-4). Toccate are linked to Kyrie by mode and, in the Messa della Domenica, by thematic resemblances.

TABLE 18.1: The contents of the Fiori musicali

Tocata Cromaticha per le leuationeTocata per le leuationeTocata per le levatione

Toccata Auanti la Messa Toccata Auanti la Messa Toccata Auanti la Messa
Messa della Domenica Delli Apostoli della Madonna
KYRIE Della Domenica KYRIE delli Apostoli KYRIE
CHRISTE Alio modo
CHRISTE Alio modo
KYRIE Vltimo
KYRIE Alio modo
KYRIE Alio modo
Canzon Dopo la Pistola Canzon dopo la Pistola Canzon dopo la Pistola
Recercar Dopo il Credo Tocata auanti Il Recercar Recercar Dopo il Credo
[Alio modo, si placet] Recercar Cromaticho post il Credo Toccata Auanti il Recercar
Altro Recercar Recercar Con obligo
Canzon post il Comune Recercar Con obligo del basso Bergamasca
[Alio modo, si placet] Canzon quarti toni dopo il Post Comune Capricio sopra la Girolmeta
Note: CAPITALS indicate items of the mass ordinary


An examination of the Kyrie settings raises the question of their performance in terms of the relation between the original chant and the organ-versets, which varies among the three masses (see Table 18.2).

TABLE 18.2: Chant-setting in the Fiori musicali

Sunday (Mass XI, Orbis Factor)
Kyrie: AAA Kyrie: A
Kyrie: A
Christe: BBB Christe: B
Christe alio modo: B
Christe alio modo: B
Christe alio modo: B
Kyrie: AAC Kyrie: A
Kyrie alio modo
Kyrie alio modo: A (varied)
Kyrie ultimo: C [not LU]
Kyrie alio modo: C
Kyrie alio modo: C
Apostles (Mass IV, Cunctipotens Genitor)
Kyrie: AAA Kyrie: A
Kyrie: A
Kyrie: A
Christe: BBB Christe: B
Christe: B
Kyrie: CCC1 (extended ending) Kyrie: C
Kyrie: C
Kyrie: C1
Madonna (Mass IX, In festis BMV  I)
Kyrie: ABA Kyrie: A
Kyrie: B
Christe: CDC Christe: C
Christe: D
Kyrie: EDE1 (extended ending) Kyrie: E (A)
Kyrie: D

Alternatim performance of the Kyrie began either with the organ or the choir and alternated the sections regularly.  Beginning with the organ would require two settings of the Kyrie and one of the Christe, again two of the Kyrie; beginning with the choir (as in Giovanni Salvatore’s Ricercari of 1641: see Chapter 10), would demand one setting each of the Kyrie and two of the Christe.[6]  Alternatim performance suits Frescobaldi’s setting of the Sunday mass best, despite its three settings of a chant phrase that occurs only once in the original.  In the mass of the Apostles one organ verse would be superfluous in each section of an alternatim performance, and a similar presentation of the Marian mass would not only eliminate three of Frescobaldi’s versets but also leave the final chant section unset.

In the Sunday mass Frescobaldi employs the usual chants for the first set of Kyries (A Bb A G A D F G A Bb A G F E D C D) and for the Christe (A G D C D C A G A F G A Bb A G F E D C D).  With the first of the concluding Kyries he retuns to the opening chant, but the next Kyries “alio modo” introduce what Tagliavini calls a “mutation” or inganno of the chant: D F D C D A C D E F E D C B A G A.  The three concluding versions of Kyrie ultimo employ not the current Liber Usualis version of the chant but a melody current in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: D E F E D C D F G A  B A G F E D A D.[7]

The twenty-six Kyrie/Christe versets of the Fiori, like the versets of Toccate II, treat the chant material in three ways: as a cantus firmus—often in long note-values—in any one voice; as a clear melodic shape in two or three voices against other material; and as a source of motives for points of imitation.  The first verset of the Sunday Kyrie, for example, employs the chant as a soprano cantus firmus accompanied by short imitations in duple meter, in the third Christe the cantus firmus, again in long notes, is framed as a tripla of almost dancelike character.  The last two Kyrie versets of the Marian mass employ their respective chants to provide imitative material, but one creates a ricercar-like rhythmic surface while the other is permeated by syncopations, suspensions, and incisive rhythmic patterns.  This overall variety of character is apparent in Girolamo’s direction that “In the Kyries some can be played with a lively beat, & others with a slow [beat] as will appear to the judgment of the player” (“Nelli Kirie alcuni si potranno sonare con battuta allegra, & altri con lenta come parera a giudicio di chi sonarà”).

Example 18.2: Messa della Madonna, Kyrie

The five canzonas for the Gradual (Canzon dopo l’epistola) and Post-Communion (Canzon dopo il [post] Comune) of the Fiori represent Frescobaldi’s last published essays in a genre that had engaged him throughout his career. These are all imitative, multisectional canzonas based on motto themes, but rigid sectionalization is avoided by the use of free passages, often marked “adasio” and sometimes of considerable figural elaboration, as a foil to the imitative sections (which are often indicated by “alegro” after an adagio). If the toccatas of the Fiori can be said to show the influence of contrapuntal and motivic economy on a figural and discursive genre, the canzonas of the collection demonstrate how keyboard figuration could soften the somewhat rigid outlines of the canzona.

