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"Curious Inventions": Carlo Farina's Capriccio Stravagante


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Carlo Farina’s 1627 Capriccio Stravagante uses four violin-family instruments (violin, two violas, and a violoncello-range instrument) to mimic other instruments such as trumpets, shawms, organs, and guitars. This investigation seeks to equip the modern performer by framing the piece in the context of contemporary understandings and techniques. Carlo Farina and the Capriccio model the influence of emerging tastes for Italian practices and musicians in the courts of northern Europe, and for the violin as an individually idiomatic solo instrument. Marin Mersenne identified the violin’s specific strength as its versatile ability to adopt the timbre and musical idioms of other instruments, as demonstrated in the Capriccio. One of the primary tasks facing the modern interpreter is to identify the instruments which Farina imitates throughout the piece. The Lira, for example, is not the lira da braccio but the hurdy-gurdy, and Il tremulant is not a string tremolo technique but an organ setting. Chapter V of this analysis examines each mimicked instrument in turn and considers their period performance practice and repertoire, extrapolating an application to violin-family instruments.
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BONNER, ANDREW, D.M.A. “Curious Inventions”: Carlo Farina's Capriccio Stravagante.
Directed by Marjorie Bagley and Kailan Rubinoff. 150 pp.
Carlo Farina’s 1627 Capriccio Stravagante uses four violin-family instruments
(violin, two violas, and a violoncello-range instrument) to mimic other instruments
such as trumpets, shawms, organs, and guitars. This investigation seeks to equip the
modern performer by framing the piece in the context of contemporary understandings
and techniques. Carlo Farina and the Capriccio model the influence of emerging tastes
for Italian practices and musicians in the courts of northern Europe, and for the violin
as an individually idiomatic solo instrument. Marin Mersenne identified the violin’s
specific strength as its versatile ability to adopt the timbre and musical idioms of other
instruments, as demonstrated in the Capriccio.
One of the primary tasks facing the modern interpreter is to identify the
instruments which Farina imitates throughout the piece. The Lira, for example, is not
the lira da braccio but the hurdy-gurdy, and Il tremulant is not a string tremolo
technique but an organ setting. Chapter V of this analysis examines each mimicked
instrument in turn and considers their period performance practice and repertoire,
extrapolating an application to violin-family instruments.
Andrew Bonner
A Dissertation Submitted to
the Faculty of The Graduate School at
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Musical Arts
Approved by
Committee Co-Chair
Committee Co-Chair
This dissertation written by Andrew Bonner has been approved by
the following committee of the Faculty of The Graduate School at The University of
North Carolina at Greensboro.
Committee Co-Chair _____________________________________
Committee Co-Chair _____________________________________
Committee Members _____________________________________
Date of Acceptance by Committee
Date of Final Oral Examination
I would like to thank all the members of my advisory committee for their time,
input, and support, and in particular Kailan Rubinoff for her input into this document
and Marjorie Bagley for her professional and violinistic guidance throughout the degree
program. Special thanks to Rebecca Cypess for providing her experience with the
Capriccio Stravagante as an outside reader, and for sharing a pre-publication copy of
“‘Die Natur Und Kunst Zu Betrachten’” with me early in my research.
I would also like to express my thanks to Aurelio Bianco for sharing initial scans
of Farina’s avertimenti and providing guidance on several questions; to the digitization
staff of the SLUB Dresden for assisting me in obtaining high-resolution scans (and for
eventually making them freely available on the Internet); to Sergio Bonanzinga for
guidance on the connection between blind mendicant musicians and the hurdy-gurdy;
to Kerry McCarthy, Micaela Janan, Jennifer C. Woods, and Stephan Stücklin for
assistance with translations; and to Alexander Batov for providing some perspective on
the presence of the guitar in early seventeenth-century Germany.
My heartfelt thanks goes to my parents, my parents-in-law, and my daughters for
their many sacrifices, longsuffering patience, and ongoing encouragement, and
especially to my peerless wife for her love and companionship (and all of the above too).
Finally, I wish to thank and honor the Father of all human invention, and human
curiosity as well, who glories in concealing things for his children to glory in searching
out, for his unmerited love and sovereign grace.
LIST OF FIGURES ............................................................................................................ v
I. INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................ 1
II. THE MEANINGS OF THE CAPRICCIO STRAVAGANTE .................................... 12
III. FARINA’S LIFE AND MUSICAL ENVIRONMENT .............................................. 42
IV. PROBLEMS FOR PERFORMANCE .................................................................... 60
Instrumentation ................................................................................... 61
Slurs ...................................................................................................... 72
V. IMITATED INSTRUMENTS ............................................................................... 90
“La Lira” / die Leyer,” and “Lira variata” /
“die Leyer uff ein ander art ............................................................... 90
“Il Pifferino” / “Das kleine Schalmeygen” ............................................ 109
“La Trombetta” / “Die Trommeten”; “Il Clarino” / “Das
Clarin”; “Le Gnachere” / Die Heerpaucken” ...................................... 113
“Il Flautino pian piano” / “Die Flöten still stille” ................................. 119
“Il Tremulo” / “Der Tremulant” ............................................................ 122
“Fifferino della Soldatesca” / “Das Soldaten Pfeifgen”;
“Il tamburo” / “Die Paucken oder Soldaten Trommel” ...................... 128
“La Chitarra Spagniola” / “Die Spannische Cythar”.............................. 132
VI. CONCLUSION ............................................................................................... 139
BIBLIOGRAPHY .......................................................................................................... 141
Figure 1. Table showing representational sections of Capriccio Stravagante ................... 4
Figure 2. Carlo Farina, Capriccio Stravagante, mm. 55-58 ............................................. 64
Figure 3. Judith Leyster, Boy Playing the Flute, detail .................................................... 66
Figure 4. Carlo Farina, Ander Theil Newer Paduanen etc., title page, detail ................... 68
Figure 5. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, plate 21,
detail of “Bas-Geig de brac[c]io................................................................ 70
Figure 6. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 74-82 ................................................. 74
Figure 7. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 75-76, as realized by Gustav
Beckmann, Adele Maxfield, and Aurelio Bianco ......................................... 75
Figure 8. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 58-73 ................................................ 75
Figure 9. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 59-74, as
realized by Rebecca Cypess ....................................................................... 76
Figure 10. Marco Uccellini, from “Sonata ottava,” op. 5 ................................................ 77
Figure 11. Francesco Rognoni, Selva de varii passaggi, part two,
Ove si tratta dei pasaggi dificili per gl’instromenti, 5 .................................... 83
Figure 12. Biagio Marini, Sonata quarta per il violino per sonar due corde, Op. 8,
basso partbook with violin part in score ................................................... 87
Figure 13. Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, detail ....................... 101
Figure 14. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, plate 22,
detail of hurdy-gurdies .......................................................................... 108
Figure 15. Capriccio Stravagante, mm. 75-80 (“Il Pifferino) ....................................... 112
Figure 16. Capriccio Stravagante, Basso part, mm. 169-181 ......................................... 116
Figure 17. Fife player and drummer ............................................................................ 129
Figure 18. Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie, “Tabulature du Fifre,
ou Arigot du troisiesme ton” .................................................................. 131
Figure 19. Carlo Farina, Capriccio Stravagante, “Fifferino della Soldatesca,
mm. 278-80 ........................................................................................... 131
Figure 20. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, plate 16,
detail of “Quinterna” ............................................................................. 135
This dissertation focuses on a single piece, the Capriccio Stravagante, published
in Dresden in 1627 by the Italian violinist Carlo Farina.
The piece is written for four
bowed string instruments; the topmost part is definitely intended for a violin, and the
remaining ones are probably intended for violin-family instruments as well, most likely
two violas and a “bass violin”
(for more on the evidence for instrumentation, see pp. 61-
72). Over the course of the remarkably lengthy piece (roughly ten times the average
length of the other works published in the same volume), Farina inserts many brief
episodes in which these string instruments are called on to imitate the timbres and
idioms of other instruments, such as trumpets, shawms, organs, and guitars, as well as
the sounds of several animals—chickens, cats, and dogs (see fig. 1 for a complete list).
These representational passages are interspersed among stretches of material with no
The volume in which the piece was published titles each piece individually in Italian, but
the title page is in German, and refers to the piece in question as “einem kurzweiligen
Quodlibet.” In modern editions, recordings, and general usage the piece is most often referred to
by its Italian title, but it might with equal validity be called the Kurzweilig Quodlibet. For
simplicity, I will refer to it as the Capriccio Stravagante, or simply Capriccio. For the meanings and
connotations of capriccio and quodlibet see Rebecca Cypess, “‘Die Natur Und Kunst Zu Betrachten’:
Carlo Farina’s Capriccio Stravagante (1627) and the Cultures of Collecting at the Court of
Saxony,The Musical Quarterly 95, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 147–50 and Aurelio Bianco, “Nach
englischer und frantzösischer Art”: Vie et oeuvre de Carlo Farina, Collection “Epitome musical”
(Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 124–5.
The lowest part is in the range of the modern violoncello, and evidence from Praetorius
shows an instrument with four strings and the modern ’cello tuning, but also shows that such a
setup was far from standardized; see pp. 67-69.
mimetic intent, similar in style and texture to the pavans, galliards, and other dance
pieces that fill the volume in which the Capriccio was published.
This volume was the second of five that Farina published during his three year
stay in Dresden, which represent almost the entirety of his known output. The title page
of this publication highlights the Capriccio as a special feature: “Another volume of new
pavans, galliards, courantes, [and] French airs, with a humorous Quodlibet of all manner
of curious inventions, such as have never before been seen in print, together with
several German dances, all charmingly suited to viols.
The title page further identifies
the author as “Carlo Farina von Mantua,” and the printer as Gimel Bergen. The volume is
printed in four partbooks, designated as “Canto,”Alto,” “Tenor,” and “Basso.” Two
copies are extant, though neither is totally complete. One copy consists only of the
“Canto” partbook; this is currently housed in Dresden, in the Sächsische
Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek.
The other copy, in the
Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel,
contains all four parts,
and also includes an additional, handwritten Basso partbook.
The Kassel copy, however,
is missing a few final pages at the back of the Canto partbook. These pages, preserved in
the Dresden copy, are crucial, as they contain Farina’s own instructions to performers of
Carlo Farina, Ander Theil Newer PADUANEN, GAGLIARDEN, COURANTEN, Frantzösischen
Arien, benebenst einem kurtzweiligen Quodlibet von allerhand seltzamen Inventionen, dergleichen
vorhin im Druck nie gesehen worden Sampt etlichen Teutschen Täntzen alles auff Violen anmutig
zugebrauchen (Dresden: Bergen, 1627). Translations mine unless otherwise indicated.
Shelf mark Mus. 1510-N-1. This source can be accessed online at http://digital.slub-
Shelf mark 2° Mus. 25.
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,” 178–9.
the Capriccio. Apparently its “curious inventions” were so novel that Farina felt
compelled to describe their technical execution. These textual instructions are headed
A Few Avertimenti,” or “Necessary Reminders” (hereafter called avertimenti)
and take
the form of a page each of Italian and German text, roughly identical in content. These
are indeed “necessary,” as Farina not only painstakingly explains such commonplace
modern features as first and second endings, double stopping, slurs, and third position,
but also provides precise performance instructions, such as specifying that the “Il
Flautino” section be played ponticello with the bow “half a finger’s width” from the
bridge. Further, Farina’s avertimenti provide unequivocal clues to the identities of some
of the instruments he imitates, even those about which there has been
misunderstanding among modern interpreters.
“Etliche Nothwendige Erinnerungen wegen des Quodlibets von allerhand Inventionen”
Italian heading
German heading
Literal translation
Most probable
La Lira Die Leyer 55-74 The lyre Hurdy-gurdy
Il Pifferino Das kleine
75-82 The small pipe/small
A high-register shawm
(or shawm band)
Lira variata Die Leyer uff ein
andert art
83-88 The varied (or
altered) lyre/another
style (or type) of lyre
Unkeyed hurdy-gurdy,
or perhaps hurdy-gurdy
played en violon
Qui si bate con il
legno del archetto
sopra le corde
Hier schlegt man
mit dem Holtze des
103-111 Here one strikes with
the wood of the bow
upon the strings
col legno, “like a
hammered dulcimer”
La Trombetta; Il
Clarino; Le
Die Trommeten;
Das Clarin; Die
149-180 The trumpet; the
clarino; the
A trumpet ensemble
with kettledrums and a
virtuosic, high-register
clarino part
La Gallina; Il
Die Henne; Der
181-187 The hen; the rooster Cackling hens and a
crowing rooster
Il Flautino pian
Die Flöten still stille
197-204 The small recorder,
very quiet
A recorder (or recorder
Il Tremulo Der Tremulant 244-266 The tremulant Organ with tremulant
Fifferino della
Soldatesca; Il
Das Soldaten
Pfeifgen; Die
Paucken oder
Soldaten Trommel
274-284 The soldier’s fife; the
kettledrums or
soldier’s drum
Military fife and drum
Il Gatto Die Katze 289-295 The cat Cats
Il Cane Der Hund 307-309 The dog Dog (or dogs)
La Chitarra
Die Spannische
351-360 The Spanish guitar Guitar
Figure 1. Table showing representational sections of Capriccio Stravagante.
The Capriccio Stravagante is strikingly long compared to the other pieces in the
volume (and other instrumental works of the time). Aurelio Bianco’s edition contains
Found only in the Basso part of the Kassel copy
Following the critical edition included on CD-ROM with Bianco, Nach englischer und
frantzösischer Art.
Some differences between the literal translation and this interpretation reflect my
conclusions for the best understanding of these passages, as elaborated in Chapter V.
For the question of kettle vs. snare drum, see p. 128.
377 measures, and most performances last fifteen to twenty minutes, whereas the other
pavans, galliards, correnti, and other pieces making up the rest of the volume average 38
measures in length. Although the sections of the Capriccio that imitate instruments or
animals have historically commanded the most attention and discussion, they represent
only 38 percent of those 377 measures. The remaining 62 percent are devoted to generic
four-part consort music, not intended to evoke or imitate anything, and very similar in
compositional style to the dance pieces with which the Capriccio shares the volume. It
should be noted that one passage is not officially labeled as imitating any instrument
per se; the section in mm. 103-11 is simply showcasing an unusual playing technique,
striking the strings with the stick of the bow (what would be indicated today as col
legno). However, even in this section, Farina turns to instrumental metaphors to explain
the technique in his avertimenti, likening the violin-family instruments to drums (in the
Italian instructions) and hammered dulcimers (in the German).
This col legno section is only one of several unusual playing techniques Farina
employs in the course of the piece. His avertimenti specify that the Flautino and Fifferino
sections should be played ponticello (with varying degrees of bow weight and distance
from bridge), that the Gatto and Cane should employ glissandi (and, at the end of the
…come fanno li tambarini…” and “…gleich eines Hackebrets…”
Gatto section, some bowing on the “wrong” side of the bridge), and that the Chitarra
Spagniola should be played pizzicato, with the violin held “under the arm” like a guitar.
Despite the Capriccio’s popularity among modern performers and audiences,
resources and reference materials for performers are particularly sparse. There have
been a handful of modern printed editions of the piece, from Harnoncourt’s 1970
edition, marked by editorial restraint, to Gunther Schuller’s 1982 edition, which
attempts to represent every nuance of performance practice (or editorial invention)
through the liberal addition of articulations and dynamic markings for modern
However, aside from these two, there are only a scattering of other
editions, and none is very widely disseminated. Alessandro Bares has created an edition
in 2008 through his own “small publishing house,” producing both the Capriccio by itself
and an edition of the larger volume in which Farina published it.
The most recent and
most scholarly offering is in the electronic edition of Farina’s complete works which
Aurelio Bianco included, on CD-ROM, with his exhaustive 2010 study of Farina’s life and
Even this is not widely available; at the moment there appear to be thirty-five
The latter instruction is clearer in the German, “… indeme die Geigen unter den Arm
nimbt…” than in the Italian, “… levando via il Violina dalla spalla, & mettendolo sott’il fianco
sonando con le dite…”
Carlo Farina, Capriccio Stravagante: Kurtzweilig Quotlibet, Aus Libro Delle Pavane, Dresden
1626, Für Streicher Und Basso Continuo., ed. Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Wilhelmshaven: O.H. Noetzel
Verlag, 1970); Carlo Farina, Capriccio Stravagante: An Amusing Quodlibet: For Violin, 2 Violas,
Cello, Bass, and Harpsichord, ed. Gunther Schuller (New York: Associated Music Publishers, 1982).
Carlo Farina, Capriccio Stravagante, ed. Alessandro Bares (Albese con Cassano: Musedita,
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art.
libraries worldwide holding a copy.
Furthermore, none of the editions mentioned offers
adequate guidance to performers, especially English-speaking ones, in interpreting the
work’s representational sections. Some even offer imprecise identifications of the
instruments to which Farina refers, or by their silence leave the performer to find similar
misinformation in some scholarly works; in total, of the seven instruments Farina
imitates, maybe two have survived the past two centuries without any brush with
confusion or misidentification. Bares’s edition describes itself as diplomatic-
interpretive,” indicating minimal editorial intervention, but it is also completely free
from editorial commentary on the piece or its context. Most significantly, only Bianco
has included Farina’s “necessary reminders,” the avertimenti, though only in the original
seventeenth-century Italian and German (and, in his book, in French). The only
translation available to English speakers at the moment is not in an edition at all, but in
a journal article by Rebecca Cypess (and even this does not offer the full text of the
The separation between the notes and the text of the piece is possibly explained
by the fact that one of the two extant copies of Farina’s publication, the Kassel holding,
is missing the avertimenti. As the Kassel copy has all four partbooks, it is naturally the
one consulted first in constructing a modern edition. However, it is the Dresden copy of
the Canto part that has been known longer, as Wilhelm Wasielewski first encountered it
Consulting on January 31, 2013. This figure includes the copy, not shown on
WorldCat, that the Duke University music library bought at my eager encouragement.
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’.
in 1869 and noted that only the topmost voice was available.
Modern scholars can
thank the Kassel copy for providing the remaining three voices of the work, but they
cannot blame it for losing the avertimenti. It is regrettable that no edition in physical
print has supplied performers with such a vital resource.
It is my hope that the fifth chapter of this dissertation, dealing in detail with
each of the instruments that Farina imitates, may provide modern performers with the
best possible identification of the instruments Farina intends to mimic, along with any
information about the performance practice or characteristic musical idioms of those
instruments that might affect their imitation on violin-family instruments. It is also my
desire, in the preceding chapters, to locate Farina and his Capriccio within a historical
and cultural context.
