“Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used … use them after your own honour and dignity.”
In October of 1614 Frescobaldi was approached by an agent of Ferdinando I Gonzaga (1587-1626), Cardinal-Duke of Mantua (fig. 7.1). The duke’s emissary was the Mantuan Paolo Faccone (or Facconi), a pensioned bass-singer in the papal chapel, maestro di cappella of the Cappella Pontificia in 1608-09 and 1615 (elected December 1614). He was one of the occasional singers hired by the Cappella Giulia and had influential connections with the Aldobrandini and Borghese families. (Faccone may also have been in Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini’s service in 1605.) Since at least 1586 he had been employed to recruit Roman musicians for the Mantuan court. Frescobaldi’s conditions were sufficiently agreeable to Duke Ferdinando that by the following February the composer was willing to travel to Mantua. His reception, however, was so cold that he returned immediately to Rome, not to be tempted away from the organ of St. Peter’s for another thirteen years. The narrative of this abortive venture unrolls from a correspondence preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Mantua: Faccone’s letters to the Cardinal-Duke or his secretary, Giovanni Magni, supplemented by minutes of letters from Duke Ferdinando, three letters from Frescobaldi himself, and other documents in the Gonzaga archive.
Claudio Annibaldi has convincingly related Frescobaldi’s Mantuan venture to the vicissitudes of his Roman patron Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini. The opening of Frescobaldi’s negotiations with Mantua in 1614 corresponded with a crisis in the cardinal’s family. Two of his nephews were accused by the pope of harboring bandits in their castle of Medola, a crime punishable by death and the confiscation of the Aldobrandini patrimony, which had been all too conveniently concentrated in a fedecommesso or entail in January of 1611.
Frescobaldi’s journey to Mantua took place while Cardinal Pietro was making a state visit to the Viceroy of Naples (23 February-7 May 1615) in order to enlist the support of his patron and overlord the King of Spain. (As early as 1608 Pietro had signed a formal declaration of fealty to Philip III, and in 1612 he had acquired a Spanish feudo, Rossano Calabro.) The publisher and composer Fabio Constantini, who had left Orvieto in 1614 to enter the service of the Cardinal, probably accompanied him to Naples, where Costantini’s Psalmi à 8 were published in 1615. After six weeks as the guest of the Viceroy, Cardinal Pietro returned to Rome on 14 May. Frescobaldi’s return to Rome coincided with that of the cardinal, who in his strengthened position was able to secure a papal pardon for his nephews.
Ferdinando Gonzaga of Mantua was well acquainted with Frescobaldi’s talents. In the dedication of his first book of toccatas to the duke (dated 22 December 1614), Girolamo stated that “Whence having composed my first book of musical efforts on the keyboard, with devotion I dedicate it to Your Highness who in Rome deigned with frequent commands to stimulate me to the practice of these works, and showed that this style of mine was not a little acceptable to you” (italics mine). (For a harpsichord on which Frescobaldi may have performed for the cardinal, see Chapter 11). Since Toccate I marks Girolamo’s first printed departure from strict contrapuntal genres into the freer world of the harpsichord toccata and variation-set, some external stimulus is not unlikely.
Ferdinando’s history supports Frescobaldi’s acknowledgment. As even Giovanni Battista Doni admitted, Ferdinando Gonzaga was “a prince more than moderately learnèd about music.” He was born in 1587 to Monteverdi’s patron Vincenzo Gonzaga and Eleanora de’ Medici and as a younger son was destined for the Church. Ferdinando’s intelligence and “bellissimo ingegno,” as the Venetian ambassador put it, resulted in an education at the universities of Ingolstadt and Pisa, an unusual experience for the son of an Italian ruling house. He accepted the post of protector of Marco da Gagliano’s Accademia degl’Elevati in Florence, and Gagliano’s La Dafne was given its premiere in 1608 to celebrate Ferdinando’s cardinalate (10 December 1607). Gagliano also recruited singers and commissioned instruments on Ferdinando’s behalf.
Ferdinando did not receive his cardinalatial galero from Paul V until 15 February 1610 (a portrait of Ferdinando as cardinal, c. 1610 in Feigenbaum 2014, pl. 13). Like so many transitory residents of the Eternal City, he preferred to rent an habitation, finally settling in 1609 on an apartment in Palazzo Colonna at Santi Apostoli, which its owners had turned into a rental property, for an annual rent of sc. 2,000. This proved insufficient to the needs of his retinue, and in 1612 he rented in addition the palace of Marzio Colonna, also on Piazza Santi Apostoli. In October 1612 Ferdinando exchanged Palazzo Colonna for the nearby Palazzo Muti Bussi Pappazzuri. Apart from a visit to Mantua and Paris in 1611, Ferdinando led a rather leisurely life with some consistorial duties, varied by music (his household in Rome included four male singers), alchemy, and dolce far niente.