All five canzonas can be described as variation-canzonas insofar as the opening material forms the basis of each succeeding section. The simplest instance is the Gradual canzona from the mass of the Madonna, which is nothing more than two presentations of the subject (the Bassa Fiammengha), in duple and triple meter, separated by a free adagio. The Gradual canzona of the mass of the Apostles varies the usual procedure by presenting the subject first in a chordal introduction before its appearance in imitation. In the Post-Communion of the Sunday mass the structure is enriched by an “alio modo” section based on a new subject against which the original material is set as a countersubject.  The remaining two canzonas, the Gradual from the Sunday mass and the Post-Communion from the mass of the Apostles, transform rather than merely vary their original material. In the Gradual the three statements of the subject (which outlines the initial rising third of the last chant Kyrie) are radically different (Messa della Domenica, Canzon dopo l’Epistola, mm. 1, 17, 39-40). The Post-Communion, somewhat more varied in structure owing to the employment of three adagio sections, not only alters the rhythmic shape and melodic contour of the original material but also introduces it in long notes against its own transformation (Messa delli Apostoli, Canzon quarti toni dopo il Postcommunio, mm. 1-2, 17-18, 21-24).

Ex. 18.3: Messa delli Apostoli, Canzon Quarti Toni. Dopo il Post Comune, mm. 1-27

The six ricercars (one for the Post-Communion, five for the Offertory [“dopo il Credo”]) return to a more severe style, mitigated in two cases by brief but expressive introductory toccatas, only the second instance of this pairing in Frescobaldi’s printed works. The ricercars are organized in from two to four large sections set off by coronas where the organist could end the work if convenient. As we would expect, the ricercars are relatively unadorned in figural character, clear in overall tonal organization, and steady in rhythmic pulse. As befits a “serious” genre, two of the six ricercars are based on chromatic subjects, and two others show a strong chromatic inflection.

As in the 1615 Toccate, in the Fiori Frescobaldi organizes ricercars by the use of ostinato techniques. The ricercar after the Creed in the Lady-mass has no designated ostinato, but its two sections are dominated by a single subject. In the first section, some portion of the subject appears in all but one of the twenty-four measures except for the cadence; in the second section the subject appears in augmentation in all four voices (in the order T, S, B, A), unmistakable in its poignant opening leap and chromatic ascent.

Ex. 18.4: Messa della Madonna, Recercar dopo il Credo, mm. 17-32

The third ricercar in the mass of the Apostles defines its ostinato as “With the obligo of the Bass as it appears” (“Con obligo del Basso come appare”). The subject—a five-note-motto—is employed motivically in the upper parts, but its appearances in the bass chart the tonal course of the work.  It first outlines a circle of fifths (statements on C, G, D, A, A, E/D, G), then returns to C to describe a circle of fourths (C, F, B-flat, E-flat/F, C). The procedure recalls that of an English hexachord fantasy, and this harmonic freedom is underscored by the fact that Frescobaldi, like the English, exceeds the bounds of the meantone keyboard (G#/Ab: the Apostles’ Elevation includes Eb/D#). According to Tagliavini:

the Fiori musicali are intended for a 12’ organ having the ‘classic’ range, already introduced in the last decades of the fifteenth century, of four octaves Fº-F4, without F#º and G#º, thus 47 ‘normal’ keys, to which are added three or four pairs of ‘split’ keys: certainly for G#2/Ab2, and Fb3/D#3, perhaps also for Eb2/D#2.” [8]

In the second ricercar of the Messa della Madonna, Frescobaldi repeats the showiest of his inventions in the 1624 Capricci, the ricercar “With the obligo of Singing the Fifth part without playing it” (“Con obligo di Cantare la Quinta parte senza toccarla”).  As in the Capriccio, here the quinta parte serves not only as ostinato but also generates the motivic material of the four written voices.  But Frescobaldi carries his original conceit a step further: the first appearance of the subject in the soprano is accompanied by a quotation from Petrarch, “Understand me who can, for I understand myself” (“Intendomi chi puo che m’intend’io”).[9] Players are not given cues for the entrances of the quinta parte, as in the capriccio, but must seek them out themselves. As Tagliavini has pointed out (2010, xxiii), the notation of the subject in triple-time breves and semibreves must be taken into account in the solution of the enigma.