The first task is to investigate the “meaning” of the Capriccio; that is, to establish
its intent and function as a piece. Chapter II will include a “selective reception history,
examining prior commentators’ attempts to establish such meanings. Most engage the
piece as an aesthetic object, assessing its artistic merit (usually according to nineteenth-
century criteria). Another popular way of understanding the piece has been in relation
to the “evolution” of violinistic techniques, a viewpoint from which the Capriccio
appears to be an experimental proving ground of “new” techniques for the developing
instrument. Later voices offer more nuanced models, viewing the piece as an artifact of
the stile moderno, in which both of the previous views can coexist, as technical
Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, Die Violine und ihre Meister (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel,
1869), 28, (accessed January 10, 2012).
innovation and experimentation were a valid aesthetic currency. Rebecca Cypess
proffers an interpretation which likens the Capriccio to a Kunstkammer, a gallery of
natural and man-made marvels. Finally, we return to Farina’s own contemporary Marin
Mersenne, whose comments on the violin’s ability to mimic other instruments reveal
the Capriccio’s mimetic elements to be more than entertainment. Rather, they take their
place in a broad history of timbral imitation, which the violin appropriated as its own
unique idiom, and the Capriccio stands as a prominent and early example of a mimetic
practice which contributed to the emerging definition of the violin as the “king of
instruments” on the basis of its expressive versatility.
The next chapter lays out the circumstances of Farina’s life and career, such as
we know them. Although I devote some attention to the popular topic of the Capriccios
purported influence on subsequent generations of German mimetic violin works, I show
that the significance of Farina’s legacy lies primarily in his ability to represent trends
shaping the European musical landscape in the first decades of the seventeenth century,
such as the migration of national schools of taste (as well as the migration of national
musicians themselves) and the emergence of violinistic repertoire.
In the fourth chapter I address two questions in which a historical context may
help to inform modern performance. The first is the attempt to determine the most
appropriate instrumentation for performing the Capriccio, including reconciling
apparent references to viols and investigating what the bass member of the “violin
family,” the equivalent of the violoncello, would have resembled in size, tuning, and
playing position. Secondly, I seek a historically appropriate solution to the problem of
the ambiguously printed slurs in the Capriccio, and compare the capabilities of various
printers in the early seventeenth century. As “technology follows technique,” it becomes
clear that the surviving (mostly printed) written record is not an infallible indicator of
Chapter V is made up of six subsections, each addressing a section of the
Capriccio which imitates one or more instruments. In each of these sections, the goal is
first to establish which instrument Farina is imitating, and secondly to investigate the
musical and cultural connotations surrounding that instrument. I explore in particular
the musical idioms unique to the instrument and any aspect in which its performance
practice might influence its imitation on the violin.
Although the organological minutiae of such a survey make it the bulkiest
chapter of this investigation, an understanding of the musical environment that
generated the piece remains as, if not more, edifying. Framed in the context of the
shifting currents of international tastes and of the the developing histories of various
instruments and their repertoires, the Capriccio presents a picture of a piece in which
creative eccentricity and virtuosic ambition make no apology, a musical culture that
rewarded such “extravagance,” and above all of a nascent instrument that “imitates and
counterfeits all sorts of instruments,” in a calculated display of its versatility, its
mutability—its “Universal Harmony.
Marin Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, vol. 2 (Paris: Pierre Ballard, 1637), 183, 180–1,,_Marin) (accessed March 12, 2011). “... il
imite & contrefait toutes sortes d’instrumens ...” “... la touche ... contient une infinité de sons
differens ... & consequemment qu’elle peut estre appellée Harmonie universelle.”
In the backstage area of the Eastman Theatre, when I was a student at the
Eastman School of Music, stood a large, retired piece of lighting equipment.
console, once the master house lighting control panel, had been out of operation for
decades, and its six-foot, mint-green bulk was covered with metal toggle switches,
lighted dials, and oversized knobs, making it look like a relic of the Apollo space
program. One particularly large rheostat was equipped with a protruding, lever-like
handle that pivoted vertically, suggestive of the kind of switch Dr. Frankenstein might
throw to animate his monster. The upper and lower extremes of this dial had been
labeled with pieces of black gaffer tape and a white marker. One was marked “Art,” and
the other, “Entertainment.” The joke was that, for any given concert, the lever could be
set to the appropriate point on the continuum—perhaps all the way to Art for, say,
Webern, and all the way to Entertainment for John Williams. In only two words, though,
the machine illuminated a pivotal distinction in modern musical thought: by calling
attention to the binary opposition of Art and Entertainment, it challenged the very
validity of the notion.
Kodak Hall stage manager Ron Stackman recalls this as “the old Kleigl house light control
panel. It had controls for ‘art, entertainment, mood,’ and others” (personal communication,
January 4, 2012). The unit was non-functional by my time (1999-2003), and has since disappeared
In collective attitudes toward early music (as well as other periods) there is often
a disparity between scholars, on the one hand, and performers and audiences on the
other, with some works and composers commanding a high share of popular attention
but little scholarly treatment.
Since music of great artistry is sometimes of minimal
popularity, there is a corresponding assumption that music of great popularity is of
minimal artistry. Similarly detrimental to a musical work’s scholarly reputation are
virtuosic indulgences, programmatic spectacle, and most of all humor.
The subject of this dissertation, Carlo Farina’s Capriccio Stravagante, is
unfortunate enough to suffer from all of the above complaints. Its technical demands
are unusual for its time; it is packed with, if not true program, at least representational
“impressions” imitating various instruments; and its most striking features include a
few moments of outright absurdity. As often happens, however, the very same elements
that have earned it critical neglect (and even disdain) have also bequeathed to it a
popularity that overshadows the remainder of Farina’s output by far. Since the late
nineteenth century
it has been the topic of much discussion, even if not all that is said
For instance, John Phillip Sousa’s marches are a perennial staple, but in the history of the
Journal of the American Musicological Society, there has been only one article about Sousa: Patrick
Warfield, “The March as Musical Drama and the Spectacle of John Philip Sousa,” Journal of the
American Musicological Society 64, no. 2 (2011): 289–318. I have singled out one of the most
prominent musicological journals, but even extending the search to 83 publications including
Music and Letters, The Musical Times, and Notes, spanning over a century, yields only about a
dozen articles.
To the best of my knowledge, the earliest mention of the Capriccio is in Julius Rühlmann,
“Die Kunst des Violinspieles: Ein historische Studie (continuation),” Allgemeine Musikalische
Zeitung 3, no. 36 (September 6, 1865): 588–9 (discussed below). Three earlier reference works
contain a few sentences each on Farina: Johann Gottfried Walther, Musicalisches Lexicon oder
Musicalische Bibliothec (Leipzig: Wolffgang Deer, 1732), 239–40,
about it is complimentary; Aurelio Bianco and Nona Pyron call it “the famous Capriccio
David Boyden the “much-mentioned Capriccio Stravagante,”
Allsop “the much-quoted Capriccio stravaganza,
and Simon McVeigh, “Farina’s
notorious Capriccio stravagante.”
To the best of my knowledge, it has been
commercially recorded at least eleven times and, in Bianco’s words, “it enjoys a certain
notoriety with the (ever-increasing) audience of connoisseurs of baroque repertoire, to
the point of appearing frequently in the programs of ‘early’ music concerts.”
It is by no
means the kind of programming staple that Vivaldi concerti or Bach cantatas represent,
but it is a remarkably well represented work for such an otherwise overlooked composer.
MusicalischesLexiconOderMusicalischeBibliothec (accessed March 22, 2013); Charles Burney, A
General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, vol. 3 (London: Becket,
1789), 547, (accessed January 1, 2013); Ernst
Ludwig Gerber, Neues historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler, vol. 2 (Leipzig: A. Kühnel,
1812), 76, http://daten.digitale-
ite=48. The wording of these entries might, incidentally, be taken to reflect an evolving notion of
the roles of performer and composer. In 1732 Walther simply calls Farina a “violinist,” and states
that he published pavans and sonatas. Eighty years later, Gerber calls him “a violinist and
composer” (emphasis added). Burney seems to put the two roles somewhat at odds: while Farina
“published pavans and sonatas for the violin,” he “was, however, a celebrated performer on that
instrument” (emphasis added).
Nona Pyron and Aurelio Bianco, “Farina, Carlo,Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, (accessed January 10,
David Boyden, The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 (London: Oxford
University Press, 1965), 132.
Peter Allsop, Cavalier Giovanni Battista Buonamente: Franciscan Violinist (Ashgate
Publishing, Ltd., 2005), 16.
Simon McVeigh, “The Violinists of the Baroque and Classical Periods,” in The Cambridge
Companion to the Violin, ed. Robin Stowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 48.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 123.
Of the eleven recordings mentioned, only three include other works by Farina,
yet the
Capriccio Stravagante is only one of 128 pieces in five volumes of music that Farina
published, as well as another seven surviving in manuscript.
Clearly, the Capriccio’s eccentricity—or perhaps even its simple musical value—
gives it a perceived significance to performers and audiences. Yet the piece has at the
same time sustained a contrasting reception history of ambivalence and outright
antipathy. The difficulty comes when writers set themselves the task of appraising a
work’s musical value. (Performers have the luxury of doing this tacitly—perhaps even
unconsciously—through their programming choices.) Underlying these value judgments
is the more fundamental task of determining the work’s “meaning”—its function, its
purpose, or the content or “message” it transmits. The piece succeeds or fails not only
on the basis of whether it meets the critic’s predetermined model of worth as an
aesthetic object, but also according to how successfully it accomplishes what the critic
thinks it is intended to accomplish, whether the critic concerns himself with its original
function in its native music culture or its potential utility to modern parties. Of course,
as authors assess and pass judgment on the piece’s intent, execution, and aesthetic
value, they also tip their hand, unveiling their own working models of musical value, and
revealing which functions and features they consider musically valid.
As we examine a chronological sampling of scholars’ responses to the Capriccio
below, we will see several patterns of “meaning-making” emerge. Some engage the piece
Alberto Rasi’s and the Ensemble Clematis’s recordings include a selection of Farina’s
dance-genre works and sonatas; the Ricercar Consort’s recording simply lists a “Suite” by Farina.
simply as an aesthetic work, and judge its value as a concert piece. They weigh it,
however, in a late-nineteenth-century balance, and find it wanting in comparison to the
“wondrous beauty” of the high Romantic “heroes of art.”
Others (or, often, the same
ones) treat its function primarily as an experimental proving ground for violinistic
techniques, especially ones that were rare in the contemporary written record and would
later become more popular. (There are dangers to this view, as we will examine later,
quite aside from its problematic construction of a linear, progressive evolution of
instrumental technique, which can be just as deceptive as an evolutionary view of
aesthetic expression.) This model, while awarding the Capriccio historical significance,
ultimately denies it musical value.
Other voices, however, offer avenues by which to construe the piece’s value
according to the artistic currency of its time. Aurelio Bianco categorizes responses of
artistic condemnation as “absolutely unjustified, the product of … an aesthetic
conception totally antithetical to the musical thought of the early Seicento; a
preconceived vision that underestimates the persuasive power of this music.”
he points simply to the effectiveness of Farina’s programmatic hijinks and the
“decidedly audacious writing” necessary to accomplish them, such as the meticulously
Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, Die Violine und ihre Meister, ed. Waldemar von.
Wasielewski (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1927), 64. See full quote below.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 130. Translations mine unless otherwise
noted. “... absolument injustifié ... le fruit d’une analyse qui trahit une conception esthétique
totalement antithétique de la pensée musicale du premier Seicento; une vision préconçue qui
sous-estime la capacité persuasive de cette musique.”
cacophonous dissonances of the cat fight.
Rebecca Cypess, for her part, finds a colorful
analogy for the Capriccios function in the Kunstkammer of the Dresden court. The
Kunstkammer was a collection of artisanal and mechanical marvels as objects of art,
emphasizing human ingenuity.
The culture that assembled such a collection was one
that prized “inventions,” and scientific instruments and clockwork automata vied for
place with feats of craftsmanship. Cypess connects the Capriccio to “the spirit of the
Kunstkammer,” interpreting it as a musical “collection,” putting the sounds both of the
natural world and of human (musical) inventions on display. Furthermore, Cypess’s
interpretation redeems the piece’s technical virtuosity; rather than assigning the
violinistic feats a utilitarian developmental value, separate from an aesthetic musical
value, Cypess demonstrates that the term “invention” was applied to instrumental
virtuosity by several of Farina’s contemporaries, and such human “inventions” were
welcomed by patrons as a valid currency of artistic value.
The final voice to suggest a
“meaning” for the Capriccio belongs to one of its contemporaries, Marin Mersenne.
Mersenne’s comments do not strictly belong to the piece’s reception history, but they
describe the violin’s ability to mimic other instruments and animals, thus suggesting a
context in which to understand the Capriccio.
Ibid., 131.
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’.
Rebecca Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’: Connections between Vocal and
Instrumental Music by Italian Composers of the Early Seventeenth Century,The Journal of
Musicology 27, no. 2 (April, 2010): 181–223; Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’.
The following examination of responses to the Capriccio might be described as a
“selected reception history.” It might even be described as a slanted reception history, as
I focus on responses to the piece’s perceived musical value or function (though there has
been little substantive discussion of the piece without such assessment). I will present
these sources chronologically.
After Farina’s lifetime there are few documents that mention him at all, and
these few make no mention of the Capriccio in particular, so its “reception history”
begins rather late.
In 1865 an ambitious survey of violinistic history by Julius
Rühlmann, spread across nine issues of the weekly Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung,
provides a thorough summary of the piece.
Although it is most likely the contribution
of the next commentator, Wilhelm Wasielewski, that has remained better known to
posterity, Rühlmann’s analysis establishes the themes that would recur throughout
most subsequent treatments: a negative appraisal of the work’s artistic merit and an
emphasis on the value of its technical content. Like most later commentaries,
Rühlmann’s depiction of seventeenth-century violin playing assumes a quasi-
evolutionary progression from its humble and “simple beginnings” to more complex,
more soloistic, and more artistic “expressive capability,” and attributes a rather
anthropomorphic (and clairvoyant) desire to the violin to “attain” the latter
See p. 13 for the eighteenth-century sources that reference Farina.
Rühlmann, “Kunst des Violinspieles.” The article begins in issue 35 (August 30) and
concludes in issue 43 (October 25), with the discussion of the Capriccio found in issue 36.
Compared to future critics, however, Rühlmann takes a fairly lenient and
even positive tone toward the piece, describing it as captivating to the hearer and
“certainly … a virtuosic performance,” but he cannot accept it as “serious” art: “If one
cannot speak of such pieces of music overall as an artistic use of the violin, it is because
the instrument is used here only as a humorous gimmick or plaything, for which only
minor technical development was necessary.
Rühlmann seems almost apologetic for
devoting any consideration to the Capriccio at all, but justifies it on the grounds of its
technical features:
In these little gimmicks we find already manifold expedients to represent
different sound effects that still today come somewhat into use, such as
pizzicato, flautando, tremolo, etc., and on these grounds we consider this
Capriccio an exhibit worthy of mention, as the appreciation of sound effects is
now beginning to revive, and [they] only require a truly artistic usage to be
considered a legitimate art medium.
Wilhelm Wasielewski’s 1869 book on violinistic history duplicates many of
Rühlmann’s sentiments (indeed, as both were published in Leipzig, it is quite possible
Ibid., 588–9. “Aus solchen schlichten Anfängen...”; “zu einem ausdrucksfähigeren
Standpunkte zu gelangen.”
Ibid., 588. “... die gewiss in diesem Capriccio eine virtuose Leistung erkannt haben und
schon damit die Horer entzückten.” “Wenn man bei diesen Musikstücken überhaupt noch nicht
von einer künstlerischen Verwendung der Violine sprechen kann, so liegt dies darin, dass dies
Instrument hier nur zu einer scherzhaften Spielerei benutzt wird, zu deren Darstellung nur
geringe technische Entwicklung nöthig war.
Ibid., 589. “In diesen kleinen Spielereien finden wir schon mannigfache Hülfsmittel zur
Darstellung verschiedener Klangwirkungen, die zum Theil noch heute in Anwendung kommen, z.
B. das Pizzicato, das Flautino, das Ondulez etc., und wir halten aus diesem Grunde dieses
Capriccio für ein erwähnenswerthes Zeugniss, wie der Sinn für Klangwirkungen sich jetzt zu
beleben beginnt und nur noch einer wirklich künstlerischen Benutzung bedarf, um als
berechtigtes Kunstmittel angesehen zu werden.”
that Rülmann’s article was a source for Wasielewski). Like Rühlmann, Wasielewski
encountered only a copy of the topmost, or “Canto,” voice of the four-part Capriccio, and
prefaces his comments with a disclaimer:
We can hardly make an absolute judgment on the quality and the overall design
of the “Capriccio stravagante” from this violin part, because the three other
parts, which determine the harmony and complete the form, are missing. Still, in
light of what survives, we may certainly conclude that the invention and
structure of the whole piece in no way oversteps the boundaries of primitive
illustration. Composition for the violin was, after all, still in its childhood. The
author can certainly find an expression for this or that feeling—as long as he
relies on concrete materials—but it is entirely trivial in musical terms. In the
largely aphoristic construction of the piece, vaguely reminiscent of free rondo
form, we can nonetheless recognize some attempts at well-proportioned melodic
and thematic treatment. We gain some positive insight into the obviously
manifest violin technique of the time, whose abundance unfolds here in a very
remarkable way.
In the ensuing decades, Wasielewski’s Die Violine Und Ihre Meister underwent
some eight editions, with Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski presiding over the first three,
but his son, Waldemar von Wasielewski, continuing his father’s work with the fourth
Wasielewski, Die Violine und ihre Meister, 28–9. I am grateful to Kerry McCarthy for this
translation. “So wenig man mit absoluter Gewißheit aus einer einzelnen Stimme die
tonkünstlerische Beschaffenheit des Musikstückes, zu dem sie gehört, bestimmen kann, eben so
wenig vermag man aus dieser Violinpartie mit voller Bestimmtheit ein unbedingtes Urtheil über
Werth und Gesammtgestaltung des ‘Capriccio stravagante’ zu fällen, denn es fehlen die drei
anderen harmoniebestimmenden und formergänzenden Partien. Doch ist im Hinblick auf das
Vorhandene der Schluß gestattet, daß Erfindung und Struktur des Ganzen nach keiner Seite hin
die Grenzen einer nur primitiven Bildweise überschreiten. Die Violincomposition lag eben noch
in der Kindheit. Der Autor findet zwar schon für diese und jene Empfindung, namentlich, wo er
sich an Gegenständliches anlehnt, einen bestimmten Ausdruck, dieser ist aber musikalisch
höchst unbedeutend. Wir erkennen jedoch in der größtentheils aphoristischen, entfernt an die
freie Rondoform erinnernden Satzbildung die Anläufe zu wohlgegliederter melodischer und
figurirter Behandlung. Positive Einblicke gewinnt man in die sich klar offenbarende Violintechnik
jener Zeit, deren ganzer Reichthum hier auf sehr bemerkenswerthe Weise entwickelt wird.”
edition in 1904. By the 1927 “revised and enlarged” edition, the wording of this
assessment of the Capriccio has been entirely re-written, whether by Wilhelm or by
Waldemar, though the sentiments remain the same: faint praise for a “primitive”
attempt in an immature discipline. This later edition intensifies the theme of progress
with new eloquence:
Primarily, this “entertaining quodlibet” arouses our attention through the
fact that in it the first, if rather grotesquely failing, attempt is made to bring
recognition to the violin's variety of expression. Guided by the urge to a
characteristic musical language, Farina loses his way in a grossly materialistic
direction, for which he may be, however, less reproached, as the time was not yet
ripe for the expression of poetic sentiments in music, which has blossomed with
such wondrous beauty in the instrumental works of our heroes of art.
