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An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present



Edited by Carol Neuls-Bates




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A highly influential image of the Renaissance lady was set forth by Boldesar Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier, a handbook for gentlemen and women about the social and cul- tural functions of the Renaissance court. First published in 1528 in Venice, the work became widely read throughout Europe. In describing the attributes of the lady, Castiglione creates a paradox. The a has the same virtues o min as t e cour ie. · and the same education in letters. music. painting, dancing,

··: ··.'iflii[so aa, ;;Culture, " to quote foan Kelly-Gadol on The Cour- tier, "is an accomplishment for noblemen and women alike,

as much as to develop the self. B!.!J for

the-.w.awan char e rimary occupation and aim. " 1 While the courtier's chief task is the pro ession of arms, and he hunts and engages in many sports, t4e-]adY.J§ asE!ned a jecorative rol~ entertaining men with her gracious conversa-

used to charm others

WJD charm.

.aud modssty.

- lg the cultivationof.1i£l,,$,Jc tbere is a similar disparity between .the amateur courtier and the amateur laey.Musfc raiiifsniiF'~' ·

· Q!l

and a courtier should t<!J!lay severalinmuments.71 lolly,


Fowever, should sing or choose her instrument in accordance

with t e 1 e o e race ness. Giuliano de' Medici

spea"fs about the lady, and Lodovico the following excerpts.

·a about the courtier in



list o



tp i:_~a!!~and

'Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. George Bull (New York:

.Penguin Books, 1967), pp. 212, 94, 215. Copyright © 1967 by George Bull. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

, 1. Joan Kelly-Gadol, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?," in Becoming Visible:

; Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (Boston:

Houghton Mifflin, 1977), p. 150.



Regarding the chief attribute of the lady:

Leaving aside, therefore, those virtues of the mind which she must have in common with the courtier, such as prudence, mag- nanimity, continence and many others besides, and also the quali- ties that are common to all kinds of women, such as goodness and discretion, the ability to take good care, if she is married, of her husband's belongings and house and children, and the virtues of being a good mother, I say that the lady who is at Court should properly have, before all else, a certain pleasing affability whereby she will.know how to entertain graciously every kind of man with charming and honest conversation, suited to the time and the place and the rank of the person with whom she is talking. And her serene and modest behavior, and the cand- our that ought to inform all her actions, should be accompanied by a quick and vivacious spirit by which she shows her freedom from boorishness; but with such a virtuous manner that she makes herself thought no less chaste, prudent, and benign than she is pleasing, witty, and discreet.

About music and the courtier:

Gentlemen, I must tell you that I am not satisfied with our courtier unless he is also a musician and unless as well as under- standing and being able to read music he can play several instru- ments. For, when we think of it, during our leisure time we can find nothing more worthy or commendable to help our bodies relax and our spirits recuperate, especially at Court where, besides the way in which music helps everyone to forget his troubles, many things are done to please the ladies, whose tender and gentle souls are very susceptible to harmony and sweetness. So it is no wonder, that both in ancient times and today they have always been extremely fond of musicians and have welcomed music as true refreshment for the spirit.



About feminine gracefulness, music, and. the lady:

Since I may fashion this lady my own way, I do not want her to indulge in these robust and manly exertions [e.g., handling weapons, riding, hunting, and nearly all sports] and moreover, even those that are suited to a woman I should like her to practise very circumspectly and with the gentle delicacy we have said is appropriate to her. For example, when she is dancing I should _ 1;1ot wish to see her use movements that are too forceful and energetic, nor, w she is singing or playing a musical instru-

diminuendos t at are

i 1ous but not . eautiful. Arni I suggest that she snould choose inst[llJnents_,S_lJited. to her purpose. Imagine whatan Un.Kfill!_ly

ment, to use those abrupt an e

"'§h!_it would be to have a~oman playing drums, fifes, t~~~~,,


or other instruments of t~t sort; and this is simply because t~

· stridency .,E}!rieU!!.Q destroys the sweet gentleness which


ow en she is about to dance

QT make music of any kind.,~sne should first havetooe coaxed

'afittle, ·aiiCf'sliouldbeg~i~~~-~~tt.ain~~-~ugg~~t!~& tfie

fbaf brazen women cannot understand. Sh<!