Ex. 18.5: Recercar Con obligo di Cantare la Qunta parte senza Toccarla, mm. 1-17

The canzonas, performed at the Gradual and the Post-Communion, are the lightest in style of the contents of the Fiori. The ricercars for the Offertory, the beginning of the sacrificial portion of the liturgy, are more solemn in character.  With the toccatas for the Elevation of the Host, we reach the center of gravity of the mass both liturgically and musically. The Elevations of the Fiori are shorter than the two elevation toccatas of the 1627 volume and thus lack their almost hallucinatory timelessness, but they still display the chromaticism, expressive figuration and vocal inflection, and the dramatic and declamatory rhythmic character of their predecessors. The Elevations from the masses of the Apostles and of the Madonna show this derivation most clearly, including the extent to which they too resist description and analysis. As in the earlier Elevations, a steady half-note pulse anchors the nervous and irregular rhythmic surface of the works to the basic rate of harmonic change.  Internal cadences are generally avoided, and sequence is also employed as a unifying factor, sometimes unsystematically as in the way the Lombard rhythm spreads through the texture in the closing section of the Madonna Elevation (mm. 17-23).

The Elevation from the Sunday mass, written like the other two Elevations in the traditional E mode, has as its analogue not the 1627 Elevations but the toccata “di durezze e ligature” of the same collection.  Like its predecessor, the present work is based on a chromatic subject and eschews internal cadences and figural fraction of the basic half-note pulse. Formally, the work consists of a chordal introduction (headed “adasio,” the only case in the Fiori where this indication seems to govern an entire work) whose highly inflected chromaticism prepares the descending chromatic lines which dominate the succeeding imitative texture.

Ex. 18.6: Messa della Domenica, Toccata Cromaticha Per le leuatione, mm. 1-16

Instead of the ricercar and canzonas that close the first two masses, the Messa della Madonna ends with two capriccios based on secular tunes, the Bergamasca and the Girolmeta. From the mid-sixteenth century the Bergamasca was set by a variety of composers for lute, keyboard, and instrumental ensemble.  The earliest Girometta seems to be by Filippo Azzaiolo (Villotte II, 1559). Floriano Canale’s instrumental canzona “La Stella” (1600) quotes the Girolmetta and Andrea Falconieri employed it as the closing strain of his “Battalia de Barabaso yerno de Satanas” (1650), but Frescobaldi’s settings are apparently the first Italian keyboard versions of both tunes.[10]

Both melodies were technically inadmissible for liturgical use as defined by the Cærimoniale Episcoporum as being “lascivious and impure.”  (That the prohibition was not always observed is clear from Severo Bonini’s complaint that organists play “some little aria similar to the Spagnoletta, or to the Romanesca, or some other common and modern or bastardized one.”)[11]  And indeed their texts, as quoted in the Mazzocchi-Marazzoli Chi soffre speri presented in Carnival of 1639 by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, are hardly elevating: “Franceschina is pleasing to me” (“Franceschina m’è garbata”) and “‘Who made you the fine shoes that suit you so well, Girometta?’  ‘My lover who loves me well made them for me’” (“‘Chi t’ha fatto le belle scarpe che ti stan si ben, Girometta?’  ‘Me l’ha fatte lo mio amore che mi vol gran ben’”: Gialdroni 1987, 148-49). Since “Girometta” is a feminine diminutive of Girolamo, perhaps the two capricci are a sort of musical signature.

Despite their unprepossessing antecedents, these two capriccios are among the most extended and masterful items in the Fiori musicali, confirming Girolamo’s assertion that “Who will play this Bergamasca will learn not a little” (“Chi questa Bergamasca sonara, non pocho Imparera”). Like the 1624 capriccios, these works comprise a number of sections all treating the original subject but contrasting in meter, texture, figuration, and occasionally cadence. (The fact that the third section of the Girolmeta cadences on C rather than on G, the tonic of the rest of the piece, implies that at least here the following “alio modo” is not an alternative but a necessity.)

Frescobaldi here displays with joyful abandon all the resources of his art. The dazzling cadence in the second section of the Girolmeta and the brilliant triplets in the sixth part of the Bergamasca recall the pyrotechnics of the “non senza fatiga” toccata (Bergamasca, mm. 105-06). Frescobaldi’s resource in inventing countersubjects to the two tunes ranges from the deliberately neutral figures in the last section of the Bergamasca and in the alio modo of the Girolmeta to the serpentine chromaticism of sections V and III in the sister works. And it is precisely the everyday character of the two themes that prompts this show of virtuosity, a delight in the transfiguration of the banal that finds its ultimate expression in the Quodlibet of Bach’s “Goldberg” variations.

Ex. 18.7: Bergamasca, mm. 102-114

Indeed, in considering Girolamo’s last keyboard collection it is difficult to resist the parallels with Bach’s final works. Not even the most prejudiced enthusiast would contend that the Fiori musicali matches the scope of the Clavierübung, but the two collections share an avowed didactic aim and a valedictory summation of previous work in a variety of genres. The German “Organ Mass” in Part III of the Clavierübung is the Protestant counterpart of the liturgical cycles in the Fiori musicali, and the quotation of the Bergamasca as “Kraut und Rüben” in the Goldberg Quodlibet is, as it were, a blossom plucked from the Fiori.  Although Bach owned a professionally-copied manuscript of the Fiori, the deepest relations between the two collections, however, are those of analogy rather than those of imitation.  In both we find a mastery of technique so complete that the conflicting demands of concision and expression are reciprocally satisfied, and the commonplace becomes the touchstone for the transmuting power of the composer’s art.