The 1927 Wasielewski’s final summation is that “this ‘entertaining quodlibet’ can be
regarded as nothing but a work of minor importance
(Willi Apel translates the phrase
as “of only modest significance,” and Adele Maxfield as “of subordinate meaning”).
This edition also reproduces Rühlmann’s identification of the Capriccio’s technique as
Wasielewski, Die Violine und ihre Meister (1927), 64. Vorzugsweise erregt dieses ...
‘kurtzweiliges Quodlibet’ ... unsre Aufmerksamkeit dadurch, daß in ihm der erste, allerdings
ziemlich grotesk ausfallende Versuch gemacht wird, das vielseitige Ausdrucksvermögen der
Violine zur Geltung zu bringen. Von dem Drang nach charakteristischer Tonsprache geleitet,
verlor sich Farina dabei in eine grob materialistische Richtung, was ihm indeffen um so weniger
zum Vorwurf gemacht werden kann, als seine Zeit noch nicht für den Ausdruck jener
tondichterischen Stimmungen reif war, welche in den instrumentalen Werken unsrer
Kunstheroen so wunderbar schöne Blüten getrieben haben.”
Ibid., 66. “Kann solchergestalt das kurzweilige Quodlibet seiner Totalität nach nur als ein
Musikstück von untergeordneter Bedeutung bezeichnet werden....”
Willi Apel, Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Thomas Binkley
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 72; Adele Louanne Maxfield, “Carlo Farina’s
Ander Theil neuer paduanan...” (master’s thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1990), 22.
the justification for discussing it at all: “… however, it cannot be denied that Farina has
done an outstanding service in no small measure to the promotion of violin technique,
and therefore a more detailed illumination of the same for the purposes of these pages
seemed appropriate.”
With “entertaining quodlibet,” Wasielewski alludes to the Art/Entertainment
dichotomy illustrated on the lighting console at Eastman—“entertaining” is the
opposite of “important.” In fairness, however, it is Carlo Farina himself who first pulls
the figurative handle of the lighting console from “Art” to “Entertainment”; in the title
page of the volume in which the Capriccio Stravagante was published Farina bills it as
“eine kurzweilige Quodlibet.” Of course, in 1627 Dresden, Art” and “Entertainment”
might not have been placed at opposite ends of the imaginary lever, or even plotted on a
linear continuum at all.
In 1881 George Hart invokes the same dichotomy in the negative:
This, it must be confessed, is not high art, and points to a disposition on the part
of the Violin to return to its old companions of the Fiddle. Perhaps we ought not
to expect to find at this stage of its independence that punctiliousness
associated with its behaviour when in the company of the Viols, and we must
also bear in mind that Corelli had not yet taught it to be dignified even though
engaged in playing a jig.
Wasielewski, Die Violine und ihre Meister (1927), 66. “ ist doch nicht zu verkennen, daß
Farina sich in ihm um die Förderung der Geigentechnik in nicht geringem Maße verdient
gemacht hat, weshalb denn eine nähere Beleuchtung desselben dem Zweck dieser Blätter
angemessen erschien.”
George Hart, The Violin and its Music (London: Dulau / Novello, 1881), 172, (accessed January 9, 2012), emphasis added.
Many subsequent opinions follow Wasielewski’s template: they emphasize
Farina’s curiosities of technique (perhaps they even make too strong a claim for their
innovation), but as a result imply (or state outright) that the piece is lacking in musical
merit. In 1904 Paul Stoeving, in The Story of the Violin, minces no words:
Even if we were disposed (judging only from this specimen of his muse) to
suspect Carlo Farina of having been something of a musical charlatan, a
Woldemar in embryo, this capriccio would stand as a valuable document for the
stage of violin technique at the time; but there is good reason to believe that the
composer was prompted by a perfect earnestness of purpose, as it shows itself in
the other pieces of the collection. Not having learned as yet to speak in musical
parables, he landed in the crudest forms of tone-picturing as soon as he tried to
depart from the stereotyped dance-tunes and arias.
Edmund van der Straeten, similarly, delivers damning praise to Farina’s technical
elements, while calling the piece as a whole “grotesque,” meritless,ridiculous,”
“childish,” and “primitive”:
The technical development of his instrument was uppermost in his mind, and
the way in which he set to work to attain his object was very amusing. Like other
early virtuosi he did not try to widen the scope of musical figuration for the
violin on the basis of either aesthetical or theoretical (contrapuntal)
requirements, but merely by trying to find new “effects” which nobody else had
tried before. Whether these effects were in the nature of the instrument or
entirely alien to it gave him but small concern. The chief question was, “Were
they curious, and would they astonish the public ?”
Paul Stoeving, The Story of the Violin (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd., 1904),
262, (accessed January 9, 2012). “Woldemar”
refers to Michel Woldemar, 1750-1815, for whom Stoeving employed even stronger language in
pp. 200-1: “We find after Lolli an indefinite number of men who tread in his tracks, and bring in
turn credit and discredit on his name and style:—Woldemar, arch-charlatan, who, to redeem
himself, writes a violin-method without a method...”.
The result of his endeavours was that curiously grotesque and amusing
composition which he describes as “Capriccio Stravagante”….
In his extravagant “capriccio” Farina was the father of the virtuosi who strove to
excel in tricks and outward show. The piece, which on the whole has no
particular merit, consists chiefly in imitation of the fifes and drums, mewing of
cats, barking of dogs, the cock's crow, the cackling of hens, the soldiers’ fifes, etc.
With childish delight and pride he explains in an appendix how these marvellous
effects may be obtained….
However ridiculous these things appear they led to the discovery of several
instrumental effects like the “sul ponticello,”col legno,” and others. (Moreover,
Farina here and there brings into his formless Capriccio snatches of real melody,
which are completely absent from better pieces by the old counterpuntists.) How
much these childish tricks must have been admired by the public is evident….
The works of Marini, Quagliati, and Farina are the first germs of our present
violin literature. Primitive as they are…
Gustav Beckman, in 1918, refutes Wasielewski’s low opinion of the Capriccio rather
bluntly, but even his defense reflects questionably on the piece’s artistic merit:
Wasielewski ... calls the Capriccio a piece of subordinate rank. This is false. One
must not apply here the same standard required of a serious composition, but
must keep the purpose of the piece in mind, to be a humorous piece, with
prominent virtuosity for the violin. It is a light-hearted string serenade.
Edmund van der Straeten, The Romance of the Fiddle: The Origin of the Modern Virtuoso and
the Adventures of His Ancestors (London: Rebman limited, 1911), 21–2, (accessed January 9,
Gustav Beckmann, Das Violinspiel in Deutschland vor 1700 (Leipzig: N. Simrock, 1918), 14–
5, February 7, 2012). “Wasielewski
... das Capriccio selbst aber nennt er ein Musikstück untergeordneten Ranges. Das ist irrig. Man
darf hier nicht den Maaßstab, den eine ernste Komposition verlangt, anlegen, sondern muß den
Zweck des Stückes im Auge behalten, ein humoristisches Stück zu sein, mit virtuosem
Hervortreten der Violine. Es ist eine lustige Streicherserenade.”
William S. Newman dismisses the Capriccio in 1959 as one of the “first random trials” in
“experimental uses of the violin … by way of out-and-out stunts.
For Newman, “stunt”
is obviously a distasteful word; he discusses the contemporary trend for “bizarre stunts”
and pieces full of “strange technical effects … that are more in the nature of stunts than
Even David Boyden’s indispensable History of Violin Playing, in 1965, delivers
judgment on musical merit and forbids serious consideration of any but technical
About 1600 violin music is remarkable for its experiments in idiom, form, and
expression; but it does not follow that novelty and experiment are always
synonymous with the best artistic results. The most interesting piece
violinistically is not necessarily the most interesting musically, and the
exploration of the violin idiom sometimes advances the technique of the
instrument more than its musical ends. Farina’s much-mentioned Capriccio
Stravagante is a classic case. This piece calls for relatively exotic devices like
col legno, sul ponticello, and even glissando in the interests of depicting barking
dogs, yowling cats, and crowing cocks. All this is good fun for the violinist—and
was probably intended as such by Farina—but musically such pieces cannot be
considered seriously except in so far as they advance the technique of the
Walter Kolneder, in 1972, is gently patronizing:
With his Capriccio stravagante he ushered in a genre that became highly
significant for the violin, though it often had little musical substance: the
virtuoso showpiece…. Farina’s famous Capriccio gave the composer a bad
reputation among those espousing “noble” violin playing, but as an outstanding
virtuoso he apparently had fun exploring all the sounds he could extract from his
William S. Newman, The Sonata in the Baroque Era, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton,, 1983),
Ibid., 28.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 131–2, emphasis added.
instrument. Some indeed were new at the time and no doubt amused his
listeners in a harmless way.
For Boris Schwarz, in 1983, “musical value” and “fun” also appear to be opposites: “The
Capriccio is a ‘fun’ piece and there is no use pretending that it had musical value, but the
technical devices have survived and were adapted to musical purposes by later
Finally, also in 1983, Willi Apel says that “it seems to me, from a
standpoint of musical artistry, to be a monstrosity, best passed over in silence,” but, like
Wasielewski, spares a few words for its “interesting details.”
In the 1990 English
translation of the same work, Apel condenses his artistic evaluation into a terse
damnation: “To my mind, Capriccio stravagante is best forgotten.”
It is striking how many of these critics highlight the Capriccio’s catcalls, even
though the section mimicking the yeowling and screeching of alley cats represents a
Walter Kolneder, The Amadeus Book of the Violin: Construction, History, and Music, trans.
Reinhard G Pauly (Portland: Amadeus Press, 1998), 268–9; originally published as Das Buch der
Violine (Zurich: Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag, 1972). I am not aware of any contemporary sources
among whom Farina had a "bad reputation”; in fact, few mention him at all. Perhaps Kolneder
refers to later voices like Wasielewski’s.
Boris Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin: From Corelli and Vivaldi to Stern, Zukerman, and
Perlman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 36.
Willi Apel, Die italienische Violinmusik im 17. Jahrhundert, Beihefte zum Archiv für
Musikwissenschaft 21 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1983), 54. “Mir erscheint es, vom musikalisch-
künstlerischen Standpunkt betrachtet, als eine Monstrosität, die man eigentlich Stillschweigen
übergehen sollte, womit nicht abgestritten wird, daß es einige interessante Einzelheiten
Apel, Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century, 72. This edition was published using
Apel’s own translation, but 1990 does not accurately date his sentiments, as he died in 1988.
mere fourteen seconds, or one percent, of a roughly twenty-minute piece.
The animal
noises are fleeting marginalia among the much longer sections imitating instruments,
which are themselves far outweighed by non-representational material.
Perhaps these
critics are responding more to the rustic implications of the barnyard mimicries than to
the actual substance of the piece.
Another recurrent theme among these voices is a tendency to over-value, or
“selectively value,” the Capriccios unusual violinistic techniques. The piece features
several playing techniques that either are appearing for the very first time in extant
violin literature, or else have very few recorded precedents. These include what would
today be described as col legno, sul ponticello, glissandi, multiple stops, pizzicato, bowing
on the “wrong” side of the bridge, and playing above first position. Writers’ enthusiasm
for these techniques is deceptive; while they legitimize discussion of an otherwise
“meritless” work, they tend to count as a point against its artistic worth. For some, the
handle on the lighting console could just as easily be labeled with “Technique” and
“Expression” at opposite ends. Further, there is a grave danger in the overemphasis of
these techniques of hailing Farina prematurely as their inventor. Bianco warns that just
because techniques appear for the first time here it does not follow that they were newly
Using the Ensemble Clematis recording as a benchmark. This version lasts eighteen
minutes and twelve seconds, and the “Il Gatto” section occupies fourteen seconds. Carlo Farina
and Ensemble Clematis, Capriccio Stravagante & Sonate, CD (Ricercar 285, 2009).
Counting measures in Bianco’s critical edition, supplied on CD-ROM with Nach englischer
und frantzösischer Art, of 377 total measures, representational sections add up to 144 and non-
representational sections total 233.
conceived, “if it is [even] reasonable to imagine such potent technical expedients to be
the fruit of the inspiration and inventiveness of one sole person.”
For instance, the liner notes of the recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the
Concentus Musicus Wien credit Farina with “the very first use of the term ‘ponticello’”
and “the first ‘col legno’ in the history of music.”
Both claims are in need of
modification, though; for one thing, although the Capriccio may in fact be the first
recorded example of ponticello, Farina never actually uses the word, instead specifying
exactly how near the bridge to bow. More to the point, Farina’s is not “the first ‘col
legno’ in the history of music”; in 1605, twenty-two years earlier, the English viol player
Tobias Hume, in a piece titled “Hark, Hark,” wrote “Drum this with the back of your
As with the col legno, multiple stops were first notated in viol literature, this time
in the previous century (Ganassi’s 1542 Regola rubertina).
Even if we restrict our focus
to violin literature, there is some evidence that Biagio Marini might have beaten Farina
to publication by a matter of months with his eighth opus, which contains “a few
capricious sonatas in which a single violin plays two or three parts” (i.e. multiple
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 126. “ ... s’il est raisonnable de penser que de
tels expédients techniques puissant être le fruit de l’inspiration et de l’inventivité d’une seule
Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus Wien, Programme Music of the Baroque Era,
Telefunken SAWT-9549, 1970.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 172.
Peter Walls, “Multiple Stopping,” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford
University Press,
(accessed February 9, 2012).
Similarly, Bianco points out that while the Capriccio may appear at first
glance to be the first use of pizzicato in violin literature, it is pre-empted by
Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda: although the Combattimento was
published in 1638, eleven years after the Capriccio’s printing, it was first performed in
1624, three years prior to it.
Bianco concludes, “It is obvious that [an inquiry] limited
to extant sources can only lead to unconvincing results,” and that “insisting on the
presumed novelty of the Capriccio stravagante” is counterproductive.
To be fair, this problematic celebration of both the significance and the
unprecedentedness of the Capriccio’s technical features is first provoked by Farina
Farina gives pride of place, a mention in the Ander Theil’s title, not to the
Capriccio’s length or musical value, but to its “curious inventions,” and emphasizes their
novelty, as “never before seen in print.” The modifier “in print” is significant, however.
Not only was violin playing a relatively young discipline in the early seventeenth
century, but music publication was as well (we will examine later how the Capriccio
Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie, canzoni, pass’emezzi, balleti, corenti, gagliarde, & retornelli
(Venice: Bartolomeo Magni, 1626), (accessed
January 21, 2013); Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’,” 128. For the possibility of a 1626
publication for Marini’s op. 8, traditionally dated 1629, see p. 209, n. 41. Cypess outlines the
possibility that Farina was aware of Marini’s publication, and attempting to outdo Marini’s
“curious and modern inventions.”
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 127.
Ibid. “Il est évident que s’attacher aux problématiques du développement de la technique
du violon à l’aube de son histoire en se limitant aux seules sources qui nous sont parvenues ne
peut aboutir qu’à des résultats peu convaincants. Plûtot que d’insister sur le caractère présumé
novateur du Capriccio stravagante.”
It must be noted that the promotional wording in the Ander Theil’s title could have been
supplied by Farina’s printer, Gimel Bergen, rather than by the composer. Since we have no way of
knowing, though, I will operate on the assumption that these words are approved by Farina.
stretched the technical capacities of its printer.) Moreover, much of the musical
performance of the early seventeenth century was never written down (or was sketched
with only minimal notation, intended for temporary use), and much of what was written
was likely never printed. Boyden reminds us that it had only been a matter of decades
since the violin had emerged from a career of improvised dance-band accompaniment,
and “a number of players, even so famous a violinist as Bocan in the seventeenth
century, could not even read music.”
The insufficiency of the extant written record has
been best expressed by Nino Pirotta:
The music from which we make history, the written tradition of music, may be
likened to the visible tip of an iceberg, most of which is submerged and invisible.
The visible tip certainly merits our attention, because it is all that remains of the
past and because it represents the most consciously elaborated portion, but in
our assessments we should always keep in mind the seven-eighths of the iceberg
that remain submerged: the music of the unwritten tradition.
The gulf between written and unwritten traditions is perhaps more significant to the
context in which Pirrotta voiced this principle, the Quattrocento, but his warning is
relevant to all periods. Its message for the Capriccio is that, while there may be few
extant, printed antecedents to Farina’s techniques, it may be overconfident to describe
any of them as “the first in the history of music.” In fact, Farina’s own addition, “never
before seen in print,” argues against their unprecedentedness. He could have simply said,
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 51. “Bocan” is Jacques Cordier, whose career more or
less coincided with Farina’s.
Nino Pirrotta, “The Oral and Written Traditions of Music,” in Music and Culture in Italy from
the Middle Ages to the Baroque: A Collection of Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1984), 72.
“such as have never before been seen.” Adding “in print” could imply that such “stunts”
had been witnessed before in performance, whether his own or that of colleagues.
Having said this, the fact remains that Farina’s “curious inventions” were
significant to the contemporary perception of the Capriccio, not in spite of, but because
of the fact that they appeared amidst a surrounding context of similar technical
creativity. For instance, both Tobias Hume’s viol music and Marini’s opus 8
show a
similar emphasis on novel effects. Hume includes “an Invention for two to play upon
one Viole,” a sort of one-viol-four-hands concept involving one player seated in
another’s lap.
Marini, in addition to the pieces mentioned earlier “in which a single
violin plays two or three parts,” provided several more featuring multiple stops, and in
one case facilitating them through scordatura, and one in which a single violin could
imitate a lira da braccio, playing sustained three-note chords, by moving the lower three
strings closer together on the bridge. Marini also includes a “Sonata a 3 in ecco,” in
which only one violin appears on stage (along with, presumably, the continuo players),
but two more violins provide unseen echoes from side galleries.