should always dress herself correctly, and wear clothes that do .not make her seem vain and frivolous. But. since women are per- ~tted to pay more attention to beauty than men, as indeed they ·;Should, and since there are various kinds of beauty, this lady of ought to be able to judge what kind of garments enhance grace and are most appropriate for whatever she intends to Undertake, and then make her choice.

. ~~ery








April: The Group of Loveis, from .the Schifanoia Months at .Ferrara, Francesco del Cosa, 1470. Some of the women hold lutes and recorders.





Performing Claudin de




,J:,'°'/ouyssance vous donneray, " Master of the Three-Quarter Figures, ca. ':~"1530. The two instrumentalists play a wooden flute and the lute, while :be third performer appears poised to sing.












~ {1,111rdec.tm

e,fponstte6cr anfflctf4n<



'llil'3nflrtancnl -· ftllfprfileal:

~Uk -ii,e,rAllmOfntl. •

Woman Playing a Viol, Tobias Stimmer, 1570s(?).


Late in the sixteenth century a number ofItalian convents were distinguished for their fine musical establishments, among

them the convent of San Vito in Ferrara. The large infl.ux into these orders of young women from wealthy families-some of whom had already trained in music-was partially responsible for an increase in activity. This infl.ux in tum occasioned a considerable growth in the performance of polyphonic music

In his

1594 treatise on instrumental performance practice, Hercole Bot- . trigari provides an account of the nuns' ensemble at San Vito,

which is the sub;ect of this reading. Although the ensemble included singers, it was considered especially remarkable be- cause of its instrumentalists. Bottrigari reports twenty-three members in the San Vito en- semble, including cornetti and trombone players. In 1600 Gio- vanni Maria Artusi listed the entire composition of the group

as cornetti, trombones, violins, viole bastarde (lyra-viols), dou-

and sparked the work of certain women as composers. 1

ble harps, lutes,

and voices. 2

Soon afterward, however, bef<!!use~i;J::::::

cornamuses (bagpipes), recorders, harpsichords,

·f!iat were placed on Italian convents in the wake o

Hercole Bottrigari, 11 Desiderio or Concerning the Playing Together of Various

· Musical Instruments, trans. Carol McClintock (Rome: American Institute of Mu- sicology, 1962), pp. 56-60. Reprinted by permission of Hinssler-Verlag.

1. Jane Bowers, "The Emergence of Women Composers in Italy, 1566-1700,"

. in Women Making Music: Studies in the Social History of Women Musicians

and Composers, ed. Jane Bowers and Judith Ticlc (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1982).


2. Ibid.




the ensembl§





Vito and others lik.§,. it

Bottrigari's treatise is cast in the form of a dialogue between Alemanno Benelli, an anagram of the name of Bottrigari's friend Annibale Melone, who instigated the work, and Gratioso Desid- erio. The maestra 's wand described by Benelli is an early instance of the baton, which only became traditional with conductors in the nineteenth century.

Al. Now to that humble lay congregation which we have just mentioned,• it pleases me to add a most noble and high example of the musical concerts into which all sorts and divers kinds of instruments enter in the highest degree of perfection which human and earthly imperfection can achieve Gr. And whatever concert can this be? It must certainly be of a marvelous excellence; and if it isn't the Philharmonic 5 I would never be able to guess. Al. Indeed, it must be of a stupendous, if not marvelous excel- lence, as I can affirm, do affirm and confirm that it truly is, because I have had the good fortune not only to have been able to hear it but also to see it being assembled and effectively concerted together, both the first of the many occasions I was shown such a particular favor and on at least one other occasion. It appeared to me that the persons who ordinarily participated in this concert were not human, bodily creatures, but were truly angelic spirits. Nor must you imag- ine that I refer to the beauty of face and richness of garments and clothing, for you would err greatly, since one sees only the most modest grace and pleasing dress and humble deport- ment in them.