The re-edition of Frescobaldi’s first book of toccatas published in 1637 under the patronage of Cardinal Frencesco Barberini added to the original an Aggiunta containing nine new works, the last to be printed during their composer’s lifetime: three balletti; the Cento partite sopra passacagli, which superseded the variations on the Ciaccona and the Passacaglia in Toccate II; a variation capriccio on the Ruggiero; a capriccio on La Battaglia; two dance pairs, a balletto and ciaccona and a corrente and ciaccona; and a “Capriccio pastorale” for organ with pedals.

The quality of these last works is uneven. The “Capriccio pastorale” is interesting chiefly as an early example of the pastorale in which pedal-points evoke the sound of shepherds’ bagpipes.  The  genre may have originated in Naples, the land of the Christmas presepio invented by St. Francis, or in Rome, where at Christmas pifferari and zampognari still come down from the Abruzzo to serenade the Madonna and Child.[12] The Battaglia (annotated as “navale” in one copy), part of a long tradition, is of interest mainly for its exploitation of harpsichord sound effects, fanfare motifs over drone basses, often arpeggiated, like the “Trombetta” of BAV Mus. 569.  The Ruggiero, with its sly quotation of the tune “Fra Jacopino” (“Frère Jacques”), “Friar Jacopino went off to Rome, his staff on his shoulder and around his neck a cape” (“Fra Jacopino a Roma se n’andava, bordon in spalla e in collo una schiavina”: Gialdroni 1987, 147), which harks back to the sixth ricercar of the 1615 collection, is a charming example of Frescobaldi’s smaller variation sets.  At least from the time of Chaucer, mendicant friars had a louche reputation.  Familiar figures in Italy, they were described in 1585:

Others pose as pilgrims with a long staff in hand, a hat on their heads, a shoulder-cape, with a boy in front, with a poor old man alongside, and they ask alms, speaking Latin and showing falsified bulls and bishops’ licenses, and saying that for a vow they are going to Rome or Loreto or Santiago di Compostela or the Holy Sepulcher. [13]

Ex. 18.8: Capriccio del soggetto scritto sopra l’aria di Roggiero, mm. 1-13

The three balletti are miniature dance-suites, each opening with a two-section balletto in duple meter followed by a two-part corrente (thematically related to the balletto in the first two sets) in compound meter and concluding—in sets one and three—with passacagli. The same bass underlies both passacagli sections, stated in minor on e in the first and in the second both in the major, on B-flat, and in the minor, on g. The other combinations of dance and ostinato do not shed much additional light on the distinction between passacagli and ciaccona since the bass of the first ciaccona, in major, is closely related to the passacagli, and the second is little more than a modulating cadential progression.

In all these works the dance movements display the straightforward vigor and metrical subtlety we have come to expect from Frescobaldi’s dance writing. The ostinato movements, especially the passacaglias of the balletti, have a new quicksilver variety of constantly changing register, chromatic inflection, and a play with symmetry and asymmetry so idiomatic to the keyboard that they seem written-out improvisations. (And indeed there is a whole manuscript repertory occupying a shadowy middle ground between unwritten improvised and final printed versions: see below.)

Ex. 18.9: Passacagli, Balletto Secondo

Girolamo’s new mastery of continuous keyboard textures in the decade between 1627 and 1637 was hard-won. The Ciaccona and Passacagli variations from the 1627 Toccate are surprisingly limited in comparison with the rich variety of their companion toccatas. In both sets of variations the two-measure module of the original is rigidly maintained. Since both patterns begin on I and end on V, each new variation starts with a monotonously predictable tonic cadence on the downbeat. The texture of the Ciaccona in particular accentuates this since almost invariably figuration in one hand is accompanied by chords in the other and the variations tend to be paired, one hand picking up the figural material of the other from the previous variation—both distinctly retrogressive procedures.  Perhaps the most obvious features of the Ciaccona set that are taken over into later works are the frequent addition of a “blue” 4 to V5 chords, the minor inflection of the third, and a sense of contrasting textures.

The Passacagli variations, twice the length of those on the Ciaccona (a distinction visible also in guitar variations), show a greater awareness of keyboard space and an attempt to link single variations into larger groupings.  Among the other devices retained in later treatments of the same material are the pedal-point trill and an alio modo section, here a change of meter rather than of tonal center.

The next stage in Girolamo’s development of these two patterns appears in the Arie musicali of 1630 in the form of an “Aria di Passagaglia [!],” “Così mi disprezzate” (C, bc) and a Ceccona, “Deh, vien da me” TT, bc).  Here Frescobaldi avoids the rigid sectionalization of the 1627 keyboard variations by alternating sections in free recitative style and duple meter with triple-meter sections based on the ostinati, and the ostinati themselves are treated with greater freedom.  The Passacaglia outlines a descending tetrachord and can be realized in a variety of figurations, sometimes with extensive chord-substitutions. The Ciaccona is again a cadential figure.  Most important, both patterns are now permitted to modulate, and this combines with the overlapping of bass phrases with the vocal lines to break the regularity of the earlier keyboard settings. Both tonally and texturally the result is a new freedom and flexibility.

