A Musical Dialogue from 1544

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Dialogo della musica by Antonfrancesco Doni (1513-1574) is not meant to teach but rather to entertain. The conversations are divided into two evenings with music. On the first evening, the characters Bargo, Michele, Grullone, and Hoste converse. No fewer than 13 four-part madrigals are sung by the other participants. The second evening features four motets, a chanson, the substantial madrigal Alla dolc’ombra with six stanzas by Giachet Berchem set to words by Petrarch (RISM ID no. 993103527), and several eight-voice madrigals. Doni, a man of letters, probably discovered these in Venice, where he also met Girolamo Scotto and was able to engage him as the publisher of his project.

The works in the first evening are by musicians and composers from Piacenza and the surrounding area, which is where Doni was staying at the beginning of 1544. The second part, containing Venecian compositions, also mirrors Doni’s biography. Only Bargo and Michele from the first evening are also in the second one. Five further people, plus a woman named Selvaggia, join the group to allow for a performance of the eight-voice work.

The texts to the conversations are only present in the soprano partbook. There is another unusual element to point out: Each partbook has a different dedicatee (soprano = Catelano Trivulzio, alto = Giovanni Battista Asinelli, tenor = Annibale Malvicino, bass = Ottavio Landi).

Image: Dialogo della musica, p. 5-6 (soprano), copy I-Bc B.149

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