3. Ibid. Stricter claustration and curbs on the cultivation of polyphonic music

were put into effect.

4. The Rivaruoli of Bologna, a group that gathered every evening for song.

5. The Accademia Filarmonica of Verona, a private organization of men espe-


· Gr. You are making me so dizzy with your ambiguous speech, my mind responds to your will; however I should like to see if I could imagine which Concert that might be. But I can't come to any conclusion because if I think of the Philhar- monic I feel that they do not fit your words very well for you have used the feminine gender; I cannot apply them to the three most noble ladies of the Duchess Serenissima of Ferrara for her private inusic, 6 since there is no great diver- sity of instruments, nor great number of them employed in their concerto; they almost always use their most sweet and sonorous voices in singing:-I don't know what to decide. Al. As you can assure yourself, since I have never heard nor seen the concerts of the Philharmonic Academy, even though I believe because of the great fame of their worth that they might correspond to their academic name, which signifies lovers of harmony, I could not speak of them in any such way, and you may be certain that this concert is not theirs. Also, I would have had to use words of the masculine gender which, however, even though proffered under the feminine gender nonetheless relate to another, and have in themselves masculine force. Likewise you may be certain that I do not speak of the concert of those three Ladies, rather those three true and living images of the Graces-even though I can testify as to them, because I have been conceded more than once (thanks to the great kindness and generosity of their Serene Highnesses) the grace of both seeing and hearing . them. Such concerts are not of that kind, as indeed you have said, in which a great variety of instruments are assem- bled and about which you have asked me to speak.

1 ~t.

What then may this Concert be?

~- Don't weary yourself any more, Sig. Gratioso; and if you ~· · so distress yourself only because you wish to guess what concert this might be, how you would melt away when you see them convene and play together with so much beauty and grace, and such quietness! You would certainly think




you were either dreaming or seeing one of those imagined incantations of the Sorceress Alcina; or perhaps one of those German dolls which by means of tempered steel springs move along the table playing instruments which have been made by their ingenious fabricators. Gr. Good Lord, what kind of women are these? Al. -And then finally when you hear the most sweet harmony which resounds in those angelic voices, and those instru- ments played with such judgment and discretion- Gr. These are women, indeed? Al. They are indubitably women; and when you watch them come in (for I will say "come" rather than "go," since I seem to be present there now) to the place where a long table has been prepared, at one end of which is found a large clavicembalo, 7 you would see them enter one by one, quietly bringing their instruments, either stringed or wind. They all enter quietly and approach the table without making the least noise and place themselves in their proper place, and some sit, who must do so in order to use their instru- ments, and others remain standing. Finally the Maestra of the concert sits down at one end of the table and with a long, slender and well-polished wand (which was placed there ready for her, because I saw it), and when all the other sisters clearly are ready, gives them without noise several signs to begin, and then continues by beating the measure of the time which they must obey in singing and playing. And at this point I am certain you would say, as also in such a moment I say, what the great Mantuan poet says repeatedly in his great poem:

Pandite nunc Elicona Deae Cantusque Movete. [Now, God-

desses of

And you would certainly hear such harmony that it would seem to you either that you were carried off to Helicona or that Helicona together with all the chorus of the Muses

Song, fling Helicona wide.] 8

7. Harpsichord. 8. Vergil's Aeneid, books VII and X. Helicon is a mountain in Greece.




singing and playing had been transported to that place. Gr. You told me not to distress myself, and yet you give me the greatest cause. I suffer to know at once where this Heli- cona may be, and who are these Muses; tell me now, if you don't want me to endure more agonies. Al. Well then! Ferrara will be Parnassus; Helicona, the holy Church of San Vito; and the sacred Muses the reverend Nuns. Gr. Then the Nuns of S. Vito in Ferrara make such concerts? Al. That is the unvarnished truth. And if you had paid attention · to the words I said in the beginning of my report, you would have known these women could only have been nuns. And if you should ever speak about this with [Giaches de] Wert, [Bartolomeo] Spontone, the Reverend Father [Costanzo] Porta, or [Claudio] Merulo of Correggio-musicians properly reputed to be the principal ones of our modern music-and several others who were in Ferrara in the same time I was there, I am most certain that they would tell you the same thing and perhaps even vouch for it more fully.