The Passacagli, Ciaccona, and dance attain their apotheosis in the Cento partite sopra passacagli. The problems posed by this work begin with the title. Typographically, the “Cento” appears to be an afterthought, and in fact there are seventy-seven variations on the Passacagli, plus forty-one more on the Ciaccona.  The index of the Aggiunta compounds the confusion by ending the Cento partite at the Corrrente and listing the remained of the work as “Corrente e passachagli” and “Ciaccone e passachagli.” This suggestion of a complex evolution for the work is confirmed by the alteration of page-numbers on the original plates.[14] The basic material of the Cento partite is the same as that of the earlier sets: a descending tetrachord for the Passacagli and a cadential I-V-vi-I3-IV-V progression for the Ciaccona. The tonal freedom first essayed in the Arie settings is here expanded to establish stable tonal areas on F, c/C, a, and an eventual close on e/E.  These modulations are accomplished by two cadential relations: a rise of a minor third, from minor to relative major, or the reverse; and a rise of a fifth by what we would describe as a V of V progression.  The lowered third and V54 chords of the 1627 passacagli are now employed dynamically as agents of these modulations.

The process of composition of the Cento partite has been examined in detail by Etienne Darbellay, who insists that the Aggiunta as a whole and its components “were not conceived and planned in a single inspiration but are a musical patchwork,” in which the modifications took place during the engraving of the Aggiunta, in some cases after pages had already been engraved.[15]  In addition, Darbellay has concluded that the copyists of the Vatican manuscripts Chigi Q. IV. 24 and Chigi Q. 205-206, which contain excerpts related to the Cento partite, had access to genuine Frescobaldi manuscript materials dating from an intermediate stage in the composition of the Cento partite and in any case before 1637.[16] From an examination of both printed and manuscript sources, Darbellay suggests that Frescobaldi first planned to replace the short Passacaglia and Ciaccona variations of Toccate II with two new short series, beginning with twenty variations in d. Darballay finds an underlying cycle of ciaccone, passacagli, and corrente in F, modulating to C, a, and d, recoverable from the print by altering the order of the pages, as well as a Passacagli e Corrente cycle moving from d to g.[17]

The mensural indications in the predecessors of the Cento partite scarcely foreshadow the intricacy of the later work. The Ciaccona of the 1627 Toccate is notated throughout in .3, barred as 3/2 and 6/2. The Passacagli set is similar until the alio modo, where .3 (=3/2) is replaced by C 6/4, apparently indicating a different grouping of the same note-values. (The procedure is reversed in the Passacagli of the third balletto from the Aggiunta, where 6/4 becomes .=3/2 in the “Altro Tuono.”  In the Aria di Passagaglia from the Arie, the passacaglia sections are notated in C3 (later 3) = 3/1, 6/2 or 3/2.  Allowing for some freedom in the recitative sections (in C) and the reduction of 3 to 3/2, the piece supports a proportional interpretation in which a dotted breve in 3 equals half-note in C.  In the Ceccona, the ciaccona sections are notated C3, 3, and 6/4.  (The intervening recitatives are all in C.)  Although the change from 3 to 6/4 is inexplicable musically, at any rate it leaves no doubt as to the reduction of 3.  Here again, a proportional relationship between triple and duple sections makes musical sense.

With these observations in mind we may turn to the Cento partite.  It opens in C 6/4. As employed here, the distinguishing feature of this meter is its rhythmic flexibility: not only 3 x 2 or 2 x 3, but also 12/8 (4 x 3), as in Toccate II/9.  In fact, 6/4 still obtains in the following corrente, so the changed designation 3/2 probably reflects the new title, although 3 is more frequently employed in Girolamo’s other correnti. The sign 3/2 appears relatively late in Frescobaldi’s works and, as in its other appearances in the Cento partite, may govern either 3/2 or 6/4 groupings.  Both .3/2 and C 3/2, on the other hand, show only 3/2 patterns.

Of the other mensurations in the Cento partite, 3 indicates variously 3/2, bars of mixed 6/4 and 3/4 (mm. 284, 290), or 3/4 alone (m. 268).  The sign .3, which governs a passage alternating between 3/2 and 6/4 groupings at m. 140 and sections in unequivocal 3/2 (or 3/2 x 2) at mm. 198 and 315, probably has its original meaning of a ternary division at one level and a binary division at another. In most other music of this period, the mensuration 03 = 3/1, which occurs at the first ciaccona, would imply a proportional reduction.  However, this is apparently contradicted by Frescobaldi’s remarks on tempo and notation in the preface to the Capricci.

