University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Some Theoretical Works by Franchino Gaffurio

Volume IX · Winter 1954 · Number 2
Some Theoretical Works by Franchino Gaffurio

Among the incunabula and the large collection of theoretical works from the Renaissance in the Sibley Music Library are five treatises by Franchino Gaffurio, one of the well-known Italian writers on music of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, His name has been variously spelled: Gaffurius, Gafurius, Gafforio, Gaforio, Gafori. In some quarters during his own lifetime and shortly after his death he was perhaps more notorious than famous, judging from some of the verbal beatings he took from other theorists who did not particularly care for his musical ideas.

Gaffurio, was born in the town of Ospitaletto near Lodi, Italy, on January 14, 1451, the son of Betino and Catherina Fixaraga Gaffurio. Although his father was a soldier in the service of nobility, Gaffurio himself seemed to care little for such a career but started rather early to be interested in singing and in collecting material about music. His first churchly affiliation, therefore, was that of a choirboy; he later became a priest. Johannes Goodendag (or Godendach), a Carmelite friar, was his first music teacher, giving him a working knowledge of musical theory and composition. Later, when Gaffurio referred to his teacher's precepts in his own writings, he carefully Latinized the name to Bonadies!

In Mantua, where young Gaffurio went to be with his father who was then serving Ludovico Gonzaga, he studied music assiduously, preparing and writing his first tracts on theory. A little later, when he moved to Verona, he became a public professor of music, lecturing on theory and counterpoint. Hawkins, the English music historian, reports that as a result of his love for collecting material about his favorite subject, he wrote a tract known as Musicae institutionis collocutiones, which never appeared in print under that title but which might have been the original form of at least a part of a later treatise, the Angelicum. His great reputation as a lecturer prompted Prospero Adomo to invite him to take a position at his court in Genoa. Unfortunately, the Genoese stay was cut short by his patron's causing such displeasure among the powers at that city that he was expelled to Naples.

In 1478 Gaffurio accompanied his patron to Naples, where he made the acquaintance of other prominent musicians of his time, including the theorist Tinctoris, whom he quoted later in some of his works. He did some of his most important writing in Naples, and possibly he could have remained there longer if it had not been for the terrible pestilence which threatened the city. After a short visit to his former home near Lodi, he subsequently became maestro di cappella (head of the musical chapel) in Monticello and Bergamo. His appointment to the chapel in Bergamo gives us a rather interesting slant on his character: Hawkins mentions that one of the reasons for his taking the position there was the realistic proportions of the stipend offered him.

In 1484 Gaffurio was invited to Milan to become maestro di cappella at the cathedral. His reputation by this time was considerable, and if we are to believe the universal praise given him by the city and church officials, he must have been thought of as the foremost music theorist in Milan. He continued his lecturing and his writing, finishing his last known theoretical dissertation, De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum,during his forty-ninth year. At the end of this particular book is a word of praise written by Pantaleone Meleguli of Lodi, who, possibly out of personal admiration or local pride, refers to him as a good and conscientious man. Little is known of Gaffurio's last years, except that he became involved in arguments with other theorists over the derivation and development of his theories; Spataro having been a particularly articulate opponent. His famous Apologia of 1520 is an answer to Spataro as well as his last extant printed work. He died in Milan on June 24, 1522.

That Gaffurio's theoretical works were widely read in the sixteenth century is attested to by the number of editions of certain treatises and by the references to them, both good and bad, by later Renaissance authors. Thomas Morley, the Elizabethan composer and musical theorist, writing his Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke toward the end of the century, derives some material from Gaffurio'sTheorica. Francisco de Salinas, a mid-century Spanish writer, says of him that he was a famous teacher and professor of theoretical and practical music; that he had translated from Greek to Latin at his own expense three books of Ptolemy's Harmonica, three books of Aristides Quintilianus, three books of Briensis, and a few other items of similar nature, but that due to his avarice these were never printed for the sake of others but kept for Gaffurio's own private use; and finally, that Gaffurio really did not know Greek, and as for the Latin translations, he probably read them better than, he understood them. This opinion, at least in part, seems to be shared by Galilei, another Renaissance musical scholar, who first praises Gaffurio's efforts at rediscovering Greek musical learning but who later admits that Gaffurio failed to give a complete or true reinterpretation of his material. Undoubtedly, however, Gaffurio was partly responsible for arousing interest in Greek musical theory and science of scales which marked one aspect of Renaissance scholarship. His discussions of the measured notation of the later Middle Ages are valuable also for the understanding of certain Renaissance ideas; A thorough study of his treatises reveals a veritable treasury of musical knowledge.

The Sibley Music Library's earliest Gaffurio treatise is an incunabulum, the Theorica mvsice Franchini Gafvri lavdinsis, printed in 1492 by Philippus Mantegantius of Milan. This book is a revision of the Theoricum opus musice discipline which had appeared in Naples in 1480. The title page contains a woodcut showing a man (Gaffurio?) at the keyboard of an organ whose pipes are marked with Guidonian syllables. Among the other woodcut illustrations is a large page picturing Pythagoras and an assistant in cap and gown working out intervals on strings, pipes, bells, and glasses containing water. The book is an extensive work in Latin, with discussions of Greek writers on musical proportion and scales, information about other modes or arrangements of tones in sequence, and the Guidonian hexachord system, whereby tones are grouped into sixes. Pythagoras, Aristoxenus, and Boethius figure largely in the text, which is profusely illustrated with woodcut charts. The Sibley Music Library copy has a full nineteenth-century tooled leather binding and bears the bookplate of James E. Matthew. It was acquired from Leo Olschki of Florence in 1930 and was a gift of Hiram Sibley.