• Gr. It seems strange, that I have never before heard of this. But it is perhaps something new, and a work of [Hippolito] Fior- ino and Luzzasco [Luzzaschi], 9 since they know how to do it considering their great concerto.


What do you mean, a new thing? It is not at all new. If I were to speak of tens and twenties of years I would not be mistaken. Because of this, in great part, can one understand how the great perfection of their concordance comes about. Neither Fiorino nor Luzzasco, though both are held in great honor by them, nor any other musician or living man, has had any part either in their work or in advising them; and so it is all the more marvelous, even stupendous, to everyone who delights in music. That's all right as to the general effect of their concerto. But what about the particulars of their learning to sing, and even more, to play instruments, particularly those of wind, which it is almost impossible to learn without maestri.

9. See Reading 9,



Being women they cannot easily manipulate Cornetti and

\ Trombones, which ~ost difficult of musical instru-

ments. Al. ~instruments are nearly always use.d doubled in the music which they play ordinarily on all the Feast days of the year. And they play them with such grace, and· with such a nice manner, and such sonorous and just intonation of the notes that even people who are esteemed most excel 0 lent in the profession confess that it is incredible to anyone who does not actually see and hear it. And their passagework is not of the kind that is chopped up, furious, and continuous, such that it spoils and distorts the principal air, which the skillful composer worked ingeniously to give to the can- tilena;10 but at times and in certain places there are such light, vivacious embellishmen~ that they enhance the music; and give it the greatest spirit.'




I am stupefied; I am truly amazed. But, after all, who in-

structed them in the beginning? It must be necessary if one wishes to maintain, if not to increase the bright splendor of musical concerts, that there be someone who looks after it, and is intelligent and expert enough to instruct, so that it may be done so carefully and dextrously. Al. That same nun who is the director of the concerto is also ·Maestra of all the beginners both in singing and in playing; and with such decorum and gravity of bearing has she always proceeded and continued in this office that her equals, as they are, are glad to acknowledge her and esteem her for their superior, loving and obeying her, fearing and honoring

her completely. She must have a rare and noble intellect to direct and instruct in the profession of music those other honest and learned persons, especially if they are numerous.


AL If I remember rightly, there are twenty-three of them now participating in this great concerto, which they perform only at certain times-for most solemn feasts of the Church, or

10. Lyrical melody.



to honor the Princes, their Serene Highnesses, or to gratify some famous professor or noble amateur of music at the inter- cession of Fiorino or Luzzasco, or by the authority of their superiors; but never:extemporaneously nor in haste, nor do they play all compositions, but only, as I said about the great concert of the Duke, those works judged to be prepared.



In the preceding reading, Bottrigari mentions the "three most noble ladies" who performed for the Duchess of Ferrara 's "private music. " His reference is, in fact, to the famous concerto delle donne, which in the 1580s created a vogue for the high voice and established women as professional singers in the secu- lar realm, under the patronage of Duke Alfonso II d'Este and Duchess Margherita Gonzaga at Ferrara. Although there were female amateurs who sang and played among the ladies-in-wait-

cJ' .,,} ing at the Ferrara court prior to 1580, in the following decade ::::r· the group made up of Laura Peverara, Anna Guarini, and Livia




d'Arco evolved into a specialized and professional ensemble.

