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Saturday Morning Quote #11: A Continuing Theme

July 30, 2011

We have mentioned notable music theorist, anthologist and lutenist-composer, Vincenzo Galilei previously in at least a few blog posts.  Vincenzo (c. 1520 – 1591) is mostly known today as the father of the more famous astronomer, Galileo, and he is respected among lutenists as the author of an important treatise, Fronimo Dialogo…et necessarie regole del Intavolare la Musica nel Liuto (Venice, 1568 and 1584).  Fronimo has been a helpful resource for us, as it describes in detail how to arrange densely composed vocal music to be played on the lute.

Vincenzo, a student of music theorist Gioseffo Zarlino (1517 – 1590), was very active in a movement away from polyphonic vocal music and toward monody (or the solo song) in an attempt to recreate the unified expression of poetry and music which he believed to be the aesthetic of ancient Greece.  Vincenzo also described at great length a system of calculating the fret spacing on fingerboard of the lute, giving us an indication of temperament in common use at the time – which was equal temperament.

Today’s quote is from Galilei’s discourse Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (Florence, 1581), where he offers further justification for musical training as an important foundation for leadership.

I think that one may safely say that those who play, compose and likewise write excellently not only merit the highest praise, but deserve to be greatly esteemed and prized by every man of sound intellect.

In addition I say that it is impossible to find a man who is truly a musician and is vicious, and that if a man has a vicious nature, it will be difficult, or rather impossible for him to be virtuous and to make others virtuous.

And to say even more, the man who has in his boyhood used every necessary means and proper care to learn the science of the true music, devoting to it all his labor and effort, will praise and embrace everything that accords with dignity and honesty and will denounce and flee from the contrary, and he will be the last to commit any ugly or unseemly action, and gathering from music most copious fruits, he will be of infinite advantage and utility both to himself and to his state, nor will he ever, in any place or at any time, do or say any inconsiderate thing, but will continually be guided by decorum, modesty and reverence.

What can we add other than the question, how many (true) musicians are in leadership positions in Washington?

  1. Magnus Andersson contributed a comment on the lutelist, which I share here since my wordy response is something of a corollary.

    I love your Saturday posts!
    They’re very insightful and always a pleasure to read.
    I must comment on this one; Condolezza Rice, wasn’t she a good pianist?

    Of course there are going to be exceptions and degrees of difference – even Richard Nixon was a pianist. My explanation of why people who may be trained in music can go badly astray is based on the qualifier Galilei uses, and that is the subjectively used word ‘true.’

    Galilei says “the man who has in his boyhood used every necessary means and proper care to learn the science of the true music…” While one could make an argument to define Galilei’s qualifying adjectives this way or that, I think the science of the true music implies that one has dug deeper than just learning to be a technician who is capable of playing the correct notes on the keyboard at the right time, even though it may be with some feeling. As lutenists, we are aware that, while some may play the keyboard expressively and well, it is merely like pushing buttons compared to engaging the supple strings of the lute with the fingertips of both hands, which takes much more of a commitment to do well.

    In my opinion, a ‘true’ musician understands the ‘science’ of the music, yet plays with a sense of composing on the spot. Performing on the lute as Galilei did, this requires an enormous intellectual, emotional and technical investment to follow and interpret several different polyphonic lines with a sense of melodic lyricism (maybe that is why he rejected polyphony in the end). To do this effectively, one must make himself transparent to the music, therefore suppressing all the inappropriate vicious and harmfully manipulative inclinations in favor of empathetic reaction.


  2. Dan Winheld permalink

    Damn, your Saturday morning posts are becoming a required weekly “class” in my continuing education in Music Humanities 101. The recent posts keep closing in more and more succinctly on this human/leadership ideal. Your follow up to the first comment nicely defines the terms, as I would have questioned them too. Yes, TRUE musicians, not just button pushers. Too many “musicians” are incomplete, but don’t realize it because they learn to push the buttons too well. Sort of been this way myself much of the time.

    Vincenzo is one of my favorites, and I even find the frets on one of my instruments slowly gravitating back towards equal temperament- but a rough 6th comma still works for most things. One wonders if he knew Giacomo Gorzanis, who also composed dance suites cycling through all 24 semitones.

    Our leaders in Washington? Carnival of the Animals.


    • Thanks again, Dan. I am pleased to know you appreciate the posts and that you catch the drift of the leadership theme. We are dismayed observers of the decline and fall of civilization, and at times think that this must have been what Rome was like as the last vestiges of the once great Empire crumbled away to dust. Anyway, we like to do our bit in pointing out that training in music has real value, and contributes to the development of intelligent, reasonable and empathetic individuals. It would be a comfort to know that such people were running the show instead of the lawyers and MBAs who are running the show into the ground.


  3. Wasn’t Tromboncino allegedly a murderer?
    Condoleeza Rice from what I hear is an accomplished pianist.

  4. Yes, Mel, according to the article by William F. Prizer in the New Grove, Tromboncino “killed his wife Antonia after finding her with her lover.” And in 1501, Francesco Gonzaga wrote that Tromboncino “left our service in a deplorable manner and without permission, even though he was the best paid and had more favours and kindnesses and liberty than any of the courtiers in our house.” Apparently, he was something of a rogue. But since we know nothing of the circumstances, how are we to judge Tromboncino’s true character and motivations from this distance in time? There is no evidence to indicate he was a serial killer and, despite our justifiable 21st century abhorrence of the act of killing a spouse for infidelity, that is something we know happened frequently 500 years ago.

    In contrast, Condolezza Rice may indeed be an accomplished pianist but is she an accomplished musician? There is a distinction and I refer you to my comments in this thread above – it takes much less effort to be an accomplished pianist than to be an accomplished lutenist and composer. Besides, no matter what her true character and motivations may have been, as the Secretary of State for the Bush administration, she is assuredly connected with the killing of many innocents in foreign lands.

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