Ferdinando was himself a composer whose Medici mother had studied with Jacopo Peri. He worked with Sante Orlandi and in 1612 with Felice Anerio and submitted his works to Gagliano and other professionals for comment and correction. For the Medici carnival of 1606 he created the words and music for a balletto, and the following year he produced a pastoral comedy. In 1607-09 Ferdinando requested music from Peri and Marco da Gagliano (Carter 2013, 286). According to Gagliano, who dedicated his fourth book of madrigals to Ferdinando, three of the strongest arias in La Dafne were in fact the work of the cardinal. By 1610 Ferdinando was well enough known as a composer that the singer Adriana Basile could complain to Monteverdi “if the Lord Cardinal Gonzaga thought as highly of me as you say, he would have favored me with some lovely aria of his, so that I could sing it.” In fact, Ferdinando admired her extravagantly and sent her copies of his songs such as “Vita de la mia vita” and “Care pupille amate.” In 1611 Monteverdi thanked the cardinal for two “bellissimi madrigali,” which he had “read and re-read, sung and re-sung … kissed and re-kissed.”
In his years in Rome Ferdinando also enjoyed excellent relations with the Cappella Pontificia, which performed a Miserere of his as part of Holy Week observances at least from 1621. Three anonymous madrigals setting a sonnet of Petrarch that appeared in Marco da Gagliano’s sixth book of five-part madrigals (1617) have also been attributed to Ferdinando (Strainchamps 1993, 189). Ferdinando continued his interest in science through meetings with Galileo and dabblings in alchemy. This comfortable existence came to an end on 22 December of 1612, when the unexpected death of Ferdinando’s elder brother duke Francesco IV (1586-1612) forced him to take over the government of Mantua. He eventually renounced his cardinalate in order to be able to marry and secure the Gonzaga succession.
The musical establishment that Francesco and Ferdinando had inherited from their father Vincenzo Gonzaga was one of the richest in Europe. Under Monteverdi’s direction the Mantuan musica had presented a series of notable performances: L’Orfeo (1607), Il Ballo delle ingrate and L’Arianna (1608), as well as regular chamber concerts. The publication in Venice of Monteverdi’s first five madrigal books, his Scherzi musicali, and the 1610 mass and vespers demonstrated to a wider public Mantua’s importance as a center of both sacred and secular music. Nonetheless, shortly after his accession in February of 1612 Francesco Gonzaga, who had inherited 800,000 ducats in debts, summarily dismissed Monteverdi and his brother Giulio Cesare, angered by what he considered their insolence, ingratitude, and financial demands: “it has occurred to me to fire both of them suddenly from my service when they will least expect it.” (As Rubens noted, the Gonzaga seemed to feel that their servants should be content with whatever they were offered.) Francesco replaced Monteverdi as maestro di cappella with the mediocre Santi Orlandi, whom he had pre-empted from his brother’s service in Rome. By the time of Ferdinando’s negotiations with Frescobaldi, Monteverdi was firmly established in Venice as maestro di cappella of St. Mark’s.
After the retrenchment under the brief reign of Francesco, by the time of Frescobaldi’s arrival the Gonzaga musica had rebounded. Susan Parisi, in her study of music in Mantua, gives the number of musicians at the court in 1616 as thirty-two and their combined salaries as sc. 4,774-110-3. She lists the members of the musica between 1615-1618 as maestro di cappella (Orlandi); three composers, including Ghivizzani and Lelio Basile; four female sopranos and two males; two male altos (including Lorenzo Sanzi [?Sances], who left in 1615); three tenors (including Francesco Rasi, the first Orfeo); one bass; and four singers of unspecified range. The instrumentalists comprised eight string players, including Salamone Rossi; four organists, including one Pasquino Grassi, who left in 1616, and Mutio Effrem (1616-18); one clavicembalist, Domenico Richi, and two guitarists named Guttierez.
The Venetian ambassador, Giovanni da Mula, provided further information on the Mantuan female singers. In 1615 he wrote that the duke was “maintaining, in addition to the full choir of singers for his chapel of Santa Barbara, also three women singers, truly exceptional, who play and sing excellently.” (As in the concerto delle dame and Enzo Bentivoglio’s consertino, the singers were also expected to perform on instruments.) The female singers of 1616 comprised Adriana Basile and her sisters Margherita and Vittoria, plus Frescobaldi’s once-proposed bride, Settimia Caccini Ghivizzani (to 1619). In 1628 Vincenzo Giustiniani ranked the singing ladies of Mantua with the legendary dame of Ferrara.