All of these seem like
what William S. Newman would deem “stunts,” but Marini promotes them with a
Marini, Sonate, etc.. See Cypess, “‘Esprimere La Voce Humana’,” 209 for discussion of the
publication date of Marini’s op. 8. Also note, on p. 198n33: “Marini’s opus 8 was published in
Venice while he was employed at the ducal court of Neuberg, in Bavaria.”
Tobias Hume, The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish and Others (London: John Windet,
9 (accessed February 11, 2012).
Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’,”198–206.
description strikingly similar to Farina’s: “curious and modern inventions.” Rebecca
Cypess speculates,
It seems possible that Marini and Farina employed the term inventioni as it was
used in the field of science, in which newly invented tools, instruments, and
machines were taken to reflect well on the inventor’s patron. Indeed, as Allsop
suggests in “Violinistic Virtuosity,” the patrons in German courts that hosted
Marini and Farina seem to have valued technical novelties in musical
performance…. If an analogy may indeed be made between scientific inventions
and Marini’s and Farina’s musical inventions, it seems most likely that the
performance of the inventioni would have been exhibited prominently—that is,
with the performer at center-stage.
This notion of inventioni provides an alternative to the dual problems of viewing the
piece’s technical achievements either as aesthetic limitations or as stepping stones in a
progressive view of violinistic development. Instead, the “technical novelties”—the
“stunts”—exist for their own sake, and are themselves an artistic currency of musical
Cypess expands on this idea with a more recent article, in which she finds a
fruitful analogy for the Capriccio in the Dresden Kunstkammer, a heterogeneous
collection not only of art in the traditional sense but also of curiosities of natural beauty
and of human ingenuity, like drinking vessels fashioned from nautilus shells, which
“bore witness to human interaction with and mastery over nature.”
Cypess likens the
Capriccio to the Kunstkammer on several levels. For instance, the Capriccio can be
thought of as a collection of its own, with the mimicked instruments on exhibit, set off
Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’,” 203n36.
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,” 139 (the cups are pictured on p. 162).
and framed by the non-mimetic material. The Elector, Farina’s patron, had separate
Kammern for collections of instruments that saw regular use, but the Kunstkammer
included a number of tools representing local trades, such as “joinery, hunting,
gardening, [and] wool-spinning, … but lavishly decorated and constructed from the
finest materials.”
Similarly, ornately rendered musical instruments were included,
more as objects for aesthetic observation than as functional tools. Farina’s “exhibit” of
imaginary instruments, likewise, represents the instruments in question rather than
making actual use of them. Cypess also highlights the Kunstkammers role in juxtaposing
early modern views of the natural world and man’s role in transforming or
contextualizing nature. She suggests that Farina’s use of animal sounds in congruence
with the sounds of human musical inventions is comparable to this juxtaposition within
the Kunstkammer.
(I might suggest that, if Farina does indeed intend some degree of
commentary on the natural and human worlds, perhaps it is significant that all the
animals he includes—dogs, cats, hens, and roosters—are domesticated. Like the musical
instruments, they serve human purposes, either as pets or as livestock.)
Next, Cypess returns to the importance of the word “invention.”
Kunstkammer also housed a number of scientific tools and clockwork automata—exhibits
Ibid., 164.
Ibid., 157–63.
Ibid., 163–70. There was also, by the seventeenth century, a musical heritage for the use of
the word—see the Tobias Hume example above which uses “Invention” as a title, as Bach would
do later—but Cypess touches on not only the scientific connotations inherent in the musical
usage but the artistic, and rather theatrical, connotations attached even to the scientific usage.
See John Caldwell, “Invention,Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press,
of human mechanical invention. Cypess describes the contemporary appearance of
engraved books described as theaters of machines,” detailing the workings of such
mechanical marvels, and suggests that this trend reflects on the Theatrum
instrumentorum, the collection of engravings with which Farina’s contemporary (and
fellow Dresden resident) Michael Praetorius illustrated his organological treatise.
spirit of “theatrical” assembling also informed, perhaps, Farina’s present “encyclopedia”
of instruments. Further, Cypess points out that the violin itself was a fairly recent
“invention,” and suggests that Farina puts it through its paces to illustrate every aspect
of its workings, like the engravings in a “theater of machines.”
(The critical distinction
between this concept and the nineteenth century view of the Capriccio as a technical
proving ground is that the phrase “theater of machines” presents the scrutiny of these
devices as a “theatrical” experience. Contemporary commentaries on “theaters of
machines” and Kunstkammern demonstrate “a correlation between invention and
enjoyment … at the courts of late-Renaissance Germany.”
“Enjoyment” is only a step
away from “entertainment”; are we now discussing Art or Entertainment? Clearly the
distinction is anachronistic, as both technical intricacy and pleasurable pageantry are at
home in the Kunstkammer—a room named for Art.) (accessed February 27,
2013) for an overview of the musical use of the term.
Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum: De Organographia, vol. 2, 3 vols. (Wolfenbüttel:
Elias Holwein, 1618),,_Michael) (accessed
December 29, 2011).
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,” 167.
Ibid., 171.
Finally, Cypess explores a different use of the word Invention, to refer to
spectacular public processions designed “to display the power and knowledge of the
Such parades were often organized to celebrate major occasions in the life of
the court. Cypess notes that Farina’s dedication of the Ander Theil, of which the
Capriccio is the centerpiece, to Johann Georg’s wife, Electress Magdalena Sibylla, on 1
January 1627, [comes] when the court would have been busy preparing for the wedding
of her daughter.
Cypess thus offers a new possibility for the function of the Capriccio:
“It may … have been intended as music to celebrate an important occasion—in fact, as a
sort of wedding gift.
The function of the Capriccio can also be understood not only within Dresden
but within a wider international movement. In two earlier articles
(and a planned
Cypess connects the Capriccio to the work of Farina’s peers. As observed above,
the phrase “curious inventions” in Farina’s title is suggestive of Marini’s usage,curious
and modern inventions.” This is more than a two-man correlation, though. The
“modern” component of Marini’s subtitle echoes the words of another Italian; Dario
Castello, in 1621, identifies his writing as characteristic of a stile moderno.” This
Ibid., 174.
Rebecca Cypess, “Evidence about the Lira da Braccio from Two Seventeenth-Century Violin
Sources,” The Galpin Society journal., no. 60 (2007): 147–160; Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce
Mentioned in “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’” as “Curious and Modern Inventions”:
Humanism and the Mechanics of Italian Instrumental Music, 1610-1630.
“modernism” is closely tied to Caccini’s 1602 Le nuove musiche; the virtuosity that
Caccini promoted in a vocal context is, in the stile moderno, given a distinctly
instrumental emphasis.
In the first half of the seventeenth century, instrumental
writing for unspecified forces began to be replaced by writing that was distinctly
idiomatic for specific instruments, and the violin was one of the primary subjects for
such a spotlight.
Farina’s collective works mix generic consort writing,equally
suitable for viol consort,” with sonatas for solo and continuo, “idiomatic to the violin
family and in the tradition of the stile moderno sonatas of the composer’s Italian
These include not only Castello and Marini but Salomone Rossi (like
Farina, a Mantuan), who played “a determining role in the ‘birth’ of the sonata for two
violins, [and] in the emancipation of the violinist’s status,”
Giovanni Battista
and Antonio Bertali.
Clearly, another defining feature of the stile
moderno was its Italian-ness. Many of the violinists named above had, like Farina,
careers in German-speaking territories. We will explore in greater detail the migration
of violinists, instrumental styles, and technique between Italian and German areas later,
but for the moment it is noteworthy that Farina’s stravaganze (even when they were
seltzamen Inventionen!) were prized not only for their content but also for their part in
Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’,”186.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 99–100, 121–31.
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,” 167.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 25.
Allsop, Cavalier Giovanni Battista Buonamente.
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,” 170.
transmitting the most current Italian practices to Germanic courts keen to adopt them.
(This leads back to a comparison to the Kunstkammer; such collections were meant both
to celebrate local resources and craftsmen and to display exotic “imports,” especially
when the latter could be reshaped and given a Saxon character.
By drawing on Castello, Marini, and the other leaders of the stile moderno, Cypess
allows us to construct a more historically informed alternative to the reading of the
Capriccio presented by Wasiliewski and his successors. Contextualization of the
Capriccio within early seventeenth century musical values helps to paint a picture in
which the piece’s “curious inventions” are neither embarrassing and inexplicable antics
nor immature, larval stages of the evolutionary growth of violin technique, aspiring to
the full flowering of violinistic expressivity as manifested by the nineteenth century’s
“heroes of art.” Newman’s use of the term “stunts” is in fact not inaccurate, but they can
be understood not as parlor tricks but as displays of human inventiveness and virtuosity
as art, and integral components of an emergent instrumental aesthetic at the beginning
of the seventeenth century.
One final perspective on the Capriccio may be discerned from the comments of
another of Farina’s contemporaries, the French theorist Marin Mersenne. With only a
few stray comments Mersenne illuminates an environment in which such “stunts” could,
far from lowering the status of the violin, contribute to a still-malleable definition of the
Ibid., 139, 180.
violin’s strengths, and lay the initial foundation for the lofty shrine which subsequent
centuries would build to the instrument.
Mersenne honors the violin in unambiguous terms, as the “king of
and highlights its versatility as its chief feature. Initially, he focuses on
the chromatic ability of its fretless fingerboard, describing it with the same phrase that
titles his entire work, saying that such ability to play in all possible modes merits the
term “Universal Harmony” (“Harmonie Universelle”). Given the breadth of the work that
Mersenne published under that phrase, encompassing not only organology but higher
mathematics, physics, and metaphysics in one grand inquiry into the workings and
nature of the universe, it is no small matter that he bestows the same title on the violin.
Eventually, however, he shows that the violin’s flexibility is connected not only with
chromaticism but with expressive scope and a palette of multiple timbres. He writes:
The violin is one of the most simple instruments imaginable, in that it has only
four strings, and that there are no fret-points on its neck; this is why one may
execute all of the just consonances, as with the voice, in that one can touch
wherever one wants: this renders it more perfect than the fretted instruments….
To which it can be added that its sounds have more effect on the mind of the
listeners than those of the lute or other string instruments, because they are
more vigorous and penetrating, on account of the great tension of the strings
and their high sound. And those who have heard the Twenty-Four Violins of the
King bear witness that they have never heard anything more lovely or more
In 1789, Charles Burney finds Mersenne’s praise of the violin to be to his credit: “There is
nothing in this good father’s book which reflects more honour on his taste and penetration than
his partiality for the violin, to which ... he gives the preference over all other instruments then in
use, at a time when it was thought unworthy of being admitted into the concerts of other
countries.” Burney, A General History of Music, 3:583–4.
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:177.
powerful…. Now the beauties and graces that one may practice on it are so
numerous that it is preferable to all the other instruments, because the strokes
of its bow are so delightful sometimes that one has a great discontent to hear the
end, particularly when they are mixed with ornamentations of the left hand
which force the listeners to confess the violin to be king of the instruments.
… [T]hose who judge the excellence of music and its instruments … have rather
powerful reasons for maintaining that it is the best, of which the greatest is
drawn from the great effect it has on the passions and affections of the body and
soul. ….
Now if one wishes to dispose of the names by which the ancients expressed their
modes, that is the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Ionian, and the others, and should
wish to impose more intelligible names on them than those of the Greeks, the
Tone or mode of the violin could be called the gay and joyous mode, as that of
the viol and lyre the sad and languishing mode; that of the lute the prudent and
modest mode; that of the trumpet, the hardy and war-like tone, and so the
others according to the property of each instrument.
It must still be noted that the violin is capable of all the genres and all the
species of music, and that one can play the Enharmonic, and each species of the
Diatonic and Chromatic upon it, because it carries no frets, and contains all the
intervals imaginable, which are possible upon its neck, which is comparable to
the primal matter capable of all sorts of forms and figures. … Thus it must be
concluded that it contains an infinity of different sounds, as the string or the line
contains an infinity of points, and consequently that it can be called “Universal
Harmony.” …
Now the violin has this above the other instruments, that in addition to various
songs of animals, both birds and land animals, it imitates and counterfeits all
sorts of instruments, such as voices, organs, the hurdy-gurdy, the bagpipe, the
fife, etc., so that it can provoke sadness, as does the lute, or enliven like the
trumpet, and those who know how to play it to perfection are able to represent
everything that occurs to their imagination.
The final paragraph is the one that most clearly relates to the Capriccio.
Mersenne could almost be describing the very piece, with animal sounds and hurdy-
Ibid., 2:177, 180–1, 183–4.
gurdy, organ, and fife. Of course, the Capriccio is not the only piece in which an
instrument imitates the timbres and idioms of other instruments. More examples within
the German violin school would appear shortly after (prompting speculation that the
Capriccio served as a model for composers of other works), but voices, guitars, trumpets,
and keyboards all engaged in the same trick, and had done so for some time (see pp. 55-
59). However, Mersenne states here that this kind of imitation is uniquely suited to the
violin. With the Capriccio (and its successors in violin literature, all the way to Paganini),
the violin appropriated this mimetic genre as its own domain.
Further, Mersenne’s final paragraph is informed by the previous ones. He speaks
not only of the violin’s ability to reproduce the sound of another instrument, but to
“provoke sadness, as does the lute, or enliven like the trumpet.” The violin does not
merely “borrow” the timbre of a given instrument, but its uniquely associated affect as
well. Mersenne’s focus is on a broad spectrum of emotive capabilities. In the second and
third paragraphs quoted above, he emphasizes the “effect on the minds of the listeners,”
and “on the passions and affections of the body and soul.” In the fourth paragraph
quoted above, Mersenne assigned the violin a native affect of its own, joy, but later he
makes it clear that it can also temporarily adopt those of other instruments. This
paragraph is also significant because Mersenne draws a direct analogy between Greek
modes—structures of theory and tonality as well as symbols of affective connotations—
and the musical affects that are the sole “property of each instrument.” Thus, when he
goes on to say that “the violin is capable of all the genres and all the species of music,
he has extended his frame of reference from pitch collections to unique instrumental
idioms and affects. This means that, when he asserts the violin’s primacy on the basis of
its “infinity of different tones” and emotive flexibility, he equates these with the ability
to “imitate and counterfeit all sorts of instruments”—exactly the talent that Farina puts
on display in the Capriccio.
The violin was young enough in Farina’s time that its definition—what it is that
makes a violin a violin—was still taking shape. A repertoire of “violinistic” writing was
beginning to take on more clearly defined forms, and organological taxonomists like
Mersenne were trying to identify quintessentially “violinistic” traits. In this light, the
Capriccio may be seen not so much as a parlor trick, or as a vehicle for naked, non-
associative technical skills like double stops and ponticello, but as a different kind of
showcase for violinistic ability. In this model, the instrumental imitations take center
stage. The violin’s capacity to become more than itself, to take on the trappings of such
diverse instruments as hurdy-gurdies and organs, to paint with a full palette of tonal
colors and affective “modes,” from the grotesque to the sublime, presents a complete
musical definition of an instrument, just as that instrument was redefining itself.
A useful inquiry into Farina’s “life and times” must dwell more on his times than
on the specifics of his life, because the available biographical data is skeletal. However,
the little that is known about his individual circumstances still merits inspection
because, even as a faceless figurehead, he embodies a number of contemporary musical
trends. Farina was an Italian violinist in Germany, at a time when Italian influences—
and individuals—were increasingly in vogue in Germanic courts, and his international
career yielded a distinctly international body of work. He was a violin specialist and
technical innovator at a time in which instrumental idioms were beginning to enjoy
increased attention and increased specialization, and in which the violin in particular
was rapidly gaining prominence. And he stands as an example of the stile moderno
school, which shifted the definition of virtuosity from ornamental passagework to a
lyrical style, enlivened by capricious and inventive creativity.
Finally, this chapter will
examine the possibility of Farina’s influence (especially, the influence of the Capriccio)
on subsequent composers. Much has been made of similarities between the Capriccio
I am combining the definitions of two authors: Timothy A. Collins, “‘Reactions Against the
Virtuoso’: Instrumental Ornamentation Practice and the Stile Moderno,” International Review of
the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 32, no. 2 (December 1, 2001): 137–152; Cypess, “‘Esprimere
la voce humana’.” N.B. that, at the time of writing, Cypess is working on a book to be titled
“Curious and Modern Inventions”: Humanism and the Mechanics of Italian Instrumental Music,
1610-1630, which may help to clarify and contextualize the use of the term.
and later pieces, with no clear evidence of causal connections. However, in some cases
influence is more plausible than others.
The facts of Farina’s life are, like those of so many instrumentalists of his time,
plagued by uncertainty. We know about his positions of employment and from them can
trace his peregrinatory career (Prague, Dresden, Bonn, Parma, Lucca, Danzig, and
Vienna), but we know little about the man himself.
We have no extant portrait, no
(clear) commentary on his character, and even no description of his playing. Even details
that are routinely presented as fact are not securely corroborated: Farina describes
himself in his musical publications as “Mantuan,
but as Aurelio Bianco notes, this
does not even guarantee that he was born in Mantua; it could simply be an
identification with a “Mantuan” school of musical taste.
Because of Farina’s self-
identification with the city, scholars have looked to records there for evidence of his
youth, but as Bianco cautions, the results are really at best “seductive” speculations,
impossible to confirm.
Farina’s date of birth has traditionally been set in the first 5
years of the seventeenth century, but Bianco points out that there is no evidence to
contradict a much earlier birth date; at any rate, a date after 1606-1607 is unlikely, as it
would put him in full-time international employment as a teenager.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 10, 23–5.
Mantovano” or von Mantua,” depending on the language, in the title each of the five
Dresden publications.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 24.
Ibid., 30.
Ibid., 25.
If, however, we know nothing for certain about Farina’s early life, there is no lack
of “seductive” evidence with which to sketch exciting potentialities. For one thing, there
are records of a man who could perhaps be Farina’s father.
In 1603, a Luigi Farina
entered the employment of the Mantuan duke as a member of the six-man violin band
known as the “concerto delle viuole da ballo,” presumably employed primarily to play
dance music.
Luigi Farina is referred to in documents as “sonatore di basso” and Luigi
Farina dal violone,” both indicating that he played a bass string instrument (for more on
the definition of the violone see p. 66-69). He is the only person documented as being
hired solely to play the violone, though there is evidence that one of his colleagues in
the concerto delle viuole, the violinist Orazio Rubini, could also play the violone (as well
as the theorbo).