Given the piecemeal evolution of the Cento partite, there seems little evidence for a solution to the mensural  problems of the work by treating the changing signatures as proportional manipulations of a constant tactus. However, in an afterthought the preface seems to leave some sort of possibility open by stating “Thr Passacaglias can be played separately, in accordance with whom it will please most, adjusting the tempo of one and the other part as with the Ciacoonas” (1637).  But there is a certain amount of evidence for considering the signatures as appropriate groupings and subdivisions of a constant semiminim beat and therefore a flexible tactus—in effect, no tactus at all.[18]

Étienne Darbellay has proposed a different interpretation, one which which combines proportional and non-proportional aspects.  The 6/4 of the opening passacagli, the most rapid of Frescobaldi’s ternary mensurations, is to be taken at a fast tempo.  The Corrente, added later, has no necessary proportional relationship to the passacagli, while the ensuing passacagli beginning at variation 26 (in .3/2) are to be taken slower than the beginning.  The 6/4 indication in var. 35 is a “reale proporzione,” although the underlying eighth-note pulse remains constant until the end of variation 40.  Var. 1 returns to the tempo of the passacagli in [?] 26ff.  The Ciaccona, var. 48, is noticeably slower, with an acceleration at var. 52 to the tempo of the preceding passacagli.  Since the following variations were conceived as a unit, this tempo can be maintained through var. 101.  There is no proportional relationship between var. 101 and var. 102, but whatever the new tempo the quarter-note remains constant from then on.  (I cannot agree with Darbellay that var. 105 should be accelerated or that a progressive rallentando to the end of the piece begins at var. 110.  Performing the notation as written by observing the integrity of the eighth-note is all that is necessary.)

The richness of Frescobaldi’s invention in the Cento partite seems inexhaustible.  The contrasts of texture, chromatic decoration, internal trills, sudden bursts of rhythmic activity and moments of repose, and chains of brilliant figuration produce a constantly varied surface.  But these do not occur at random, as in the 1627 sets (which are perhaps closer to the sometimes chunky character of actual improvisation).  Rather, they are placed so as to define the larger structures of the work and to create its moments of greatest intensity, the last of which traverses a space of three and a half octaves in as many measures.  The Cento partite concludes in a manner that recalls the last variations of the revised Romanesca set.  The range gradually telescopes, the saraband rhythms of the passacaglia dissolve into even quarters under a series of languorous descending pedal-points, and like a slowly rotating crystal the work circles to a halt.  As much as anything in his production, Girolamo’s last great creation leaves us with a sense of both wonder and fulfillment: “Intendomi chi puo che m’intend’io.”

Ex. 18.10: Cento partite, mm. 386-422


Two keyboard collections have now been added to the Frescobaldi canon.  The first is a manuscript headed “Fioretti d[e]l Frescobaldi,” (London, British Library Ms. Add. 40080), containing eleven canzonas and a toccata, in fair copy.  The authenticity of its contents was originally questioned on several grounds.  First, as Alexander Silbiger pointed out, such blanket attributions are inherently suspicious.  Second, the format is absolutely untypical of seventeenth-century Italian keyboard intavolatura.  It employs the modern system of two five-line staves for treble and bass (5/5) with G-clefs in the treble and F- and C-clefs in the bass, rather than the usual Frescobaldian 6/8 arrangement with G- and compound C/F clefs in treble and bass.  However, more recent research by Silbiger has identified the copyist of the music and the author of the covering attribution as Nicolò Borbone, the engraver of Frescobaldi’s two books of toccatas, thus validating the attribution to Frescobaldi.

Each of the canzonas, specified for “Cimbalo Solo” in the opening work, begins with a bass line (with an occasional figure) of 3-6 breves’ duration in long note-values, after which the fully written-out canzona begins.  Clearly some kind of improvised prelude is intended. Silbiger states that “Unaccompanied bass lines are not found elsewhere in these pieces, or for that matter in any other keyboard music of the period.”  He suggests as models the introduction to the Canzona dopo la Pistola of the Messa delli Apostoli in the Fiori musicali, a chordal passage marked Adagio, or a more florid toccata preceding a canzona in the manuscript London, British Library Ms. Add. 36661. (Silbiger. notes that the London canzona “shares several complete segments” with the Fioretti.)

Ex. 18.11: London, Ms. 40080, Canzona Prima

However, the notation of the preludes in the Fioretti also resembles some of the adagio opening passages of the canzonas for solo instrument and continuo in the Canzoni.  In Canzona 8 for basso solo and continuo the opening is marked Adagio and consists of 5 1/2 breves for bass in which the solo bass and the continuo part are essentially identical, cadencing into an allegro in which the solo part is more independent of the continuo line (Canzona 8, mm. 1-6; see also Canzona 6, mm. 45-49.)  By finding a similar bass passage in which the upper parts are written out, we may get a possible model for realizing the Fioretti openings.  Canzona 23 for CB/bc opens with a 4 1/2 breve introduction—presumably an adagio since the following section is marked allegro in the 1635 edition—in which the continuo and subsequent bass lines are virtually identical.  Above them, however, the cantus provides a new melodic part.