Music played a more than ornamental role in the new Duke Ferdinando’s existence. The Venetian ambassador noted Ferdinando’s dependence on music among the new responsibilities and trials of his dukedom (as well as a tormented personal life):
And although this pastime of music costs the duke as much as I have said [30,000 ducats a year], however, he enjoys it, and even enjoys it so much that I do not believe that he feels the expense; and he assured me several times that he had no other refreshment or solace in these recent most important labors than that of music, and that at times he would die if he did not have this refreshment.”
As a keyboard player and instrumental composer, Frescobaldi would not have been a direct replacement for Monteverdi (with whom the Mantuan court was still in contact), but his appointment would have restored some of the luster lost by the latter’s departure and would have enhanced the preparations for Ferdinando’s putative marriage-celebrations. To this end the new duke instructed Faccone to sound out Girolamo about exchanging his Roman career for service in Mantua.
Faccone’s courtship of Frescobaldi followed the usual pattern of his recruitment of musicians for Mantua from 1586 almost to his death on 10 September 1615: auditions, followed by permission from the duke to proceed with formal negotiations including travel expenses for interviewing the candidates. Faccone’s first letter to the duke (1 November 1614) confirmed Girolamo’s interest in the proposal and struck the keynote of the negotiations: Frescobaldi’s new consciousness of his own worth and his unwillingness to leave the security of the organ of St. Peter’s and the patronage of a former cardinal-nephew without a post of equal importance and equivalent compensation, especially real property:
I found sig. Hieronimo very disposed, who in addition to the organ of San Pietro and the provision from Aldobrandino earns 25 scudi a month. He answered me that having to leave here he will come more willingly to serve Your Highness than any other Prince; but in conclusion he does not wish to leave Rome even for extraordinary provisions, although he will decide when he will be given an equivalent living. And it must be in the form of real property and his own, since he plans and wishes to establish himself; and his house for his Heirs in perpetuity; and not to have the occasion to go seeking another opportunity; I believe that when Your Highness will decide to give him this, that without any doubt he will be yours.
From Faccone’s figures it can be calculated that in addition to his annual seventy-two scudi from St. Peter’s, Frescobaldi received three hundred scudi a year from casual employment and an undisclosed salary from Cardinal Aldobrandini. In 1610 three household musicians of the cardinal received allowances of bread and wine, a servant for each, and a companatico of 3-3.10 scudi (Annibaldi 20112, 49-50, n. 34). During this period the annual salaries of important musicians at the Mantuan court ranged from 84 lire for Francesco Rasi to 150 lire for the maestro di cappella, culminating in sc. 300 for Adriana Basile and sc. 360 for Settimia Caccini Ghivizzani (which may however have included her husband’s salary).
A central point in Frescobaldi’s stipulations is his desire to found a lasting patrimony, with a consequent rise in social position, for his children. As the case of Jacopo Peri shows, in the earlier seventeenth century this was accomplished by the accumulation of real property rather than by financial investment (see Carter 2013).
On November 8 the duke answered Faccone:
We have seen what you write us about the claim of the organist and finding his motives sound we make him an offer of an assignment of six hundred scudi of income which we will have assigned to him in that much realty or property and that will pass to his children, whence he may come happily as he sees how much we esteem his virtuosity, and have in consideration that he receive no harm from taking service with Us.
On the same date Giovanni Magni added a postscript to the duke’s offer in a letter to Faccone:
To the letter of His Highness which Your Lordship will see concerning the organist he has ordered me to add that whenever this organist should demand release from the service of His Highness that in such a case the assignment which he will make him for six hundred scudi of income will be understood to be revoked, in that case His Highness will be freed of his promise and the assigned goods will return to the Camera Ducale. Which Your Lordship must convey to him as a fact that must expressly be included in the agreement that is made concerning him.
In his next letter, 22 November, Faccone answered that Frescobaldi had accepted the duke’s offer:
Sig.r Gieronimo Frescobaldi organist most readily accepts the assignment that Your Highness offered him of 600 scudi a year in real estate; when however he will be sure that the real estate is his and can pass to his heirs; declaring however that once the contract has been made and he has entered [your] service if through misfortune he should come to die in a short time these lands must remain to his heirs; and that the aforesaid provision must begin to accrue to him from the day that he leaves Rome to enter this service.
And because the said person has already begun to print a work in Copper which will cost him 500 scudi he does not wish to leave Rome until the said work is finished being printed which I think he has the intention of dedicating to Your Highness.
He also begs that before he leaves here that this assignment be made to him or to whoever will present [himself] in his name so that when he will arrive in Mantua he may enter freely into possession [of it].
In addition he begs Your Highness to do him the favor as soon as the contract will be made of an advance of 300 scudi on the account of the aforesaid provision in order to be able more quickly to expedite that money to be paid off in two years to come.