If this Luigi Farina is in fact Carlo Farina’s father, then it is a reasonable
supposition that he gave Carlo his first introduction to string playing at home. The fact
that Luigi is described as a bass player does not necessarily preclude knowledge of the
violin. Carlo’s future identity as a “violinist”—a specialist in one instrument—was
something of a new career model; most musicians previously were multi-
instrumentalists like Rubini, who had one primary role at court, but could play at least
This line of research begins with Pietro Canal, Della musica in Mantova: notizie tratte
principalmente dall’Archivio Gonzaga (Venice, 1881), 87,
sVYAAAAMAAJ (accessed January 4, 2013).
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 26.
Rodolfo Baroncini, “Scelte e idiomi strumentali nell’‘Orfeo’ e in altri luoghi
monteverdiani,” in Claudio Monteverdi: Studi e prospettive, ed. Paola Besutti, Teresa M. Gialdroni,
and Rodolfo Baroncini (Florence: Olschki, 1998), 299n29; Bianco, Nach englischer und
frantzösischer Art, 26–8.
two other instruments competently. Also, parental instruction was normative, creating
“dynastic” musical families like the Bassanos, who emigrated from Venice to England,
where they flourished for over a century.
We do not know who else might have given Carlo formal instruction in either
violin performance or composition, but we can at least say that if he was in Mantua in
the early seventeenth century he would not have been without potential teachers.
Whether through speculation, confusion, or the human urge to amplify a figure’s
perceived importance by associating it with a renowned name, many sources have
suggested or assumed that Farina had formative contact with Claudio Monteverdi (who,
after all, was originally hired by the Duke of Mantua as a string player).
These sources
lead Boyden to state as fact that Farina, along with Biagio Marini, Salamone Rossi, and
Giovanni Battista Buonamente, “began as one of the violinists under Monteverdi in
Mantua,” when in fact there is no evidence to link Farina or Buonamente to Monteverdi
(moreover, Rossi was in his thirties when Monteverdi became maestro di capella at the
Gonzaga court, and Marini only worked with Monteverdi from 1615, at the age of 31, in
Venice, so the notion of “beginning under” Monteverdi is imprecise on all counts).
course, neither is there evidence that Farina did not have contact with Monteverdi;
indeed, as Luigi Farina was the only dedicated violone player at court, it is quite likely
that he for one played under Monteverdi’s direction, perhaps for Orfeo or similar
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 26n13.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 135.
Other candidates for the young Carlo’s violin instruction include the brothers
Orazio and Giovanni Battista Rubini, who played alongside Luigi.
A more prestigious
name might be Salamone Rossi, celebrated contemporarily as a virtuoso, and valued
retrospectively for furthering the technique of the violin and advancing its role as a solo
Nor would Farina have wanted for musical peers. Peter Allsop outlines the
parallel career trajectories that Farina had in common with two contemporaries,
Giovanni Battista Buonamente (with whom Farina might have grown up in Mantua) and
Biagio Marini (who was born only sixty miles away, in Brescia).
Although every Italian
city-state had a distinct artistic culture, Allsop locates both Mantua and Brescia within a
circle of influence radiating from Venice (with the “opposing pole” being Milan).
three were part of “an exodus of Italian instrumental composers to the northern courts”
in the first three decades of the seventeenth century—“Marini to Neuburg, Farina to
Dresden, Buonamente and Bertali to Vienna, Merula to Poland—but this merely
accentuated a trend already under way well before 1600.
Indeed, “Italian violins and
players” had been enjoying “a flourishing export business to foreign countries” since at
Baroncini, “Scelte e idiomi strumentali,” 298–9.
Rodolfo Baroncini, “Farina, Carlo,” Dizionario Biografico Degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto della
Enciclopedia Italiana, 1994),
Biografico) (accessed January 1, 2013).
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 25.
Allsop, Cavalier Giovanni Battista Buonamente, 7.
Ibid., 5.
Ibid. There is further overlap among those named here: Farina also went to Vienna in
1638, and he, Marini, and Buonamente were each in Parma at some point.
least the mid-sixteenth century,
when, for instance, Henry VIII of England recruited a
large influx of Italian wind and string players (a trend that continued for almost a half
century in the court violin band; in 1594 William Warren became “the first native
Englishman” to join the band since its inception in 1543).
Likewise, in the 1540s
through ’50s, the French court imported an Italian dancing master and violin band, led
by “the best violinist in Christendom,” Baldassare da Belgiojoso (later Gallicized as
Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx).
(For that matter, roughly a century later, the iconically
French Jean-Baptiste Lully was another Italian import, born in Florence as Giovanni
Battista Lulli.)
Italian violinists, and Italian musical taste in general, were particularly in
demand in Germanic and Austrian territories. Delphine-Anne Rousseau has assembled
an overview of this “diaspora,” and suggests that a number of factors contributed to it:
the overall influence of Italian humanism, the financial and mercantile strength of
northern Italy, marital unions between Northern and Italian dynasties (the Empress
whom both Buonamente and Farina served in Vienna was Eleonora Gonzaga, like
themselves a Mantuan).
Other causes might include the advances made in printing in
sixteenth-century Venice (facilitating transmission), political one-upsmanship between
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 38.
Peter Holman, Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court, 1540-1690 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1993), 108.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 38.
Delphine-Anne Rousseau, “La diáspora de compositores Italianos en el primo Seicento y su
música para violín” (final project, Barcelona: Catalonia College of Music, 2008), 2, 3, 11–3,
(accessed January 9, 2012).
Catholic and Protestant German states (the former were quicker to adopt Italian
and the developments in instrument making in Northern Italy. In addition,
Northern Italy appears to be not only the birthplace of the modern violin,
but a cradle
for rapidly maturing technical prowess, contributing to the specific demand for Italian
violinists. While this may be initially true, Allsop warns against an oversimplified view
in which technical facility is dominated by Italians in the first half of the seventeenth
century and then passed on to Germans in the latter half. Instead, he suggests that this
appearance owes more to the relative state of local printing capabilities (we will see in
the next chapter that Farina strained the abilities of his Dresden printers).
At any rate,
in the first half of the century we see rulers and their agents actively recruiting Italian
musicians. Besides Farina, Marini, and Buonamente, Rousseau lists thirteen Italian
violinists active in northern courts.
The first firmly documented information on Farina appears in hindsight: in 1625
he appeared in Dresden, but his letter of recommendation shows that he was previously
employed in Prague. The letter is dated August 20, and reports that Farina had already
been “for some time” in Prague, serving the archbishop Ernst Adalbert von Harrach as a
Mary E. Frandsen, “Allies in the Cause of Italian Music: Schütz, Prince Johann Georg II and
Musical Politics in Dresden,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 125, no. 1 (2000): 2.
Holman, Four and Twenty Fiddlers, 18.
Peter Allsop, “Violinistic Virtuosity in the Seventeenth Century: Italian Supremacy or
Austro-German Hegemony?,” Il saggiatore musicale: Rivista semestrale di musicologia 3, no. 2
(1996): 233–58.
Rousseau, “La diáspora de compositores Italianos,” 41–51.
musicus of the viola.”
Most likely “some time” was at most two years, as von Harrach
himself had only arrived in Prague in 1623.
Already, in von Harrach’s employ, it would
appear that Farina was valued for his Italian origin. Although born in Vienna,
Archbishop von Harrach was fluent in Italian—he wrote his personal diaries in it for 27
years—and, just prior to his arrival in Prague, had been educated in Italy (at the Collegio
Teutonico in Rome, with some subsequent study of philosophy with Scipione
Indeed, the von Harrach family had strong Italian connections; his father,
count Karl von Harrach, had been educated in Padua and Siena, and the family had
“good relations” with the ecclesiastical powers in Rome.
Ernst Adalbert “was a great
connoisseur and admirer of Italian … music”;
later in life he served as translator for an
opera by Antonio Bertali, L’Inganno d’Amore,
and once extended a stay in Italy
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 33. “...seiner profession ein musicus auf der
Viola ein Zeitlang allhier ... sich aufgehalten...” As I will discuss more fully in the next chapter,
the word “viola” here should not be taken as a narrow indication of Farina’s instrumental
specialization. The word could refer to the viol, or to the violin family in general, of which the
“violino” was regarded simply as a diminutive “viola,” but it is best understood here as a generic
identifier of bowed string instruments. At the same time, it allows the possibility that Farina
performed on the viol as well.
Ernst Adalbert von Harrach, Die Diarien und Tagzettel des Kardinals Ernst Adalbert von
Harrach (1598-1667), ed. Katrin Keller and Alessandro Catalano, vol. 1 (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag,
2010), 64.
Ibid., 1:62. The archbishop was only barely older than Farina (if at all), having been born
in 1598 and ordained archbishop in 1623, with a special dispensation for his “lack of age.”
Ibid., 1:60.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 33.
Angela Romagnoli, “From the Habsburgs to the Hanswursts, to the Advent of Count
Sporck: The Slow Progress of Italian Opera on the Bohemian Scene,” in Italian Opera in Central
Europe, ed. Melania Bucciarelli, Norbert Dubowy, and Reinhard Strohm (Berlin: BWV Verlag,
2006), 80 n 32.
specifically to attend an opera in Venice.
It is perhaps inadvisable, though, to imagine
Farina in a soloistic role in Prague. All of von Harrach’s extant diaries postdate Farina’s
employment, but in the thirty-eight years they cover, the many mentions of violins in
performance almost always describe inclusion in mixed ensembles, and typically in an
accompanimental role, for instance supporting a singer along with two theorbos.
Farina’s next post, however, was more prestigious. In 1625 he was awarded the
position of Konzertmeister in Dresden, serving the Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg I.
The prestige lay not only in Farina’s elevated job title, but in the location. Dresden was
“one of the richest and most vibrant cultural centers in all of Germany,” and in
particular the Elector’s Hofkapelle was “one of the richest and most highly organized of
German musical institutions,” on a footing even with the Imperial Hofkapelle in
Dresden was also particularly attuned to Italian influence, at least more so
than most Protestant German states, largely through the activity of the Kapellmeister,
Heinrich Schütz.
When Johann Georg I brought Schütz to Dresden in 1614 (to relieve
the pro tem Kapellmeister Michael Praetorius), the young Schütz had just returned from
Venice, where he had been acquiring “the Italian manner” under Giovanni Gabrieli, and
Harrach, Diarien, 1:168.
Ibid., 1:191.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 31–2. “... Dresde était déjà à l’époque l’un
des centres culturels les plus riches et les plus vivants de toute l’Allemagne.” “...l’une des
institutions musicales allemandes les plus riches et les plus organisées, suffisamment du moins
pour être comparée ... à la chapelle impériale de Vienne.”
Frandsen, “Allies in the Cause of Italian Music” details the extent to which the overt
efforts to increase Italian influence in Dresden were the work of Schütz and his pupil the crown
he went there again in 1628 to acquaint himself with the latest practices, with input
from Monteverdi. Although Mary Frandsen characterizes Johann Georg I as “largely
indifferent” to Italian trends, it is perhaps significant that he went out of his way to
“wrest [Schütz] from his contract with the less powerful Landgrave” Moritz of Hesse, by
dint of “protracted haggling” and sheer political strong-arming, just as Schütz
completed his Italian training,
and the Elector later paid for several other court
musicians to make similar trips.
He himself, in his youth, “became the first member of
the Saxon dynasty to travel to Italy,” where he spent a year and learned Italian.
Regardless of the Elector’s response, Schütz certainly contracted “a lifelong partiality
for” Italian music and musicians, and he passed this interest on to the crown prince,
who, as Johann Georg II, “displayed a fervor for the modern Italian repertory that
bordered on obsession.”
Part of Farina’s job description in Dresden, then, was to be Italian—or at least to
provide new Italian idioms and genres. In his printed collections he did just that, though
he paired Italian innovations, like the soloistic, lyrical, freely composed sonatas of the
stile moderno, with the music that was already popular in Germany, consort-based dance
genres like pavans and galliards. Even the latter, actually, were ultimately Italian in
Derek McCulloch, “Dresden: A Music Metropolis,” in Dresden: A City Reborn, ed. Anthony
Clayton and Alan Russell (Oxford: Berg, 2001), 175.
Frandsen, “Allies in the Cause of Italian Music,” 3.
Dirk Syndram and Antje Scherner, eds., Princely Splendor: The Dresden Court, 1580-1620
(Milan: Electa, 2004), 68.
Frandsen, “Allies in the Cause of Italian Music,” 3, 4.
origin—pavan is perhaps a reference to Padua—though roughly a century old. Their
popularity in Germany in the early seventeenth century took a roundabout route, as the
French court introduced them to the English court in the 1520s, where they were
celebrated and refined (by Italians) into a concert genre, and finally exported, via a
number of English expatriates, to be “given a new lease on life in Germany.
Bianco titles his study of Farina with the phrase “After the English and French Fashion,
quoting the title of a 1611 collection of dance pieces by Valerius Otto, and apparently
“numerous” similar German anthologies. Bianco points out that Farina’s approach is
relatively atypical; most Italian violinists in German lands simply provided Italian
By blending his Italian contribution with the existing German (and French and
English) fashions, Farina prefigured the “mixed taste” that would come to define
German style in the following century.
Farina’s printed collections, alluded to above, take the form of five volumes,
grab-bag anthologies of instrumental genres, and constitute nearly the entirety of his
surviving work.
Farina published all five volumes, remarkably, in the three years in
which he was in Dresden. Such prolificacy has caused some to wonder whether some of
the material was composed in earlier years, but the volumes with Italian titles include
the phrase “novamente composto & dato in luce”—newly composed and brought to
light—and the German ones are simply labeled as newer” (new). Farina singles out one
Holman, Four and Twenty Fiddlers, 163; see also entire chapter, 145-72.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 14.
There are also a handful of pieces notated in a sort of shorthand, preserved in a
manuscript currently housed in Darmstadt. See ibid., 195–217.
galliard in the third volume for special notability: “This galliard was played and sung in
echo at the wedding of the Most Excellent Sig. Landgrave of Hesse, when the Comedy in
Music of Dafne was presented in Torgau.”
This cryptic statement refers to Schütz’s
Dafne, often if perhaps over-zealously hailed as the “first German opera.”
relationship did this galliard have to the “comedy in music”? Was it simply presented at
the same occasion? Was it an “entr’acte” between dramatic scenes? (The piece, as Farina
mentions, makes heavy use of the “echo” conceit; perhaps it was presented in proximity
to the “echo-play” in Act One of Dafne, which relies similarly on echo-based
) Perhaps, as Farina says that it was sung, the piece was even incorporated
into the dramatic action? Unfortunately, as only the libretto of Dafne has survived, we
have no way of knowing whether Farina contributed in some degree to, if not “the first
German opera,” at least a proto-operatic production. At any rate, his inscription
indicates that the performance was a significant honor.
Honor, however, does not pay the bills, and the Elector’s bills were rapidly
mounting. The Thirty Years’ War was draining the court’s resources, and as often
happens in wartime, the musicians were feeling the reduced circumstances keenly. In
1625, just as Farina was arriving in Dresden, “the entire ensemble, including
“Questa Gagliarda e stata sonata & cantata in Ecco, sopra le nozze dell’Eccellentissmo.
Sigr. Landgravia d’Hassia, quando fu rappresentata in Musica la Comedia della Dafne à Torga”
See Bettina Varwig, Histories of Heinrich Schütz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2011), 94ff for a history of this claim and its debunking.
Ibid., 60–3.
Kapellmeister Schütz, complained that they had not been paid for nearly two years.
Such petitions would be repeated with increasing frequency in the coming decades, and
Farina appears to have left a glamorous position for more lucrative ones.
Schütz, on
his 1628 sabbatical in Venice, wrote back to Dresden that he had found a replacement
for Farina in the person of Francesco Castelli, whom he describes as “very humble and
Rousseau wonders whether this might imply that Farina was the opposite,
but perhaps it is simply a euphemism for “cheap”; indeed, Bianco outlines the
“miserable treatment” that greeted Castelli. He inherited at least one young student
who had previously been studying with Farina, but was required not only to teach but
also to host the youngster, and the meager stipend for the purpose was almost
immediately suspended, along with more severe cuts in his salary proper.
Meanwhile, by January of 1629, Farina had entered the service of the archbishop
of Cologne, Ferdinand of Bavaria. This is the source of some confusion, as the
archbishop’s residence was not in Cologne at the time, but Bonn. There is no way of
knowing how long he remained with the archbishop, but at some point within the next
Gina Spagnoli, “Dresden at the Time of Heinrich Schütz,” in The Early Baroque Era: From
the Late 16th Century to the 1660s, by Curtis Alexander Price (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall,
1994), 165.
Recent evidence by Gregory Johnston suggests that this “climate of debt” was habitual,
intentional, and commonplace, and could not be blamed entirely on the Thirty Years War, as it
can be traced before and after the war. Johnston argues that courts created financial hardship for
their employees and then offered a measure of protection against creditors, making the
employees “in effect economic hostages.” Gregory Johnston, “‘He subsists like a sow in a pig-sty’:
Court Musicians and Strategic Debt in Seventeenth-Century Germany” (paper presented at the
annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, New Orleans, LA, November 3, 2012).
Rousseau, “La diáspora de compositores Italianos,” 22.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 39.
two years he returned to Italy. For the remainder of his career he was employed in four
locations over only eight years. Since in this time he produced no extant material, his
career can be summarized simply by tracking his location. In 1631-2 he was in Parma,
playing in the chapel of Madonna della Steccata. In 1635 he went to Lucca, and played
for the “musical celebrations for the feast of S Croce.” “At the end of that year he left
Italy permanently”—though he would not live four more full years, so the permanency
might not have been intentional.
In 1636-7 he played in the Danzig municipal
orchestra, and in April 1638 he went to Vienna to work for Empress Eleonora I. He died
there of the plague, somewhere between July 22 and August 5 of 1639 (the revision of
his will and disbursement of his estate, respectively).
Although Farina’s significance in his own time lay mainly in his active
performance, and in his national (and international) idiom, the narrative of his musical
legacy has always been dominated by the Capriccio stravagante. In modern
retrospectives, Farina is sometimes situated within a “master narrative” in which Italian
virtuosi of the early seventeenth century laid the groundwork for later generations of
German violinists and composers, from Biber to Bach (an exchange challenged by
and the Capriccio is linked to a number of later pieces using similar
techniques, often with outright (if unsubstantiated) claims of direct inspiration.
Although the piece is often singled out today as the best known instance of its kind—an
Pyron and Bianco, “Farina, Carlo.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 66–8.
Allsop, “Violinistic Virtuosity.”
instrumental piece mimicking the sound of other instruments or of animals—it is by no
means the first or the last. The trumpet and fife sections, in particular, fit into a long-
standing tradition of “battaglia pieces dating back to the sixteenth or even late
fifteenth centuries.
