Music and Dance for the Recovery of King Philip III of Spain

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Around exactly 400 years ago, the printed music anthology Breve Racconto della Festa a Ballo was published in Naples by Costantino Vitale, of which only one copy is known today, held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (F-Pn).

The Festa a Ballo is one of the few examples of Italian court dance with music, corresponding to the French ballet de cour (see, for example, the Discours au vray du Ballet, B/I1617|7, RISMIDno.993121467, dedicated to LouisXIII of France) and the English masques.

The festive music was performed on 1 March 1620, which was not only the last Sunday before Lent, but also marked a prominent occasion that probably also led to the somewhat unusual circumstances of this occasional work appearing in print. Music played as people danced “due to their happiness over the restored health of his royal Catholic majesty, Philipp III of Austria, King of Spain” (per l’allegrezza della salute | acquistata della Maestà Cattolica di | FILIPPO III. D’AVSTRIA. | Rè della Spagne).

In the place of the king, Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna and Viceroy of Naples, was present. He was known as a patron of fine arts and financed events of this kind out of his own pocket, which is why he receives praise in some songs in this print.

The names of the composers and poets (Andrea Ansalone, Pietro Antonio Giramo, Francesco Lambardi, and Giovanni Maria Trabaci) and the choreographer (Giacomo Spiardo) take a back seat – they are not named on the title page. Instead of a printer’s vignette, the royal coat of arms can be seen.

The edition is divided into three parts, which represent all of the components of the event at court: First is a text part (p. 3–15), in which instructions for the performance are given, then follows the (somewhat unusual for this time) notated music in score format (p. 2–35) with vocal and instrumental numbers in different combinations. Attached to the book is a leaf with dance formations (image 3).

The health of the king, which was already weakened due to extensive Habsburg inbreeding, was not to last. He died almost one year later, on 31 March 1621 in Madrid.

Any information about errors, copies we don’t have, or important secondary literature is most welcome. You can reach us at or send a message directly through the record on the catalog page (the orange message box next to the RISM ID number).

Images from Breve Racconto della Festa a Ballo.(Neapel: Vitale, 1620). B/I1620|14. RISM IDno.993121514. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de la Musique (F-Pn) RES P-YD-4. Available online.

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