He also begs that there be given him for his lifetime a house whatever sufficient for himself and for his family and for his father; and that all the utensils and furnishings necessary for the said house be loaned for two years.
He also begs that for four months from the day that he arrives in Mantua Your Highness do him the favor of three allowances [lit. expenditures] of bread and wine every day. These are the conditions and needs that Signor Gieronimo seeks which when Your Highness will be pleased to favor him he will oblige himself to live and die in the said service, and if he should fail by his own Fault all these goods and lands are to return to the Camera Ducale.
Frescobaldi’s stipulations about housing and provisions recall the circumstances of his teacher’s compensation at Ferrara. In 1580 Luzzaschi was given a farm and buildings, plus an annual salary of one hundred scudi, for a peppercorn rent consisting of a canzoncina and a motet every year. In Faccone’s letter we hear of the Toccate, the “work in Copper,” for the first time.
Girolamo’s preoccupation with at least matching his Roman income in Mantua is explained by the notorious financial irresponsibility of the Gonzaga dukes, even with artists of the caliber of Rubens and Monteverdi. Eight years after his dismissal Monteverdi lamented that after twenty-one years of service he had left with only twenty-five scudi and that he “would rather go about begging than return to such indignity.”
Although somewhat surprised by Frescobaldi’s further conditions, the duke conceded all of them:
Although the claims of the organist Frescobaldi considerably alter the offer that we have made to him through you, all the same we want him to know all the more by this demonstration how much we value his person. Whence he will be sure by means of this declaration of ours of having the assignment in so much real estate [tanti stabili] for six hundred of these scudi of income a year to be made when he sends someone to accept it in his name, but it would be better that to take less time for his Arrival that he himself come to take the assignment which he will leave to pass it to his heirs for whatever misfortune that might happen to his person whether he has served little or much time. While however as we had written for Magni [Giovanni Magni, one of the four ducal counselors] if he left [our] service, that in such case it would be understood that this assignment would be revoked without question. The three hundred scudi which he will find will be repaid in two years as he wishes. He will equally be provided with a suitable house with the loan of large utensils for his need; we will provide in the expenses of the bread and wine for three people for four months, since in everything we wish to comfort him, thus we trust that he will come encouraged to serve us well and with all his heart since by consenting to his every request we seek to raise him up from every other care (5 December 1614).
The duke seemed to be moving on the proposal. On 7 December 1614 Giulio Cesare Pavese wrote, probably to Magni:
I return to Your Lordship the letters since His Highness has ordered that one write to Facconi who is pressing for the coming of the organist and of the Bass [another musician with whom Faccone was negotiating] since next week he will have three hundred Ducatoni deposited for the journey.
The next matter to be settled was that of Frescobaldi’s reception in Mantua. Knowing both Girolamo and the Gonzaga court, Faccone wrote to Magni on 13 December:
Let me advise Your Lordship that it is not sufficient that our master have the good intention that his foreign servants be well treated and well lodged; but it is necessary that the undertaking be in the charge of some amiable and zealous person and that he put his good will into practice: I wish to say in my language that when this organist comes, as he will, that he be recommended to someone who will treat him well, so that he has no opportunity for dissatisfaction; and the possibility of receiving worse; I know that Your Lordship is prudent, and understands me. But I will say no more than that I desire to serve Signor Magni, whose hands I kiss.
On the same day Faccone wrote to the duke:
Sr. Gerolamo has accepted the proposal made to him by Your Highness together with that bit of assistance that you vouchsafe to him. From his letter you will see his promise, and that the contract would be made here, but we are agreed that for greater expedience that it will be made when he comes to Mantua. It remains only for Your Highness to give the order for the three hundred scudi so that they be a spur to hasten his arrival. He told me to beg you that these 300 scudi be Roman ones [i.e., the more valuable scudi d’oro in oro] for respect of the great expense he is making in the printing.
Also on 13 December, Frescobaldi wrote to the duke reaffirming his obligation and promising to come to Mantua as soon as he had finished the feasts of Christmas and the Epiphany at St. Peter’s:
From the most pleasing letter written by Your Highness to sig. Paolo Faccone I have perceived the generosity of the noble offers in addition to the provision that your Highness makes me. I return infinite thanks, and by this present [letter] I declare and affirm myself to be your servant for the future. If it were not so close to the celebrations of Christmas immediately I … [illegible] ease or come to your … when the octave is finished of the … I will come to Mantua to serve you and thus I promise and affirm … 
In a lost letter written some time between 19 December 1614 and 11 January 1615, Magni apparently assured Faccone that Frescobaldi would be “well regarded; and [well] treated” (“ben veduto; et trattato”).