In instrumental examples, Biber’s 1673 Battalia is often
mentioned, but a closer equivalent to Farina’s use can be found in Gaspar Sanz’s 1674
Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española, which contains not only a brief
“Batalla,” but “Clarines y trompetas” remarkably similar to Farina’s “clarino” and
“trombetta” section.
The animal calls, as well, find comparisons in pieces attempting
to mimic the natural world; vocal repertoire, at least, had already been troping on bird
calls for centuries. The chickens, in particular, show up often in instrumental works.
Cesare Bendinelli (another Italian virtuoso in Vienna and Germany, albeit a trumpeter)
included a trumpet “sonata” on the clucking of hens (though the resemblance is hard to
detect) in his 1614 trumpet method.
In 1677 Alessandro Poglietti (yet another
in Vienna) used remarkably similar methods to Farina’s, albeit on the
keyboard, to depict hens and roosters in a “Capriccio über das Hennergeschrey.
Alan Brown, “Battle music,” in Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University
Press, (accessed March
3, 2012).
Gaspar Sanz, The Complete Works of Gaspar Sanz, ed. Jerry Willard, vol. 1 (New York:
Amsco Publications, 2006), 55, 156.
Cesare Bendinelli, Tutta l’arte della trombetta, ed. Edward H. Tarr (Kassel: Bärenreiter,
1975), 37.
Most likely, but see Charles E. Brewer, The Instrumental Music of Schmeltzer, Biber, Muffat
and Their Contemporaries (Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011), 216.
Enrique Alberto Arias, Comedy in Music: A Historical Bibliographical Resource Guide
(Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001), 37.
Poglietti was particularly enthusiastic about sound imitation, recreating not only bird
calls, but the noise of human everyday life (blacksmith and church bells).
He also
sketched imitations of a host of instruments, several of which duplicate Farina’s: hurdy-
gurdy, shawm, and soldiers’ fife.
Other parallels are found among the generation of Austro-German composers
following Farina. In particular, we find pieces for violin, again imitating some of the
same instruments that appear in the Capriccio. Johann Jakob Walther, for instance,
provides a Serenata mimicking, among other instruments, an organ with tremulant, a
hurdy-gurdy, a guitar, and a trumpet ensemble with timpani.
Walther even spent time
in the same city as Farina, Dresden, albeit half a century later. Given these strong
similarities and the commonality of location, many have claimed causality, assuming
that Farina’s Capriccio inspired Walther’s Serenata. This representation of the Capriccio
as a model has even been extended to hosts of other pieces with fewer commonalities,
by composers spanning the seventeenth century and German-speaking territories:
David Cramer, Johann Schop the Elder, Johann Vierdanck, Johann Paul von Westhoff,
Heinrich Biber, and Heinrich Schmelzer. Aurelio Bianco cautions against over-
speculation, however:
Brewer, The Instrumental Music of Schmeltzer, Biber, Muffat and Their Contemporaries, 209.
Willi Apel, The History of Keyboard Music To 1700, trans. Hans Tischler (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1997), 568.
Johann Jakob Walther, “Serenata a un coro di Violini, Organo tremolante, Chitarrino, Piva,
Due Trombe e Timpani, Lira todesca et Harpa smorzata per un violino solo,” in Hortulus Chelicus
(Mainz: Ludwig Bourgeat, 1688),,_Johann_Jacob%29 (accessed January 4,
2013). The digital copy at this location is the 1694 second edition.
The desire to re-assess the value of a minor composer may seem a noble
intention, but elevating a musician to the rank of the founder of an instrumental
“school” cannot be based solely on mere musical coincidences…. It is little likely
that the Capriccio stravagante had become a reference model, or even simply a
vague source of inspiration, over an area so vast and after so many years.
Bianco proceeds to examine the claims of Farina’s connections to Johann Vierdanck,
who is the only composer on the list whose presence in Dresden actually coincided with
Farina’s, and finds that most of the apparent similarities (for instance, a number of
“capriccios”) collapse upon investigation. Perhaps Vierdanck’s Italian-style sonata
writing was influenced by Farina’s playing, but the only truly “mimetic-descriptive”
moment is a trumpet-like flourish, more indebted to the aforementioned battaglia
tradition, which stretches far before and after the lifetimes of both men.
Bianco concedes that it is not implausible that Walther was acquainted with the
Capriccio. As observed above, Walther was in Dresden for six years (and previously in
Florence), and his Serenata imitates five of the same instruments as the Capriccio;
furthermore, other pieces by him in the same volume imitate hens and roosters, as well
as the ubiquitous cuckoo. Clearly, if Walther was not directly influenced by Farina, then
both pieces are part of a larger tradition, perhaps comprising other unwritten or simply
non-extant “missing links.” Marin Mersenne’s words, published barely a decade after the
Capriccio and in the relative remoteness of France, seem to speak to such a widespread
understanding, and come remarkably close to describing the Capriccio:
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 134.
Ibid., 134–8.
But the violin has this above the other instruments, that in addition to various
songs of animals, both birds and land animals, it imitates and counterfeits all
sorts of instruments, such as voices, organs, the hurdy-gurdy, the bagpipe, the
fife, etc.
Even if Walther’s and Farina’s pieces are both part of a broader practice, though, it is
reasonable to assume that Farina’s contribution had an impact on such a tradition, and
in actuality the notion of Walther writing such a similar piece for the same instrument,
so close in time and geography, without even hearing anecdotally of Farina’s becomes
rather implausible.
On the whole, however, perhaps a modern summation of the significance of
Farina’s life would be better served by focusing less on the Capriccio and more on the
figure of Farina himself: as an emissary of Italian taste to northern courts; as a
transmitter of stile moderno virtuosity and the sonata genre; as an agent in the rise of
the violin as a solo instrument; and as an embodiment of the symbiosis of German,
Italian, English, and French elements that defined the German “mixed taste.” In these
roles the patterns of Farina’s life highlight the outlines of forces and movements much
broader and more permanent than the direct influence of a single piece.
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:183. “Or le Violon à cela par dessus les autres
instrumens qu’outre plusieurs chants des animaux tant volatiles que terrestres, il imite &
contrefait toutes sortes d’instrumens, comme les voix, les Orgues, la Vielle, la Cornemuse, le
Fifre, &c., de sorte qu’il peut apporter de la tristesse, comme fait le Luth, & animer comme la
trompette, & que ceux qui le sçavent toucher en perfection peuvent representer tout ce qui leur
tombe dans l’imagination.”
As noted in the first chapter, the Capriccio Stravagante has gained a popularity in
performance that stands at odds with the inaccessibility and inaccuracy of vital
information about it. Several conundrums in particular face performers who want to
present as historically and textually accurate a rendering as possible, such as
determination of the “correct” instrumentation and interpretation of the printed
bowings. In later chapters I will discuss the instruments that Farina imitates, and many
of them have distinct implications for performance practice, in imitating their timbre or
playing style, but the present chapter will address the two aforementioned issues in
detail: for what instruments is the Capriccio Stravagante intended, and how can the
printed bowing best be realized? As is often the case, the best solutions require looking
beyond narrow, literal inspection of the document itself, to broader historical
contextualization of its riddles.
Farina’s use of generic part names without indication of instrument (Canto, Alto,
Tenor, Basso) has left room for some confusion about his intended instrumentation.
This is augmented by the use of the word violen, typically indicating viols, in the title of
Farina’s second published volume, the Ander Theil (etc.) which contains the Capriccio.
Farina writes that the various “pavans, galliards,” and so forth contained therein,
“together with” the Capriccio, are alles auff Violen anmutig zugebrauchen,” which I might
translate as “all charmingly suited to viols” (Willi Apel renders it “to be played
enthusiastically upon the viols”).
Furthermore, Farina lists his own job description as
violisten,” or viol-player.
These factors might suggest that the Capriccio is intended
for viols, but there is in fact clear evidence that this piece at least is for violin-family
To be sure, there is no widespread confusion evidenced on this point. A great
many sources call attention to the wording mentioned above, but most of them
conclude that violins are the appropriate instruments. Apel “do[es] not wish to dispute
this assumption,” but suggests that other entries in the collections could be for other
Apel, Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century, 71. Besides the arguments that follow,
it should be noted that “alles auf … zu gebrauchen” was a common phrase in publication titles; see
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 118.
The same phrases recur in Farina’s fifth volume, which was published by the same printer,
and is the only other one of the five with a German title page.
For more on exactly what is meant by “violin-family instruments,” see pp. 65-69.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt dodges the issue by labeling his edition “für
Streicher und Basso continuo,
though somehow the entry for the score in many
library catalogs has been noted as “for three viols and continuo.” Of course, the mention
of violen alone cannot explain Gunther Schuller’s assertion that the piece “was
undoubtedly first performed on what we now call a baroque violin, a viola, tenor viol, a
baroque cello and probably a violone, along with cembalo.
Most, however, follow
Edmund van der Straeten’s pattern of pointing out that “viols are mentioned in the title,
and Farina calls himself ‘violist,’” but concluding that “violins are evidently meant.
Most of these sources, however, overlook the strongest clue for the use of violin-
family instruments, often because they are partially or fully unaware of Farina’s textual
notes, or avertimenti,” on the piece.
I will briefly outline the more subjective
arguments in favor of violins before proceeding to the primary evidence.
First of all, it is necessary to recognize that, in early seventeenth century usage,
references to instruments were often less specific than in modern practice. Publications
were just beginning to specify instrumentation explicitly; late sixteenth century writing
typically provided generic, vocal-like lines to treble instruments, and publishers
Apel, Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century, 71.
Farina, Capriccio Stravagante, ed. Harnoncourt.
Farina, Capriccio Stravagante, ed. Schuller.
E. van der Straeten, The History of the Violin: Its Ancestors and Collateral Instruments from
Earliest Times to the Present Day, vol. 1 (London: Cassell, 1933), 51. For a detailed and well
contextualized consideration of the question of instrumentation, coming to the same conclusion,
see Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 118–23.
Actually, Straeten is aware of this evidence (ibid.).
marketed them as for “violin or cornetto,” to appeal to as wide a market as possible.
Further, even instrumental names were less than specific. A given word could refer to a
specific instrument, but was also used casually to refer to entire families or classes of
instruments. Thus piffari could be proper shawms, or simply wind instruments in
general, or even all loud instruments as an aggregate. Similarly, descriptors for bowed
string instruments such as viole, viol, fiddle, and geige all held specific connotations, but
could be swapped about to refer to multiple instrument families. After all, Michael
Praetorius refers to viols as viole de gamba and to violin-family instruments as viole de
braccio; both families, thus, are technically violen.
It is in this context that we can best
construe these references, especially since Farina is more specific when writing in
Italian; in the three volumes that have Italian title pages, his job title is given as
Sonatore di Violino.
An inspection of the actual music of the Capriccio reveals distinctly violinistic
writing. For example, the double stops of the “La Lira” section are simple open-string
affairs on a violin, but for a treble viol in standard tuning (d–g–c–e–a–d"), their
demands would progress from heroic to superhuman; the D octave would stretch from
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 123; Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art,
Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 2:25–6.
The dedication of the fourth volume is to Farina’s former employer, the archbishop of
Prague, and is thus in Latin. Farina gives his profession here as “violista.” It is unclear whether
this should count as a viol-related term or not. There is a more violin-specific Latin term,
violinista, which appears at least by the end of the seventeenth century, in reference to Rupert
Ignaz Mayr. However, since both terms are invented rather than Classic vocabulary (rumors about
Nero aside), perhaps they do not bear much scrutiny.
the second fret of the fourth string to the tenth “fret” of the third string, a span of
roughly 5 inches (fig. 2).
Figure 2. Carlo Farina, Capriccio Stravagante, mm. 55-58.
However, such subjective evidence is ultimately unnecessary in the case of the
Capriccio, at least, because Farina himself uses much more violin-specific words in his
avertimenti. In both the Italian and German renderings of his instructions he uses the
most clearly violin-related terms possible: “al scannello del violino,”levando via il
Violino dalla spalla,” and man die Geigen unter den Arm nimbt (emphasis added).
There is also a different, much shorter, set of textual comments preserved in the Tenor
partbook from the full set of four partbooks housed at Kassel. In this source, Farina
addresses some remarks “vor die so in dem Quotlibet den Discant geigen”—“to him that
plays the treble fiddle.” By specifying “Discant,” he implies that the other voices are
Geigen as well. In light of these references it is clear that, at the least, the “Canto” part of
the Capriccio is intended for violin, and the consort-like writing, in which all four voices
… the bridge of the violin,” “lifting the violin from the shoulder,” and “taking the violin
under the arm.”
have similar material, combined with the reference to the “Discant geigen,” strongly
suggest that the other parts are for violin-family instruments as well.
“Violin-family instruments,” however, is a phrase that may require some
clarification. The majority of modern performers on “baroque” string instruments use
recreations of late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century models. As such,
the four parts of the Capriccio, with clefs of treble, alto, tenor (middle C on fourth line)
and bass, are often performed on a “baroque violin,” two “baroque violas,” and a
“baroque ’cello.” All of these are roughly identical in size to their modern counterparts,
and the two violas are typically identical. However, early seventeenth century “alto” and
“tenor” parts might have been played on instruments of different sizes (though both
with the same tuning standard to violas today).
The violin (or simply the “Discant
member of the “Geige” family, as Praetorius refers to it)
is more straightforward, and
would be roughly the same length as a modern instrument,
though some proportions
and aesthetic details were less standardized (take, for instance, the extremely long
tailpiece and lower bouts of the example in fig. 3, painted in the early 1630s.)
One further, if weaker, argument remains: we do not know for sure whether the wording of
the title page was dictated by Farina or supplied by his printer, especially such a promotional
phrase as “all charmingly suited to viols.” On the other hand, the avertimenti are surely Farina’s
own words.
Holman, Four and Twenty Fiddlers, 24; Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 115–7;
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:180.
Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 2:48, plate 21.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 116. Boyden is judging from the to-scale engraving
in Praetorius, plate 21, referenced above.
Figure 3. Judith Leyster, Boy Playing the Flute, detail. Early 1630s, Nationalmuseum,
The organological reliability of this painting could be questioned, as the boy is holding the
flute to his left, the reverse of standard practice (though not entirely unheard-of). However, the
violin and recorder are executed in meticulous detail, down to the visibly graduated gauges of the
violin’s strings and a filigree, trailing end of a string, no wider than the threads of the canvas.
Further, Judith Leyster included musical instruments in many of her paintings, including what
has been conjectured to be a depiction of herself singing while her husband plays the violin and a
friend plays lute (The Concert, ca. 1633, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington,
D.C.); in her acknowledged self-portrait, in fact, she depicts herself in the act of painting a
violinist (Self Portrait, ca. 1630, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Some have suggested
that the reversed flute is the result of an optical apparatus like a camera obscura: Thorney Lisle,
“Current Art Notes,” The Connoisseur, November 1933, 340; for more on this practice, see Philip
Steadman, Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001). Another possibility, given the boy’s slouching posture, ill-suited to wind
playing (more visible in the full painting), is that perhaps the ignorance of standard practice is
The elongated lower bout of this violin is also evidenced in other iconographic sources, such
as Gerard von Honthorst’s Merry Fiddler (1623, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) or The Prodigal Son by
Dirck van Baburen (1623, Gemäldegalerie, Mainz; reproduced in Boyden, The History of Violin
Playing, plate 17). The iconographic sources collected in Boyden’s plates show many instruments
with the opposite eccentricity as well, radically elongated upper bouts, often with a bridge placed
A more complicated problem is the bass instrument. Schuller’s confident
suggestion of “a baroque cello and probably a violone” belies a morass of conflicted
terminology and organology.
The term “violoncello,” in fact, did not even appear until
The relative histories of the instruments recognized today as the violoncello
and the double bass are intertwined, and the examples we find described and pictured
are often as much bass members of the viol family as of the violin family, sometimes
borrowing freely in name or in organological makeup from both. Marc Vanscheeuwijck
points out that to view these as either viols, violins, or “hybrids” is something of an
anachronistic standpoint; in reality, the field of low-register bowed string instruments
was simply populated by far more variations in size, number of strings, register, body
shape, and even playing posture than we imagine.
With regard to the latter, it is
worthwhile to note that the decorative woodcut on the title page of the Ander Theil (in
which the Capriccio is printed—fig. 4) shows a man playing a viol-shaped instrument in
a standing position, with the instrument presumably suspended from his person. At the
same time, this image does not have much to do with the contents of the volume, as the
other two instruments pictured are plucked strings; it was probably simply a “stock
image” the printer had on hand.
well below the f holes (e.g. plates 11, 20, 22, 23, 30, 36, 37, 39, and 40). These examples extend all
the way to Leopold Mozart; a clear conclusion is that for some time the exact proportions of the
violin were not fully standardized.
Capriccio Stravagante, ed. Schuller.
In Giulio Cesare Arresti, Sonate à 2. & à Tre Con la parte di Violoncello a Beneplacito, Op. 4
(Venice, 1665).
Mark Vanscheeuwijck, “Violoncello and Violone,” in A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-
Century Music, ed. Stewart Carter, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 239.
Figure 4. Carlo Farina, Ander Theil Newer Paduanen etc., title page, detail. Sächsische
Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, Mus.1510.N.1,
Praetorius gives illustrations of three different low-register violin- and viol-like
instruments. The “Violone, Groß Viol-de-Gamba-Baß” has frets, six strings, and perhaps
a small endpin, and appears to measure roughly six feet seven inches from scroll to
button, as the engravings are carefully drawn to scale.
The “Groß Contra-Bas-Geig”
has frets, five strings, and a clear endpin, and measures seven feet, six inches.
the “Geig” label, Praetorius seems to group this instrument with viols. He describes it as
Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 2: plate 6. I am converting from Praetorius’s scale of
“Brunswick feet,” 0.93622 of the modern English foot.
Ibid., 2: plate 5.
doubling bass parts at an octave below, and likens it to a sixteen-foot organ stop. He
relates his own recent attempt to use five of them at once; finding, however, that “these
enormous instruments in such numbers produce far too much resultant throbbing and
beating,” he reassigned the upper voices to “ordinary viols.”
He further adds that the
instrument is a “recent” innovation. Finally, he illustrates a bass instrument of the violin
family: the “Bas-Geig de brac[c]io” has no frets, but unlike the “baroque cello” common
among modern practitioners of early music, it has five strings, and a clear endpin (fig. 5).
It measures four feet eight inches, excluding the 5-inch endpin—surprisingly close to
the four feet standard for the modern cello.
Praetorius’s tables listing the tunings of
these instruments complicate the matter further.