The library possesses two editions of the Practica musicae. The earlier is another incunabulum, printed in 1496 by Guillermus le Signerre in Milan, and is the first edition of Gaffurio's masterpiece which many authorities now consider his greatest contribution. The title page bears a woodcut showing a ladder of modes, and Muses, and Apollo at the head of them all; the whole surrounded by other devices. The work is a long dissertation treating various aspects of "practical" music: the elements of music, the practice of singing, plain song, measured music, counterpoint, notation, and the art of setting words to music by measuring the length of the syllables, to say nothing of literally dozens of other diverse items. The characters used in designating measured music are quoted by Thomas Morley in the afore­mentioned Plaine and Easie Introduction. References to composers are too numerous for a complete listing, but included among them are the Englishman Dunstable; the Burgundians Dufay, Binchois, Busnois, and Brassart; the Flemish and Franco-Flemish Ockeghem, Obrecht, Isaac, and Josquin des Pres; and his own colleague and competitor Tinctoris. His teacher Goodendag, now called Bonadies, is also mentioned. The discussions in the earlier parts of the book are illustrated with examples in square plain-chant notation on a four-line staff, while the later portions of the book on counterpoint and fifteenth-century practices are illustrated with examples in oval notation on a five-line staff. The treatise is bound in thick parchment and was obtained from Olschki as a gift of Hiram Sibley.

The later edition of the Practica was printed in 1512 in Venice by Augustinus de Zannis de Portesio. The title page bears a woodcut showing a typical Renaissance chapel scene: a choir of some twenty men and boys standing together and singing from a choir book placed on a podium, while the conductor (Gaffurio?) stands by. One small boy sits at one side with some smaller books, ostensibly learning how to read music. The examples used throughout the later portions of this work are now lozenge-shaped rather than oval, and many details of the printing have been altered. Bound in a parchment leaf from a large choir book, such as the one pictured in the woodcut, this copy is also from Olschki as a gift of Hiram Sibley.

The Angelicum ac diuinum opus musice Franchini Gafurii laudensis, printed in Milan by Gotardo da Ponte in 1508, is a collection of essays or lectures on music. Hawkins believes that a portion of this book was originally the Musicae institutionis collocutiones, written in Verona. In any case, unlike the other works, this one is in fifteenth-century Italian rather than Latin, which suggests that the first purpose of the individual studies was to instruct. Following the title page is a half­page woodcut showing Gaffurio behind a pulpit reading a lecture to a group of students (some laymen and others clerks, judging from the costumes) who are seated in a semicircle below. The lower half of the same page bears a sonnet addressed to the reader. There are five treatises in all, each one conveniently divided into many chapters and illustrated with charts. Again, as in previous works, references are made to Ptolemy, Boethius, Pythagoras, and Aristotle. The elements of music are discussed: composition, counterpoint, scales, and the relationship of music to the text, and it is apparent that a great deal of the material presented here may be found in his other treatises. At the end of the book is a full-page woodcut of the man seated at the organ-the same one as that used for the title page of the 1492 Theorica. The Sibley Music Library copy, which was purchased from Gottschalk in 1928, is beautifully bound in speckled calf and is another gift of Hiram Sibley.

The latest book is De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum opus, printed in 1518 by Gotardo da Ponte. This is the last known published work, excepting the Apologia of 1520. The title page has the same woodcut as that found in the Angelicum: Gaffurio lecturing to his students. Profusely illustrated with charts, the book deals with measured music, proportions, scales, and Greek authors, some of the charts resembling those found in the Theorica, but with added details. At the end of the treatise is a biographical sketch from which his life has been reconstructed by subsequent authors, and a laudatory epigram by the afore-mentioned Pantaleone Meleguli. Along with the colophon is the familiar woodcut of the man seated at the organ, previously seen as the title page of the Theorica of 1492 and as the final page of the Angelicum of 1508. This copy was purchased in 1937.

These works by Gaffurio are admittedly not free of error or false interpretation, for it seems that Gaffurio actually did not have facility in understanding Greek. Like many another pioneer in introducing a neo-Greek theory, he failed to comprehend some of the important, though complex, aspects of Greek musical science, which later research has tried to clarify. Moreover, his was a partial memory; he consistently "forgot" to mention certain theories or to explain certain statements, and for this he was duly assailed by other writers of his time. However, there is much substance in the writings in spite of everything: a wealth of material on different theories which influenced the Renaissance interpretation of musical science; rules and principles of composition used by creative musicians in the fifteenth century and earlier; and explanations of mensural notation-all subjects of vital importance to the understanding of early music. With the current interest on the part of musicologists in Renaissance theories and practices, and the new recordings of early music being issued by leading companies today, this group of treatises is invaluable to the scholar in that field.