Faccone’s answer to Magni, dated 17 January 1615, shows some perplexity about the real attitude of the Mantuan court:
These words that Your Lordship writes in your last letter; I do not know what they mean, that is about the matter of the organist and they are these [words]: Concerning the organist, His Highness will pay him what his ability deserves; and from the others he will also receive courtesy; whence Your Lordship can encourage him, and confide to him that he is well regarded, and treated. Will Your Lordship kindly favor me with a bit of gloss, since I do not understand these words well; if perhaps Your Lordship might not wish to imply that one has eaten the bread of repentance, or perhaps that this was a courtly dismissal—or better [a dismissal] alla Mantovana; if it were I beg Your Lordship kindly to inform me and the world of the pretext, so that both sides are satisfied: since the poor Man is already well embarked; and as soon as this work of his is printed, which he has dedicated to His Highness, he wants to come to Mantua to present it personally.
Faccone’s phrase “licenza alla Mantovana” is perhaps a reference to duke Francesco’s brusque dismissal of the Monteverdi brothers in 1612.
Despite the date of the engraved dedication of Frescobaldi’s Toccate—22 December 1614—the volume was not issued until early in 1615. Frescobaldi’s two contracts with the engraver of the volume, Nicolò Borbone (ca. 1591-20 October 1641), discovered in the Archivio di Stato in Rome, allow us to follow the progress of the edition. Borbone was not only a music-engraver, but also a composer, maestro di cappella, keyboardist, and organ-builder and technician (see Jeanneret 2009, 527). He and Frescobaldi had already been working together from December 1613. Their contract of 31 January 1614 described the publication as “a work of harpsichord toccatas of sixty or eighty pieces”—“un’opra di toccate di cimbalo di sessanta o ottanta pezzi”: in notarial Latin a pezzium probably meant a single engraved plate. The contract stipulated that if Frescobaldi wished to employ Borbone as performer or otherwise, the latter was required to go; if he sent Borbone students for harpsichord or organ, Borbone was to give him half the fee. Frescobaldi was obliged to provide Borbone with room (without bed), food, drink, and lessons in harpsichord-playing and counterpoint for two years beginning in December 1613. He was to repay Borbone for engraving the Toccate with two hundred copies of the book, which Frescobaldi could not sell in Rome until Borbone’s stock was exhausted. The composer was to keep the plates and could print as many copies as he wished; on the basis of this Borbone received a loan of fifty scudi a month later.
In a new contract drawn up on 25 June 1614 the volume was described as “a work of harpsichord toccatas of twenty-five or thirty pieces” (“un’opra di toccate di cimbalo di pezzi venticinque o trenta”), and Borbone was to cut the plates with a deadline of the end of October for a fee of one hundred scudi, to be deposited in the Monte di Pietà, the papal pawnshop. If he did not finish in time he was to forfeit the deposit, while if Frescobaldi did not provide the material in time he forfeited the hundred scudi. In the annulment of the previous contract Borbone was paid fifty scudi for the work done up to that time (thirty-four pezzia), which disproves the hypothesis that Borbone took several years to engrave the volume. Frescobaldi’s revisions show that he was concerned about the aesthetics of the production as well as its musical content. Therefore the toccatas were originally a self-publication undertaken on speculation. Frescobaldi was at work on them already at the end of 1613, and it was intended to be finished by the end of October of 1614, the date of Frescobaldi’s first contact with the Mantuan court.
(Frescobaldi’s musical instruction of Borbone bore fruit. In December of 1616 Borbone published a collection of twenty-six Musicali concenti for 1-2 voices and continuo, engraved by himself and dedicated to his patron Don Filippo Colonna, Duke of Paliano and Grand Constable of Naples [Franchi 2006, 1618/17].)
The money promised by the duke as a loan to pay the expenses of the printing and other obligations arrived only in late January or early February of 1615. Vincenzo Agnelli Soardi, the Mantuan ambassador in Rome, informed Magni on 31 January 1615:
Notice of Your Lordship to Sig. Paolo Facconi [:] they consigned the money of the bill of exchange for the organist that Your Lordship wrote and formed the assignment in the manner that you write me.