Two tunings are given for the “Baß
Viol de Braccio,” but these are both four-string tunings. One is identical to the modern
cello (C–G–d–a), and the other is a fourth higher (F–c–g–d
)—presumably this four-
stringed bass member of the violin family is not pictured in the engravings. Immediately
beside them, a five-string tuning is given for a “Groß Quint-Baß” which has the four
strings of a modern cello plus a lower string at F'.
Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum II: De Organographia: Parts I and II, ed. David Z.
Crookes, trans. David Z. Crookes, Early Music Series 7 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 54.
Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 2: plate 21.
Ibid., 2:26. More legible in Crookes’ modern edition, 39.
Figure 5. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, plate 21, detail of “Bas-Geig de
At this juncture it may be beneficial to examine the tessitura required of the
Basso part of the Capriccio. The lowest pitch is D, which occurs very frequently, some 51
times (the prevailing tonality being centered on D), and the highest pitch is d',
appearing only in m. 353 of Aurelio Bianco’s edition.
Middle C also appears fairly
Carlo Farina, Édition des Cinq Recueils de Dresde, ed. Aurelio Bianco (Turnhout: Brepols,
2010), included on CD-ROM with Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösicher Art.
often. Clearly Praetorius’s higher tuning (F–c–g–d
) is too high, and the fifth string of
the “Groß Quint-Baß” is redundant. In fact, it is curious that, even if the standard cello
tuning were used, the lowest open string should never be utilized, and that the whole
tone above should appear so often. It is suggestive of the tuning given by Bartolomeo
Bismantova in 1677: “The modern violoncello da spalla is tuned in fifths, except that the
lowest string, instead of being tuned as C, should be tuned as D, and this is done for the
ease of the player, but it could also be tuned as C.”
The da spalla modifier refers to a
playing position on the shoulder or upper chest, often held in place by a strap.
It is
entirely possible that, amid such variability, this tuning was also used with instruments
held gamba-style, supported by the legs while seated, but there is no reason to rule out
the possibility that Farina’s “Basso” instrument would have been played on the
While Schuller’s suggestion of an additional, sixteen-foot-range bass instrument
and a continuo instrument is far from “undoubtable,” it is intriguing that, in the copy of
the Ander Theil housed at Kassel, the four partbooks are accompanied by a second,
handwritten “Basso” part. Rebecca Cypess suggests that this may be for a continuo
(which could just as well be lute as keyboard). At any rate, Jack Ashworth and
Paul O’Dette suggest that a chordal instrument, especially a quieter one like a lute or
Quoted in Vanscheeuwijck, “Violoncello and Violone,” 237.
Gregory Barnett, “Viola da spalla,” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford
University Press,
(accessed January 15, 2013).
Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,” 178–9.
spinet, is more likely than a sustained instrument reinforcing the bass line in
seventeenth-century writing for small forces, and point out that the extra part could
even have been for a music director.
Another quandary, with perhaps more relevance for the performer, is how to
interpret the printed slurs that appear in several sections of the piece. These slurs are
placed cryptically in relation to the notes (see fig. 6 and 8, below), and any attempt to
render them “faithfully,” according to Farina’s intentions, may be less than
straightforward. These curved lines are symbols, and it is worthwhile to ask ourselves
not only, “How do we translate these symbols into more legible and functional symbols,
but “What do these symbols signify?” The pursuit of the second question involves
investigating the technique and practices not only of seventeenth-century violinists but
also of printers.
The difficult placement of the slurs is due partly to the fact that Farina was
active after the age of woodblock printing and before the widespread adoption of
intaglio engraving, in which entire pages were shaped by hand, customizable to any
shape of the human imagination. Instead, the prevailing method was letterpress
printing, using movable type. In music printing, minute sections of five-line staff were
Jack Ashworth and Paul O’Dette, “Basso Continuo,” in A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-
Century Music, ed. Stewart Carter, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 319,
cast, each with a note of a different pitch and duration, and these could be assembled
side by side to (ideally) create the illusion of a continuous staff (the gaps between the
sections can be seen clearly at the ends of the lines in figs. 6 and 8). The creator of the
set of type, or “fount,” would of course cast more than one copy of each unique note, as
there would be, for instance, more than one c" quarter note on a given page. The slurs as
well had to be cast as pieces of type, and in the example below it appears that only one
character for a slur was cast; all the slurs are the same size (with the possible exception
of the third-to-last in the first line; perhaps this was “trimmed”). As a result, most of
them appear to be slurs of only two notes, and it is often difficult to decipher exactly
which notes appear to stand at the beginnings and ends of the slur (let alone which are
meant to).
Figure 6. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 74-82. SLUB Dresden, Mus.1510.N.1,
The modern performer faces a dilemma in interpreting these cryptic symbols.
Some have undertaken to decipher the slurs literally, attaching each to the nearest note,
but the result, while intriguing, is often neither practical, violinistically idiomatic, or
reconcilable to contemporary treatises. Figure 7 compares two such renderings of the
first two measures of the “Pifferino” section pictured above with Aurelio Bianco’s less
literal but more functional approach. Figure 8 shows the preceding measures, from the
Lira” section, in the original print, and Figure 9 shows Rebecca Cypess’s interpretation
of the slurring; note that repeated figures experience different bowings. (It should be
noted, in fairness, that of these examples only Bianco’s is intended as an edition useful
for performance; the others are concerned with transcription.)
Figure 7. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 75-76, as realized by Gustav
Adele Maxfield,
and Aurelio Bianco.
Figure 8. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 58-73. SLUB Dresden, Mus.1510.N.1,
Beckmann, Das Violinspiel, Anhang; Beckmann’s slurring is reproduced (without
attribution) in Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 166.
Maxfield, “Carlo Farina’s Ander Theil neuer paduanan...,” 100.
Farina, Édition, 184.
Figure 9. Capriccio Stravagante, Canto part, mm. 59-74, as realized by Rebecca Cypess.
An alternative to this literal approach would be to regard these slur marks as
simply indicating that the passages in question “are slurred,” and to construct the
bowing in the most logical and informed manner possible. After all, on close inspection,
the slurs appear to simply be spaced roughly equidistantly across the affected lines (see,
in particular, the middle line of fig. 8 or the final line of fig. 6).
We find similar evenly-spaced slurs in a sonata by Marco Uccellini—and get a
rare glimpse into the distinction between composer’s intent and printer’s capability (fig.
10). Gustav Beckmann reproduces an excerpt by hand in his Das Violinspiel in
Deutschland, and includes both the slurs in the printed edition (above the notes), and
those appearing in the manuscript (below the notes). In the second excerpted section,
the two groups of thirty-second notes are topped by five and six curly braces
Cypess, “Evidence about the Lira da Braccio from Two Seventeenth-Century Violin
Sources,” 155.
respectively. Any attempt at a literal rendering would demand heroic measures, perhaps
involving “ragtime” syncopation and a slur across a barline. However, Uccellini’s slur
below the notes shows that he simply wanted all the thirty-second notes to be slurred
together; the string of curly braces is simply an attempt to show this “large slur.”
Similarly, in the first excerpted measure, an evenly-spaced string of curly braces places
one above a quarter note where no slur was even intended. Clearly, the message of the
printed slurs to the performer was simply, “Here be slurs,” and the performer was left to
distribute them as seemed best.
Figure 10. Marco Uccellini, from “Sonata ottava,” op. 5.
It is worth noting, in light of the discussion below of the distinction in printing
capabilities by region, that although this was printed in Venice, the “birthplace” of
music printing under Petrucci, Krummel and Sadie report,
Marco Uccellini, Sonate over canzoni da farsi a Violino solo, op. 5 (Venice: Vincenti, 1649),
reproduced in Beckmann, Das Violinspiel, 93.
The Vincenti music editions, made from movable type, met the needs of their
times but typify a period of technical stagnation and artistic decline in Italian
music printing generally (except in music engraving, which Vincenti did not
practice). Most are mediocre in appearance, and some are marred by ugly
decoration, worn type, poor inking and errors in text and pagination.
The challenge facing Farina and Uccellini was one that has persisted throughout
the history of written music: as new musical practices develop, so must methods for
transmitting them—technology follows technique.
It is striking that Farina (or
perhaps his printer, Gimel Bergen) drew attention to the newness of Farina’s techniques,
or more accurately the newness of printing them: the title page advertises an
“entertaining quodlibet of all manner of curious inventions, such as have never before
been seen in print.”
Slurs were not the most significant strain Farina placed on
Bergen; several sections in the Capriccio call for double and even triple stops. Evidently
Bergen did not have any pieces of type with multiple notes (indeed, it would be
prohibitively expensive to account for all the possible combinations of threefold pitch
with duration), so he printed only one pitch, and someone hand-inked the remaining
ones (with great precision, and closely mimicking the diamond noteheads of the printed
pitches, in the Dresden copy, though the Kassel copy shows a hastier hand with round
D. W. Krummel and Stanley Sadie, eds., Music Printing and Publishing (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1990), 461.
See Tim Carter, “Printing the ‘New Music’,” in Music and the Cultures of Print, ed. Kate Van
Orden (New York: Garland, 2000). Carter focuses particularly on attempts to represent post-
Caccini vocal ornamentation in movable type.
… einem kurtzweiligen Quodlibet von allerhand seltzamen Inventionen, dergleichen
vorhin im Druck nie gesehen worden …”
noteheads and unruly flags).
In Figure 8, the handwritten lower pitches are clearly
visible; note also the hand-ruled bottom staff line. Farina’s previous volume, printed by
Wolfgang Seiffert in 1626, expresses double stops by resorting to a system of numbers
like figured bass to indicate the interval at which to add a pitch below the printed one.
For his fifth and final volume, Farina returned to Gimel Bergen (in between, he had
printed the third “at the author’s own expense,” with no indication of the printer, and
the fourth through Johann Gonkeritz), but this time Farina used the figures as in the
first volume, rather than inking by hand.
The slurs and multiple stops were not newly invented techniques, nor were they,
despite the claim, appearing for the first time in print. However, either their practice or
their written depiction was rare enough that Farina thought it advisable to explain them
in the avertimenti as if they were unheard of: “When one finds notes stacked one on top
of another, as if in organ tablature, with this sign over them, one must slur with
the bow (mit dem Bogen schleiffen), like a lira.
The phrase mit dem Bogen schleiffen is
The two hands can be seen in comparison in Bianco, 168. Bianco suggests that the printed
characters in the Kassel copy show more wear, which would make it the later copy (168). It would
be intriguing to view the “extra,” handwritten copy of the Basso part at Kassel and compare it to
the handwritten notation in the Canto.
This hand-inking raises the question, if a scribe were already going to the trouble to draw
in extra notes, why should he not also draw in more accurate slurs? No adequate answer presents
itself, except that the printer had slur characters on hand and not multiple-stop characters. After
all, as we will see shortly, other works were printed with slurs in movable type, with more clearly
specific results; perhaps Farina had no way of knowing the outcome when he agreed to the
I am triangulating a translation from the Italian and German instructions. For more on
schleiffen, see the discussion of Samuel Scheidt below. For more on the “lira,” see pp. 90-106.
“Dove si truovano nota sopra nota con forme all’Intavolatura dell’Organo con questo segno [slur
sign] di sopra, all’hora si suonera Lirsando …” “Wann zwo Noten uberinander stehen oben mit
curious; translations for schleifen include grind, drag, and polish—all words full of
weight and friction, perhaps bespeaking an element of emphasis and sustain.
However, it is clearly more than an isolated, eccentric turn of phrase, as the organist
Samuel Scheidt used the exact same words to describe violinists’ slurs.
In his 1624
Tabulatura Nova, Scheidt marked several passages of sixteenth notes with four-note
slurs (rendered, incidentally, with great clarity in movable type by a German printer,
three years before the Capriccio), and captioned the passages with the phrase “Imitatio
Violistica.” At the back of the volume, like Farina, he printed an explanation, below
another sample of slurred sixteenth notes:
When notes are drawn together as seen here, as is encountered often in this
Tabulatura, it is a special style, just as violinists (or viol players—Violisten—see
above), who know how to play clearly and gently, are wont to slur (mit dem Bogen
schleiffen). As this manner, which is not uncommon among master Violisten even
of the German nation, gives a very charming and graceful effect on the organ … I
have myself fallen in love with it and let myself acquire the habit.
diesem Zeichen [slur sign] gezeichnet als muß man dieselben Noten mit dem Bogen schleiffen
gleich einer Leyren.”
When Francesco Rognoni explains slurring, he describes a slow bow, “giving strength to
the wrist of the bow hand.” Francesco Rognoni, Selva De Varii Passaggi, vol. 2 (Milan: Filippo
Lomazzo, 1620), 4. “E volendo che riesehino bene, bisogna farle adaggio, dando forza al polso
della mano dell’arco ...” Later in the avertimenti, Farina uses the Italian verb srascinare to denote
slurring, which means “to drag.”
Samuel Scheidt, Tabulatura Nova, ed. Harald Vogel, vol. 2 (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel,
1994), 159. Scheidt’s explanation of the slurring is reproduced in facsimile in vol. 1: 262.
Ibid.. Again I am translating from Scheidt’s German and Latin at once. “Wo die Noten / wie
allhier / zusammen gezogen seind / ist solches eine besondere art / gleichwie die Violisten mit
dem Bogen schleiffen zu machen pflegen. Wie dann solche Manier bey fuernehmen Violisten
Deutscher Nation / nicht ungebreuchlich / gibt auch auf gelindschlägigen Orgeln ... einen recht
lieblichen und anmutigen concentum, derentwegen ich dann solche Manier mir selbsten gelieben
lassen / und angewehnet.” “Ubi notulas signo hoc notatas & circumductas videris, id quod
saepius in hac tabulatura occurret, scito esse Imitationem Violisticam a peritissimis eius artis
inventam, qui modo clarius modo lenius fidibus norunt canere: Estque haec variatio apud
This establishes two striking precedents: German printers were in fact capable of using
slurs clearly in movable type before the Capriccio, and more significantly, slurring was
perhaps more common among violinists in practice than the printed record indicates. It
also offers a tantalizingly oblique commentary on the technical advancement of German
string players relative to those of other nationalities. Clearly, since Scheidt says this
technique is known among German violinists, slurring cannot be counted among any
technical innovations that Farina is supposed to have brought with him as an Italian. On
the other hand, in the Latin text Scheidt ascribes the practice of slurring to “those most
highly skilled in their art, who know how to play the strings clearly and gently,” and
then, with the phrase etiam in ipsa Germania, slips in some connotation of even in
Germany,” which sets the renown of German violinists back a notch.
Scheidt’s comments remind us that if technology follows technique, it follows it
at some distance, and the earliest printed evidence of a practice can sometimes also be
taken as evidence of its undocumented use for some time prior. There is documented
use of slurring, however, even in violin literature as early as 1620. Francesco Rognoni
devotes the first half page of his instrumental treatise to a thorough example of slurring
in various rhythmic permutations (fig. 11).
These examples can help us to reconstruct
the most contemporaneously justified interpretation of Farina’s slurs. In his textual
artifices Violistas etiam in ipsa Germania non infrequens: In Organis ... edit concentum
suavissimum & jucundissimum: propterea & ego hac ipsa variatione admodum delector, e atque
saepissime utor. Vale, utere, & fruere.” For translation help with the phrase etiam in ipsa I am
indebted to Drs. Micaela Janan and Jennifer C. Woods of the Classical Studies department of Duke
Rognoni, Selva de varii passaggi, 2:5.
explanation, Rognoni starts off very simply: “Slurring (lireggiare) means to take two,
three, or more notes in a single bow … ; if there are two, [then] two in down bow and two
in up bow; if there are three, the same; if four, four down and four up; if there are eight,
or twelve, the same.”
This formulaic definition is belied by the variety of the notated
examples that follow, though he does in general progress from slurs of two notes to
three and four, and ultimately fifteen (fig. 11). One trend that can be extrapolated from
his examples, though, is that most of the slurs end at the end of a beat (i.e. so as to start
the next bow on a beat). Only twice is this rule broken, with the syncopated bowing in
the measure that ends the first line and begins the second, and with the hemiola in the
measure ending the third line and beginning the fourth (N.B.: in this edition, sixteenth
notes are differentiated from eighths by a small secondary flag at the notehead end of
the first flag). Never does any slur cross a barline. Beckmann’s slurring in fig. 7 and the
cross-measure slurs in fig. 9 are thus unlikely, and a comparison with Uccellini’s printed
and handwritten slurs in fig. 10 suggest that Farina’s slurs are best parsed to align with
beats, as in Bianco’s solution.
Ibid. “Per Lireggiare s’intende far due, trè, ò più note in una sola arcata, come ne i
contrascritti essempi si vede; se sono due, due in giù, è due in sù; se sono trè, l’istesso; se
quattro, quattro in giù, è quattro in sù; se sono otto, overo dodeci il medesimo.”
Figure 11. Francesco Rognoni, Selva de varii passaggi, part two, Ove si tratta dei pasaggi
dificili per gl’instromenti, 5.
Rognoni’s slurs are also significant because, as far as I can determine, they are
the first use of the now-standard curved-line indication of slurs in movable type.
The printer, Filippo Lomazzo of Milan, accomplishes much more specific slur
assignment than that shown in the Capriccio, and does so seven years earlier. He has a
varied stock of characters, with two sizes for two-note and three-note slurs, and
Praetorius’ De Organographia, 1618-9, uses slur characters occasionally, but not in true
staff notation. The work, however, is rather a virtuosic feat of printing for his German printer,
with its tables and diagrams.
constructs anything larger with left and right curves connected by straight lines. Clearly
the transmission of Rognoni’s “difficult pasaggi” depended not only on Rognoni’s
technical facility but equally on his printer’s.
Peter Allsop elaborates on this point: to modify my formula, not only does
technology follow technique, but if the gap is too great, technology can obscure
technique. Allsop suggests that some of the conventional narratives explaining the
transmission of violin technique from Italians to Germans and vice versa owe more to
the relative capabilities of local printers than to actual regional practice.
summarizes the conventional view well: “The German contributions to violin music
were less important than those of Italy in the early seventeenth century. The Italians,
Marini and Farina, constituted a bridge from the relatively simple German style at this
time to the advanced style of J. J. Walther and Heinrich von Biber at its end,”
by which
time “the Germans … had stolen the ascendancy in the development of violin
Double stops, for example, appeared to be the sole specialty of Germans
(or Italians in German lands, like Farina and Marini) for the latter half of the century,
prompting many, like Boyden, to assume that they are evidence that Farina and Marini
“learned from the German style.
However, Allsop notes that this flies in the face of
the model above in which the Italians were the teachers.
Allsop, “Violinistic Virtuosity.”