Example 18.12:  Frescobaldi, Canzona 23, mm. 1-5

The purpose of manuscript 40080 is unclear.  Its numerous uncorrected errors and sometimes tentative passages undermine the suggestion that it was a fair copy prepared for publication.  On the other hand, the canzonas seem to have been conceived as ensembles by their composer rather than assembled by a copyist, even if he was a performer and composer himself like Nicolò Borbone.  Silbiger has suggested that the collection provides an insight into Frescobaldi’s composing methods in that the contrapuntal sections are carefully worked out, while what he nicely terms the “connective tissue”—introductions, transitions, and conclusions—is much less carefully treated.  He cites the concluding toccata as an especially clear example of this. Jeanneret 2010, 55, suggests that the Fioretti represent an intermediate stage between a projected second book of instrumental ensemble canzonas, downgraded to a reworking of the 1635 Canzoni, and the 1645 Canzoni alla francese in partitura (see below: this putative second book of canzonas is something of a King Charles’ head in the école de Genève.).

Generally speaking, the canzonas of Ms. 40080 can be loosely defined as variation canzonas, some more, some less.  Several of them, such as the third, fourth, and sixth, employ countersubjects or compound subjects.  As well as the usual tripla sections, the Fioretti display procedures recalling the keyboard toccatas: chromatic adagio transitions in long notes, sometimes marked arpeggiate; florid cadences, sometimes with sixteenth-note figuration in contrary motion; continuous trills in one hand against passaggi in the other—all these absent from the 1615 keyboard canzonas.  The canzonas of the 1627 book of toccatas contain no adagio sections (with the exception of mm. 54-55 of Canzona Quarta), no arpeggiate passages, and no continuous trills with passaggi.  They do display florid cadences and passaggi in contrary motion. The published 1645 canzonas have a few adagio sections, no arpeggiations, no combined continuous trills and passaggi; florid cadences and passaggi in contrary motion are employed.  In addition to the long-note opening of three breves, Canzona Seconda of the Fioretti prefaces the canzona proper, with its characteristic repeated-note theme, by a nineteen-measure passage in 3 concluding with an [adagio] cadence.

The other collection now generally admitted to the Frescobaldi canon is a volume of eleven Canzoni alla francese in partitura issued posthumously by Frescobaldi’s Venetian publisher, Alessandro Vincenti, in 1645. The dedication to Giovanni Pozzo, Abbot of San Salvatore in Venice, dated 15 December 1644, and the subtitles given to the canzonas are obviously the work of the publisher rather than of Frescobaldi himself.

Of these gems issued already from the mines of the lively talent of the most celebrated Frescobaldi, and happening into my hands now only after his death, I wished to make that valuation, which is their due, immediately displaying them with the eyes of the Press principally to the eyes of all those, who take delight in these lovely compositions. [19]

Vincenti says that before his elevation to the dignity of abbot Pozzo recreated himself with “the exercise of Music” and now employed virtuosi to perform for him.  Some of Vincenti’s dedicatees were composers that he himself published: Giovanni Rovetta, Galeazzo Sabbatini, Giovanni Battista Crivelli, Marco Scacchi, Martino Pesenti, Orazio Tarditi; Bellerofonte Castaldi.  Two canzonas are dedicated to Venetian publishers, Angelo Gardano and Vincenti himself.  Another canzona is inscribed to a noble of the Venetian Querini family, probably Francesco Querini Stampalia, whose colorful career was ended in 1659 when he was murdered by one of the Grimani family.  Like the Fioretti, all the 1645 canzoni (except the third) are variation canzoni.  All the canzonas have tripla sections, and most of them have figural passages.  All of the canzonas are scored in high cleffing: G2, C2, C3, F3, with or without B-flat on G, F, and a finales.

Ex. 18.13: Canzon Prima detta la Roueta.

Canzon Terza “detta la Crivelli” is an anomaly, since it is not a canzona but a ricercar.  Its rhythmic motion is continuous, and there are no passaggi and no note-values smaller than passing eighths.  The un-canzona-like theme incorporates a chromatic inflection, and the work seems to exceed the chromatic resources of the mean-tone keyboard: B- and E-flats, F-, C-, and D-sharps. but the D# occurring only in m. 31 of the alto is almost certainly a printer’s error, since its G-D# diminished fourth entry is answered one beat later by the perfect fourth G-D in the tenor.

Frescobaldi scholarship is still coping with the words of his student Bartolomeo Grassi: “Signor Girolamo has made an infinite number of other volumes, & continually goes on forming new ones, because he is as eminent in but the effort, & expense of Printing do no permit them to see the light.” Immense progress has been made in the last two decades in identifying and classifying manuscript survivals according to their possible relationship with Frescobaldi and their intended purposes – aides-memoire, compositional sketches, student exercises and models, materials prepared for publication. A forthcoming volume of the Complete Works establishing a canon of Frescobaldi manuscripts is expected to mark a decisive step forward in this process. But, as Grassi recognized, the core of Frescobaldi’s achievement as a keyboard composer remains the corpus of his publications, final statements to the extent that he was still seeking perfection in these works while they were already in press: “Intendomi chi può che m’intend’io.”