However, the actual remittance amounted to less than half the promised three hundred scudi:
Faccone to Magni, 7 February 1615:
When sig. Frescobaldi asked for the loan of three hundred scudi from His Highness he made this request because without this sum he could not honorably leave Rome, with the expenses of the printing and other family matters as they are. And as soon as I showed him the letter that His Highness was pleased to do him the favor of the loan, then he accommodated all his creditors and all the parties concerned with this allotment. And I, in virtue of the Duke’s letter, submitted, promising him what was written from Mantua. Now that he has seen that there are only one-hundred-forty-three and a half scudi in this remittance, and that they are not sufficient to his needs, he does not wish to leave, adducing that he has given his word to satisfy everyone and put his affairs in order before leaving Rome. But if his Highness will favor him with the remainder, without fail he will immediately set out; and to satisfy some small matters, and to be swift to this response he wished some money on account; and I, to attach and bind him, have given him more than a part; because I know that His Highness would like to have so exceptional a virtuoso. Let Your Lordship procure the remainder; because this man really cannot leave without this payment, and inform me of what is to be done, which I will carry out; informing him that if I had the means I would have furnished the remainder; I promise him that I did not a little to arrange for it; and to make him leave the service of Aldobrandini and so many pupils and the organ of St. Peter’s …
A week later, 14 February, Faccone wrote to Magni:
If with this post, as Your Lordship has written, the remainder of the 300 scudi will arrive, the following day s.r Frescobaldi will set out for Mantua since he is not waiting for anything else but this; and I assure Your Lordship that if I were not certain that without this aid he would not be able to leave without fail I would have sent him then; but necessity knows no law. I would commend it that His Highness should command that the said Frescobaldi that he be lodged with Cavalier Paolo or s.r Santi [Orlandi] for the time until his family arrives; so that this beginning should not appear too strange; and that he spend it more happily; in addition, each of these two will be more affectionate to him than any other, as well as they will be great relief to him. If I had been able to bear him company may Your Lordship believe me that I would have postponed everything but my misfortune wills it so; patience, dabet Deus quoque finem [Aeneid I, 199: Dabit Deus his quoque finem] God will also give an end [to these things]; and I shall be at liberty (14 February 1615).
Agnelli Soardi to Magni, 14 February 1615:
The day before yesterday I had Your Lordship’s letter that I should dispose the organist Frescobaldi to come as soon as possible, but Signor Facconi assured me that without fail he would leave on the 16th, which is the day after tomorrow, but that he wished to bring his family with him, for this reason he was awaiting the cash.
Faccone summarized his promises and advice in a letter to the duke written at Frescobaldi’s departure on 16 February. (The advice included giving Frescobaldi a new suit of clothes to appear in public.) He concluded ominously, “I do not doubt that the arrival of this man will give a bit of displeasure to certain virtuosi of Your Lordship of which I have a bit of foreshadowing.”
S.r Gieronimo came most promptly, having left every interest and claims that he could have here. What Your Highness has had written has been promised to him, and he has accepted. I beg Your Highness that you have it observed, so that he may be encouraged, and as earnest-money I have promised him to beg Your Highness as I do now: that you be pleased to make him the gift of a new outfit of city clothes so that he may appear [in public]. I am sure that a greater Gift will be prepared for him. Also, as I wrote to s.r Magni, for his greater convenience and satisfaction he might be lodged with s.r Santi, or with the Cavalier Paolo until he was provided with his house. I say this because I would like Your Highness to be well served and that your foreign virtuosi should not have occasion to complain. Since an order was not given for the Money for the journey he has agreed to spend his own, with the promise that I made him that Your Highness would have it paid back to him in Mantua. The one who is coming with him is the Uncle of his Wife. If Your Highness would be pleased to make him a recognition of some little thing, this would encourage him and his family to come more happily to Mantua. I do not doubt that the arrival of this man will give and bit of displeasure to certain virtuosi of Your Highness, of which I have a bit of foreshadowing. But when I shall be clearer about it I will inform Your Highness, whose Garment I Humbly Kiss.
The “certain virtuosi” of the duke who might be displeased by Frescobaldi’s advent are not specified, but they may have included Ghivizzani, who in 1613 had been appointed to tune and supervise the court’s keyboard instruments and who had a reputation as an unpleasant character (his father-in-law Caccini called him “both crazy and evil,” “un pazzo e tristo insieme” [Kirkendale 1993, 334]), and the cembalist Pasquino Bernardino Grassi, employed 1605-ca. 1617 (Parisi 1989, 128).
Facconi’s letter of 16 February marked the end of the negotiations, leaving him free to pursue the more enticing engagement of Adriana Basile’s sister Margherita (hired in 1616). Two days after Cardinal Aldobrandini’s departure for Naples on February 14, Frescobaldi set out for Mantua, as confirmed by the records of the Cappella Giulia, which show that his salary for January and February was paid to Francesco Soriano. The fact that Frescobaldi did not obtain a leave of absence from the Chapter of the basilica as he was to do for his Florentine service in 1628 arouses the suspicion that he was not altogether serious in his negotiations with the duke, or that at any rate he was keeping his options open.