\.,;f~~- .They were ;oined by Tarquinio Molza in 1583. Under the direc-

~ tion of Luzzasco Luzzaschi, this concerto delle donne sang at

'\-:;;, private gatherings for the duke and duchess and their guests, often performing a secret repertory that was the property of

the duke alone for some years. The Ferrara concerto attracted wide interest, and soon imita- tions of the group sprung up at the courts of Mantua, Florence, Rome, and elsewhere. Collectively, the activity of these virtuoso singers had ramifications for the style of the late-sixteenth-cen- tury madrigal, with its scoring for two or three difficult parts in the treble clef, and in the seventeenth century for the new genre of opera, with its roles for trained women singers. 1 Con-

Anthony Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara, 1579-1597, 2 vols. Princeton Stud-

ies in Music no. 7 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), 1:24-26.

1. Anthony Newcomb, "Sirens, Muse, or Musiciate: Professional Women Musi-

cians in Sixteenth-CenturY Italy," in Women Making Music: Studies in the Social History of Women Musicians and Composers, ed. Jane Bowers and Judith Tick

(Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1982).



temporary accounts attest to both the excellence of the Ferrara concerto and the delight Duke Alfonso took in these singers.

Ambassador Orazio Urbani to the Florentine court:

26 June 1581

Cardinal Madruccio was entertained on the day of his arrival with the usual music of the ladies, which takes place every day without fail. The Duke is so inclined to and absorbed in this thing that he appears to have placed there not only all his delight but also the sum total of his attention. One can give no greater pleasure to the Duke than by appreciating and praising his ladies, who are constantly studying new inventions.

Cavalier Grana to Cardinal Luigi d'Este:

August 1581 His Highness was kind enough to seem glad to see me, and after dinner in the rooms of the Duchess [of Ferrara] he had those two ladies sing. At the end they sang a very beautiful new piece, and at that time His Highness was kind enough to call me to listen to it closely, for in truth besides being very beautiful it was decorated with such lovely and diversi passaggi 2 that one could not [hope to] hear better.

Alessandro Lombardini to Luigi d'Este about the visit of the Due de foyeusse:

23 July 1583

In the morning the Duke went to find his Highness [ the Due ~ de Joyeuse] at his rooms, and they remained there together for a while. They heard Mass in the small chapel and then went to )~, with music as usual by trombones, cornets, and other instru- i:aents. After dining they retired [to their chambers] with great

l~mony as usual, the one wanting to accompany the other,

, '"~.e

·.,. Literally various passages, or sections of music containing brilliant displays virtuosity.






and they stayed there until about 3:00 P.M. Then the Duke took him [the Due de Joyeuse] to the rooms of the Duchesses, who were together, and, after a few ceremonies and without sitting down, they went into the first room where Luzzaschi was with the harpsichord. La Turcha (Peverara), La Guarina, and the other one, d'Arca, came in as well, and all three sang very nicely, alone, in duets, in trios altogether; they sang Echo dialogues, and many other beautiful and delicious madrigals. His Highness had put in the hands of His Excellency a book with all the things that the ladies were singing, whence they were greatly praised by that Prince and by the other gentlemen.

Finally, composer Alessandro Striggio's highly favorable re- port on the Ferrara concerto to his patron, Francesco de' Medici, at Florence.

July 29, 1584 Then for two hours the Duke favored me by having me hear his conserto di donne [sic], which is truly exceptional. These ladies sing excellently both with instruments and from part books, [and] they are sure in contrapuntal improvisation. 3 The Duke continually favored me by showing me in writing all of the works which they improvise upon, with all the runs and passages that they do. I hope that within eight-ten days Your Highness will permit me to return to Mantua, where I've left my wife and children, and there I will be able to compose more easily, in imitation of these songs of Ferrara, some for Your Highness's con- certo.

Joanne M. Riley, "The Influence of Women on Secular Vocal Music in Sixteenth Century Italy" (Master's thesis, Wesleyan University, 1980), pp. 87-88.

3. The term contrapW1t41 improvisation as used here means the ornamentation

of individual vocal lines in a polyphonic piece, sµch as a madrigal.