[1] Apel 1972, 109-28, 408-77.
[2] Conclusioni, 22: “… cantasi l’Introito, al quale cantato il versetto Sicut erat si suona vn ripieno il quale serue per reiteratione dell’introito alternando al Choro cinque risposte à gli Kirie, & Christe breuemente.”  L’Organo suonarino, 2 [recte 6]: “La repetizione dell’introito serve per il primo Kyrie nell’Organo.”  “In principio Missae item finita Epistola, item ad Offertorium […], item dum elevatur Sanctissimum Sacramentum graviori et dulciori sono, […] in versiculo ante orationem post Communionem, ac in fine Missae.”
[3] O’Regan 41: “the Kyrie in polyphony with organ interpolations, as on solemn feasts” (“il Kyrie in musica con framettervi organo, come nelle feste solenne”).
[4] Tagliavini, 2010, iii: generally the organist played for the Benedictus, usually a free piece leading into the Elevation: G. B. Fasolo (1645): “Benedictus et Elevatio simul” (“Benedictus and Elevation together”).  Agnus: Organ, Coro, last Agnus replaced by a free piece: Banchieri: after the second Agnus the organist is to play until communion is finished; Banchieri calls it the post communion (=second Agnus, Communio).  Tagliavini 2010, iv: canzonas are performed at the end of the Sunday and Apostoli masses after Communion.
[5] Moore 1987, 369.
[6] Botazzi 1614, 14-18, gives the chant for the first Kyrie before the organ verset, the chant for the second Kyrie alone, and the chant for the third Kyrie again before the organ version.  As the Gloria makes clear, however, the Primus Chorus is not intended for performance but rather for presenting the chant on which the organist is to improvise, contrary to Apel 1972, 418-19.
[7] Tagliavini 2010, ix: cf. Giovanni Matteo Asola, Canto fermo sopra messe hinni, et altre cose ecclesiastiche appartenenti a’ sonatori d’organo, per giustamente rispondere al choro: Venice, Vincenti: 1592, 1596, 1603, 1607, 1615.  For the seventeenth-century chants from the Graduale Romanum (Venice: Giunta, 1606), see Tagliavini 2010, x.
[8] Tagliavini 2010, xiv:”i Fiori musicali sono destinati ad un organo di 12 piedi avente l’ambito ‘classico’, già introdotto negli ultimi decenni del XV secolo, di quattro ottave Faº-Fa4, senza Fa#º e Sol#º, dunque 47 tasti “normali”, a cui vengono ad aggiungersi tre o quattro coppie di tasti ‘spezzati’: sicuramente per Sol#2/Lab2, Sol#3/Lab3, e Mib3/Re#3, forse anche per Mib2/Re#2.”  Missing notes can be supplied by octave transpositions.  This is perhaps more surprising in works intended for the organ rather than the harpsichord.
[9]  Petrarca, Canzone 105, 16-17: the full verse is “I looked to San Pietro; now no longer, no.  Understand me who can, for I understand myself “ (“I’ die’ in guarda a san Pietro; or non più, no./ Intendami chi pò, ch’i’m’intend’io”), which one commentator calls “verso inesplicabile” but which was quoted also in Cima 1622.
[10]  For the history and employment of the Girometta and related tunes see Kirkendale 1972; on the tunes in the Barberini operas see Hammond 1979, 115-16.  Vincenzo Galilei (Fronimo, 105) seems to regard “sonare la Girometta” as the irreducible minimum of instrumental skill, something like the modern jazz musician’s put-down, so-and-so “can’t play ‘Come to Jesus’ in whole notes.”
[11]  Bonini 1979, 43: “qualche arietta simile alla spagnoletta, ò alla Romanesca, o altra comune, e moderna ovvero imbastardita.”
[12] The ms. Naples 48, dated about the beginning of the seventeenth century, contains on fol. 30v an early  “Pastorale” over a drone bass (in Silbiger 1980, 108).
[13]  “Altri fanno del pellegrino co’ bordoni [l’alto bastone] in mano, col capello in testa, col manteletto alle spalle, col ragazzo avanti, con la grima [=vecchio povero] da canto, e dimandan bezzi [=denari] parlando latino, mostrando bolle e patenti di vescovi falsificate, e dicendo d’andar per voto a Roma o a Loreto o a San Jacomo di Galicia o al Sepolcro santo”: Tomasso Garzoni, La piazza universale di tutte le professioni del mondo (Venice, 1585), ed. P. Cherchi, B. Collina, Turin, 1996. 936, quoted in Niccoli 2000, 182.
[14] Hammond 1979, 113-14.
[15]  Darbellay 1980.
[16]  Darbellay 19862, 118.
[17]  Darbellay 1980 and 19861.
[18] In Giovanni Maria Bononcini’s Musico prattico of 1673 time-signatures are described in their modern rather than in their proportional signification.
[19] See III. Prefatory Material, 15.