Frescobaldi’s absence was reflected in the straitened services of the Cappella Giulia. For Passion Sunday of 1615, 5 April, the diary of Andrea Amici records:
the mass [was] in music but without the organ. Vespers was sung after dinner […] in which the organ was not played, but the first and last psalms were sung alternatim in falsobordone, and the hymn and the Magnificat one verse in music and the other in plainchant, the antiphons were all sung in contrapunto.
The next Sunday, Palm Sunday, Amici noted:
vespers was sung in choir without the organ, and with music only at the hymn and the Magnificat […] the preaching of the Most Holy Sacrament was made with a great concourse of people, and after the sermon compline was sung as usual, and at the end they sang the antiphon Ave regina in the customary music.
Girolamo’s journey coincided with a short period of tranquillity in the recent history of the Mantuan duchy. At his untimely death, Ferdinando’s brother had left an infant daughter as his only direct heir. The child’s maternal grandfather, Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy, used her as a pretext to annex Monferrato, the second Gonzaga fief, and to open war on other Mantuan territory. During the brief peace negotiated by the Treaty of Asti (December 1614 through spring 1615), Ferdinando not only engaged Frescobaldi but also attempted to obtain a dramatic work from Monteverdi. In addition, he was distracted by continuing negotiations about a possible bride. These were complicated by his affair from 1613 with a non-royal lady-in-waiting, Camilla Faà, culminating in a clandestine marriage and an illegitimate child.
The political climate of Mantua was not the only aspect of the Gonzaga court unsettling to the seventeenth-century (as to the modern) visitor. The great mass of “that immense necropolis, which is now the ex-ducal palace of Mantua” (Luzio 1913, 1) brooded over an expanse of malarial lagoon (four artificial lakes fed by the river Mincio), and the city was known as one of the unhealthiest in Italy (fig. 7.2: Mantua). Mantuan art of the late Renaissance was marked by an element of distortion and disproportion that is still disturbing. To move from Mantegna’s serene frescoes in the Camera degli sposi, for example, to the vast empty halls of the ducal palace with their immense gilded ceilings is to experience a disorientation when one plunges into the labyrinth at the heart of the palace, a suite of miniature rooms, complete with chapel, intended for the court dwarves. (Piave and Verdi’s change of venue for Rigoletto from France to Mantua, while historically inaccurate and politically dictated, is psychologically convincing.) While the great disasters of Mantua—the sale of the Gonzaga art collection in 1627-28 and the sack of the city by Imperial troops and the resultant plague in 1630—were still to come, the signs of decay were already visible.
Even though Duke Ferdinando was more receptive to vocal than instrumental music, Frescobaldi might at least have accompanied his great singer-colleagues at the keyboard, as he may have done later in Florence. We may imagine him surrounded by some of the finest singers of the period: Adriana Basile and her sisters, Settimia Caccini Ghivizzani, and Francesco Rasi. (The phrase “eia sui nepos Francisci Rasi animum erige” [“come on, nephew of Francesco Rasi, lift up your spirit”] in the Latin poem on Frescobaldi has been construed to imply a friendship between Rasi and Girolamo, perhaps begun at Mantua [Annibaldi 1996, 377].)
At first the omens of Frescobaldi’s arrival seemed good. On 7 March Agnelli Soardi wrote from Rome to Magni in Mantua: “I feel particular content that Frescobaldi has arrived and that he has succeeded to the taste of His Highness, and so much the more as it concurs with your desire.”
However, a week later, as Faccone wrote to Magni, the news was quite different:
Here we understand that sig. Frescobaldi remains very displeased with the Court there. And it would be well to inform our master, and if there is any shadow of displeasure to have it removed so that our Most Serene master be unexpectedly not served with the much desired affection that he so ardently awaited. If Your Lordship will recall, before Frescobaldi came I foresaw this whole event and told you of it, because I know both the court of Mantua and his character of an inept man outside his own house: however, it will be well that His Highness declare him his servant, assigning to him what he wishes to give; for thus he will free that man from the great Torment in which he finds himself. Before he left here I told him that it had fortunately turned out that everything that had been promised to him would be fulfilled as soon as he arrived. Now that he had arrived, I seem to understand that, from the four words that the Most Serene addressed to him that first day, no one else has bothered to look at him. Let Your Lordship consider in what a state and in what misery a pilgrim must find himself, who has come at breakneck speed in the dead of winter among so much snow and mud (Faccone to Magni, 14 March 1615).
What had gone wrong? Foremost was probably Ferdinando’s passion for vocal music (whether monody or polyphonic madrigals) and his comparative lack of interest in instrumental music. In contrast to the the sloppiness of the arrangements for Frescobaldi’s arrival the Mantuan court was employing all the attentions that it failed to offer Frescobaldi to woo Margherita Basile. Ferdinando’s political, matrimonial, and financial problems were also a distraction. The growing financial embarassment of the Gonzaga was such that in 1627 twenty thousand paintings from their collection were sold for 50,000 scudi, a sum that they had previously paid for one Raphael. Duke Ferdinando also had a habit of picking out a favored literary person for conversation, ignoring his courtiers—a situation in which the “inept” and reputedly non-verbal Frescobaldi would hardly have shone.
The Mantuan court apparently made some effort to remedy Frescobaldi’s grievances, but not in time to prevent his return to Rome. Girolamo did not write to the duke again until 16 May (two days after Cardinal Aldobrandini’s return from Naples), when he politely evaded a second attempt to lure him to Mantua. From this letter we learn for the first time that the duke had appointed a cleric, the prior of the influential Mantuan abbey of the Carmine, to administer the promises made to Frescobaldi:
I have not written to your Serene Highness before, having already spoken with signor Paolo Faccone, who told me that he would write to your Serene Highness, whereas I was still writing to that father prior of the Carmine about whom I formerly talked with your Serene Highness, that he would have done and seen to that which your Serene Highness did me the favor of honoring me with six hundred scudi of income per year net and the house, where he wrote back to me that he could not conclude anything, where I was expecting that the said father was to determine everything, since it was my desire to serve your Serene Highness, and it was my special hope when I came to your Serene Highness in Mantua to conclude everything, but because of the long space of time, as also because I had left my household alone, I could not conclude in that time what I had formerly believed and agreed upon with sig.r Paolo Faccone. Then as to coming with my family this summer, I begged your Serene Highness because of the difficulty of bringing my wife and [instead] to come in a good season, all the more so now that in the heat and with a child of five months it would be much worse. I am very sorry that I am not single so that I might show myself most ready to the commands of your Serene Highness and I make you a most humble bow…
Despite the expense of publishing the Toccate and the abortive journey to Mantua, the venture was not a total loss for Girolamo. On 5 September 1615 he wrote to the duke acknowledging the gift of three hundred scudi:
Most Serene and Most Reverend Lord Sig. Paolo Facconi has communicated to me the kindness that Your Most Reverend Highness has been pleased to do me with the 300 scudi, which generous action has not surprised me because of your inborn royal magnanimity, which, as it is not common, thus in unusual ways embraces and favors your servants, for me it has been and always will be good in every dearest respect. And if it were as easy for me to know how to thank you for it, as it is easy to feel the obligation which I owe you, I would now satisfy this new debt in some part, which with an unbreakable chain of perpetual obligation has bound me to the service of Your Highness and more inflamed the desire that I have to be able to carry it out as fits my particular devotion to your most serene person which I beg meanwhile to be pleased by this small verbal show of gratitude, until I can better show it with my deeds [effetti] and here, deeply bowing before your Most Reverend Highness, I wish you most happy future events. From Rome the 5th of September 1615. Your most serene and Most Reverend Highness’ Most humble and devoted servant. Girolimo Frescobaldi.
Five days later Faccone died unexpectedly and with him the Mantuan project. Girolamo’s reasons for not returning to Mantua were sufficient: the restored influence and patronage of Cardinal Aldobrandini, the problems of transferring his Roman household, the danger of travel in hot weather with an infant child. But beyond the devious courtesies of Frescobaldi’s letter to the duke one senses the hurt pride of a man who is both socially inept and a genius, and who has been snubbed.
The subsequent history of the Toccate, the one tangible product of the Mantuan venture and Girolamo’s most important work so far, is complex. The original edition, dated 1614 in the dedication and 1615 on the title page (Catalogue I.A. 2), was almost immediately superseded by an enlarged version (Catalogue I.A.3) that retained the dedication, its date, and the date of the first title page and added to the expanded advice to the reader “Christophorus Blancus sculpsit. 1616” (the Lorenese Christophe Blanc, 1567-1620, “miniator et litterarum in ære formator excellens,” [“excellent illuminator and shaper of letters in copper”] according to the Liber mortuorum of Santa Maria in Vallicella (Franchi 2006, 1608/1]), active in Rome at least from 1591 (Morelli 1988, 263, n. 23). For the enlarged version of the Toccate Frescobaldi wrote additional variations on the Romancesca, the Ruggiero, and La Monica, and added four correnti and a set of variations on the Follia.
In November 1615 Ferdinando Gonzaga was allowed to resign his cardinalate, and in a proxy ceremony his red galero was laid at the feet of Paul V. On Epiphany Day (6 January) of 1616 he was installed as duke in the cathedral of Mantua. Thus the perfected version of the work that he had in more than one sense inspired coincided with the enthronement of the last great Gonzaga ruler of Mantua (fig. 7.3: Toccate I).