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 136.
Allsop, “Violinistic Virtuosity,” 234.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 135.
The reality is that there are barely any records on which to base a conclusion. In
the first two decades of the century, only three composers printed works with double
stops, and all were Italians. Further, aside from Farina's makeshift measures with Gimel
Bergen, the remaining two were printed by the same Venetian printer, Bartolomeo
Magni. Magni married the heiress of the century-old printing house of Gardano, and
retained the venerable “brand name” on his own publications, with the rubric “Stampa
del Gardano appresso Bartolomeo Magni.
With such name recognition and little strong
competition, he did business with many illustrious musicians, including Monteverdi and
Dario Castello. He also appears to have had the financial capital to keep pace with
“curious and modern” facets of violin technique, as he provided our only clear, extant
proof of successful printing of double (and triple) stops (as well as very nice slurs) in
movable type. These all appear in Marini’s Sonate Sinfonie (etc.), Op. 8, which advertises
its “curiose & moderne inventioni,” and which appeared in print possibly as early as 1625.
(Rebecca Cypess has noted the similarity of this phrase to Farina’s “curious inventions,
and suggests that the two publications were in competition to some degree. She also
neatly summarizes the mare’s nest of confusion surrounding the publication of Marini’s
Op. 8, which bears dates of 1625 and 1626 on its title pages, amended by hand to 1629;
she suggests that this could have been an attempt to make Marini’s offering appear even
more “modern” after Farina’s.
) Allsop has suggested that the double stops in Marini’s
Op. 8 were specially engraved in woodblocks, as the staff lines appear to be more
Krummel and Sadie, Music Printing and Publishing, 329.
Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’,” 209n41.
seamless than in other passages,
but examination of a digital copy
makes it clear
that it is indeed movable type, as gaps are evident in the staff which are blurred in
Allsop’s reproduction (see fig. 12, second system, and cf. Allsop 237). The type is indeed
clearer than that of surrounding passages, however, and the flags of eighth notes are
shaped differently, as straight stubs instead of the curved flags in the first system. The
conclusion seems to be that Magni cut these notes, one at a time, specially for this
project; the brand-new characters have not acquired the rounding of the noteheads and
staff segments shown in the older type. The remaining example of double-stop writing,
also published by Magni, is written by Ottavia Maria Grandi, in his Sonata per un violino
Op. 2 no. 1 (1628). Sadly, the violin partbook to this opus disappeared during the Second
World War, but fragmentary excerpts had already been preserved in Gustav Beckmann’s
Das Violinspiel; these show extensive double stops as well as a few slurs.
If Magni
could carve new characters for Marini, he presumably did so for Grandi as well, and in
fact would have been able to reuse quite a few; Beckmann’s excerpt and fig. 12 below,
alone, contain several identical pairings of pitch and duration.
Allsop, “Violinistic Virtuosity,” 244.
Marini, Sonate, etc.
Beckmann, Das Violinspiel, Anhang.
Figure 12. Biagio Marini, Sonata quarta per il violino per sonar due corde, Op. 8, basso
partbook with violin part in score. Digital copy available in Digital Library of Wroclaw
University, (resource identifier:
Of course, cutting these extra characters was not inexpensive, and Magni appears
to be the only printer who considered it. In 1671, nearly half a century after the
Capriccio, Giovanni Maria Bononcini experienced the same difficulty as Farina, and
could not print his double stops with one note upon the other in a single line, as one
would write it, for lack of the appropriate characters.
Even in 1706 a volume printed
in Rome gave up entirely on double stop printing “because of the great expense that
Quoted in Allsop, “Violinistic Virtuosity,” 242. “Non sono stampate le seguenti suonate,
intavolate colle note l’una contro l’altra in una rigata sola, come si scrivono, per mancanza di
caratteri a proposito....”
would have been incurred.
Meanwhile, German printers had moved on from movable
type to copperplate printing by the 1670s, allowing an apparent “flourishing” of chordal
writing (and, incidentally, precise slurring),
but Italian printers were slower to
embrace the new technology. When they did, at the end of the seventeenth century, they
enabled Boyden to announce that “double stops return[ed] to Italian violin music after
the absence of half a century,” but were it not for Bartolomeo Magni, the story might be
one of Italians “learning” double stops for the first time from Germans.
A more
realistic narrative is one in which, one printer’s exceptional efforts aside, the Germans
were the first to allow technology to catch up with technique, and perhaps the practice
was more widespread over a longer period of time than a skeletal written record can
Before concluding this chapter, it is worthwhile to consider briefly the pattern of
the sections of the Capriccio in which Farina indicates slurs. Slurs appear in sections
imitating the hurdy-gurdy, the shawm, the recorder, and the soldier’s fife. The hurdy-
gurdy is a special case, as Farina references it specifically when explaining slurring; its
hand-cranked operation allowed it a totally unbroken, sustained sound. The remaining
three are all wind instruments—in fact, they comprise all the wind instruments imitated
in the Capriccio with the exception of the trumpet ensemble. It would seem that Farina’s
use of slurs can tell us something about how he perceived the articulation or tone of
Ibid., 243.
Ibid., 246–7.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 226.
wind instruments, and how it differed from bowed string technique. Even though
slurring was even more of a “curiosity” among wind players than among strings, and
most wind treatises provide extensive advice on tonguing,
apparently the effect of
wind instruments was still a more sustained one than the standard violin technique.
There are voices to the contrary, to be sure—Boyden assembles a list of calls for “long”
bows from Praetorius, Monteverdi, Cerreto, and even Farina’s colleague Schütz, who
“mentions the ‘steady extended musical stroke on the violin.’
However, these appear
to apply in particular to long notes and lyrical passages, while “the basic bow stroke …
was clearly articulated, especially in dance music,” the heritage that informs the bulk of
the Capriccio.
For example, on the same page as Rognoni’s slurs for bowed instruments, the bottom half
of the page is taken up with tonguing examples for wind players.
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 156.
Ibid., 157.
“La Lira” / “die Leyer,” and “Lira variata” / “die Leyer uff ein ander art”
The first titled section of the Capriccio is “La Lira”/“die Leyer” (“the lyre”). It is
followed closely (though after the intervening “Il Pifferino” section) by the “Lira
variata”/“die Leyer uff ein ander art” (“the lyre, varied,” or “the lyre, a different way”).
This “Lira” presents the greatest challenge of organological identification in the piece.
The word itself is ambiguous and can refer to multiple instruments, and the modern
divorce of the Capriccio’s score from Farina’s textual instructions has removed
performers from the only clue that confirms the “lira’s” identity (though even that clue,
as we will see, requires substantial decoding to render intelligible). The music of these
sections is striking. They contain the only (bowed) double-stops in the piece, using
drone effects and pedal pitches, typically in fourths and fifths (Judith Kuhn offers the
useful term “fourthy-fifthiness”).
Clearly, the “lira” has something to do with open-
string drones and a polyphonic (or at least multi-voiced) style.
The word lira means simply “lyre,” and thus is subject to a wide range of use,
from intentional designation of the ancient Greek lyre (in whatever form Renaissance
Judith Kuhn, Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1-7 (Farnham,
UK: Ashgate, 2010), 65, 85. Kuhn is transliterating the comments of Lev Mazel on Shostakovich’s
second quartet.
and Baroque writers imagined it) to a more metaphorical allusion to Apollo’s lyre, and
by extension virtually any string instrument. “Lira” (or similar spellings in other
languages) has been the specific designation for many instruments, including a lute and
a rebec-like instrument (indeed the latter is still in use in modern Greece).
To add to
the confusion, the word is also used as a generic modifier indicating a “lyric” function or
style. In her book on the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, Pandora Hopkins outlines a
practice of modifying instruments for “lyra-way” playing, which she defines as “thick-
textured fiddle music characterized by the simultaneous sounding of several strings in
drones and, sometimes, true polyphony.”
(Indeed, the “Lira” section of the Capriccio
shows a double-stop technique similar to Norwegian practice, in which the D and A
strings are both melody and drone strings, interchangeably. However, as we will see, the
true referent of the “Lira” is further afield from the fiddle family, though perhaps an
influence on hardanger technique.) Hopkins finds the phrase “lyra-way” used by two
Englishmen to define not so much new instruments as new incarnations of existing
instruments: according to John Evelyn, the viola d’amore was “but an ordinary Violin,
"Lyra (ii)," in Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, (accessed October 2,
Pandora Hopkins, Aural Thinking in Norway: Performance and Communication with the
Hardingfele (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986), 123.
play'd on Lyra way,”
and John Playford published a book for the “lyra viol,” then in a
subsequent edition swapped the term for “the viol, played lyra-way.
Finally, lira also identified a whole family of bowed string instruments. Like the
viol, which came in graduated sizes (viola da braccio, viola da gamba, and the bass
violone), there was a lira da braccio and lira da gamba or lirone. The lira da braccio was
more suited to playing chords than most bowed instruments with which we are familiar
today, with a flat bridge and long bow that enabled it to sustain chords, as well as drone
strings. It inherited not only the name of Apollo’s lyre, but something of its divine
cachet as well; it was associated with mythological heroes and celestial choirs.
Mersenne describes its sound as “very languishing and suitable for exciting devotion,
and for inclining the spirit toward inward reflection,” and particularly suited to “sublime
and refined things,” and opines that “perhaps no instrument represents so well the
music of Orpheus and of antiquity.
Sterling Scott Jones, in his exhaustive survey of
iconographic evidence on the instrument, mentions a painting showing “a single lira da
John Evelyn, Diary: Now First Printed in Full from the Manuscripts Belonging to Mr. John
Evelyn, and as Edited by E. S. De Beer, ed. E. S. De Beer, vol. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 187.
John Playford, Musicks Recreation on the Lyra Viol (London: Playford, 1652). Hopkins
observes the change in title, p. 287.
Sterling Scott Jones, The Lira Da Braccio (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 3–
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:204, 217, 206. “Or le son de la Lyre est fort languissant
& propre pour exciter à la devotion, & pour faire rentrer l’esprit dans soy-mesme...”; “...&
particulierement les choses sublimes & relevées...”; “... & qu’il n’y a peut-estre nul instrument
qui represent si bien la Musique d’Orphée & de l’antiquité ...”
braccio player performing before the enthroned Madonna with no other instruments
present, indicating the high esteem in which the instrument was held.”
Understandably, some have identified this as the instrument Farina is
referencing here, and the double stops in the Canto and the prominent D and A drones
would seem to fit, though in fact Farina’s “lira” is not a lira da braccio but another
instrument which features sustained playing and drones: the hurdy-gurdy. Rebecca
Cypess called on the Capriccio in 2007 as a primary source in analyzing the performance
practice of the lira da braccio,
though in more recent writings she has identified the
Capriccio’s “lira” as a hurdy-gurdy.
Several recordings, as well, interpret the “lira” as a
lira da braccio, whether overtly or simply stylistically. With its elevated, poetic and
religious overtones, a performance modeled after the lira da braccio would be easily
recognizable, especially as the alternative, the hurdy-gurdy, is distinctly earthy. The
performances of Fabio Biondi (with Europa Galante)
and Skip Sempé (with an
ensemble named after the piece, Capriccio Stravagante)
are clearly aligned with the
elegance and transcendence of the lira da braccio. Biondi’s, in particular, is an Elysian
sigh, marked by a tempo of otherworldly slowness and Mersenne’s “languishing”
Jones, The Lira Da Braccio, 4.
Cypess, “Evidence about the Lira da Braccio from Two Seventeenth-Century Violin
Cypess, “‘Esprimere la voce humana’,” 211; Cypess, “‘Die Natur und Kunst zu betrachten’,
Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, Invenzione e Stravaganze, compact disc (Paris: Opus 111,
Skip Sempé and Capriccio Stravagante, Lamento d’Arianna; Combatimento, CD (Deutsche
Harmonia Mundi, 1992).
dynamic. The Clematis Ensemble, in 2009, encountered both explanations of the “lira,”
as lira da braccio and as hurdy-gurdy, and after puzzling over the apparent
contradiction, took the middle ground by interpreting the first Lira” section as the lira
da braccio and the subsequent “Lira variata” as the hurdy-gurdy.
A further
compounded confusion appears in Elias Dann’s liner notes to Lucy van Dael’s recording
of Johann Jakob Walther’s Hortulus Chelicus.
This piece, written a generation later
than the Capriccio in the same city, is one of the clearest examples of Farina’s influence,
as I will show below. Like the Capriccio, it uses the violin to imitate various animals and
instruments, including a lira tedesca, one of the Italian designations of the hurdy-gurdy,
reflecting its German origins.
Lucy van Dael translates lira tedesca literally and
confuses it with the lira da braccio: “a German lira (a bowed string instrument able to
play melody and drone).
In the face of this confusion it is necessary to examine not only the evidence in
favor of the hurdy-gurdy, but considerations that might argue against identification of
this “lira” as the lira da braccio. In the latter category is the fact that, by 1627, the lira da
braccio was already approaching obsolescence. Seven years earlier, Francesco Rognoni
Jérôme Lejeune, “Carlo Farina: Extravagance and Emotion,” in Capriccio stravagante &
sonate by Carlo Farina and Ensemble Clematis, Ricercar RIC 285 (CD), 2009.
Elias Dann, “The Most Difficult and the Most Fanciful...,” in liner notes for Baroque Violin
Sonatas by Lucy van Dael, Philips 434993 (CD), 1993).
Christopher Page, “The Medieval ‘Organistrum’ and ‘Symphonia’: 1: A Legacy from the
East?,” The Galpin Society Journal 35 (March 1982): 37–44.
Dael, Baroque Violin Sonatas.
described it as relatively unknown.
Similarly, Mersenne reported in 1637 that “this
type of Lyre is rarely used in France,” though there was still a noted lira da braccio
player, “the French Orpheus, Monsieur le Baillif.”
In fact, the instrument’s heyday was
in the previous century, when it was the instrument of choice among Italian nobility and
intelligentsia. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, is remembered today primarily as a
painter and inventor, but in his lifetime he was equally renowned for his
accomplishment on the lira da braccio.
So while the instrument would perhaps have
still been recognized by 17
-century Germans, Farina would have been presenting it as
an antique curiosity.
Now we turn to the case in favor of the hurdy-gurdy. Farina’s use of “Lira,”
without any modifier, is no difficulty; the hurdy-gurdy has gone by many names in its
centuries of existence, but in many times and places it has been the “lyra,” or related
spellings and variations (e.g. lira tedesca, lira rustica, or lyra pagana); indeed the
instrument is still known simply by that name in several languages. (Just three pages
from his section discussing the lira da braccio as “Lyre,” Mersenne addresses the hurdy-
gurdy, “which some call Lyre.)
Before continuing with the evidence for identification
of Farina’s “Lira” as the hurdy-gurdy, it would be appropriate to give a brief description
of the instrument and its history.
Jones, The Lira Da Braccio, 3.
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:206–7.
Emanuel Winternitz, Leonardo Da Vinci as a Musician (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1982), esp. 25–38.
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:211.
The hurdy-gurdy is a very old instrument, with the first verifiable documented
evidence appearing in the twelfth century.
Its first incarnation was as the organistrum,
an instrument so large it required two players. Like future models, however, the
organistrum was a string instrument that used a wheel, operated by a hand crank, rather
than a bow to set the strings in motion, and used wooden tangents instead of direct
contact by a player’s fingers to stop the strings. Also like later hurdy-gurdies, the
organistrum featured drone strings. The seamless sound source of the wheel allowed the
drones to sound continuously, and required the melodic line to also sound as one
unbroken, sustained thread (we will examine the implications of this on violin bowing
later). The organistrum seems to have been used in churches, to accompany vocal
Later, as we will see, it transitioned from sacred use to royal entertainment, to
an instrument of the very lowest social classes, and finally back to the royal court, as an
explosive fad among the nobility at Versailles. This eighteenth-century popularity paved
the way for the hurdy-gurdy’s ongoing longevity, especially in the folk music of the
French countryside and locations of French diaspora, such as Cape Breton. Besides
“organistrum” and the “lira” terms already listed, its names over the centuries have
included symphonia, vielle, lyra mendicorum, ghironda, and drehleier.
Kahren Hellerstedt, “Hurdy-gurdies from Hieronymus Bosch to Rembrandt” (Pittsburgh:
University of Pittsburgh, 1980), 2. N.B. Hellerstedt’s mention that Werner Bachmann discredited
the tenth-century appearance of the organistrum in Odo de Cluny, though this is still often cited.
Ibid., 3–4.
For a more complete survey of names, see Marianne Bröcker, Die Drehleier: Ihr Bau und
ihre Geschichte, Orpheus-Schriftenreihe zu Grundfragen der Musik 11 (Düsseldorf: Verlag der
Gesellschaft zur Förderung der systematischen Musikwissenschaft, 1973), 187–234.
Ultimately, the strongest piece of evidence demonstrating that Farina intended
to imitate the hurdy-gurdy is his own words in his “avertimenti,” the textual
instructions for performance. In the section on the Lira, Farina explains the still
relatively new slur symbols: si suonera Lirsando, come fanno li Orbi overo Ciechi [play
lirsando, like the blind]. Passing over, for the moment, the odd word lirsando, we must
make sense of the final phrase. How do the blind play? The direction is nonsensical
except in the context of the hurdy-gurdy, which was explicitly linked throughout Europe
with blind musicians.
As it happens, Farina is not using orbi and ciechi generically, but to designate a
particular, institutionalized category of blind musicians, the orbi. Elsa Guggino provides
an extensive ethnographic study of their ongoing traditions in present-day Sicily, and
traces their history from the Middle Ages.
The acceptance of the orbi as a fixture in
Italian society and a high regard for their music gave them a social legitimacy distinct
from ordinary beggars and mendicants. Guggino reports that they were regularly sought
out for entertainment in aristocratic houses, and quotes a sixteenth-century account of
a “Blind Nicolò of Pontano,” who performed sacred and historical ballads from a raised
platform on festive occasions, and always drew a great audience, including all the
“learned men who were in Florence.” The artist Mattia Preti depicted Homer as a
seventeenth-century blind storyteller, holding a violin, suggesting that these orbi
Elsa Guggino, I Canti Degli Orbi: I Cantastorie Ciechi a Palermo (Palermo: Folkstudio di
Palermo, 1980), 9. “Dii boni, quam audientiam Nicolaus coecus habebat, cum festis diebus,
etruscis numeris, aut sacras historias aut annales rerum antiquarum e suggestu decantabat! Qui
doctorum hominum, qui Florentiae tunc erant, concursus ad eum fiebant.”
carried connotations more of bards than of beggars.
In the next century we still find
their music valued: in 1773 Charles Burney writes of a celebrated violin and ’cello duo
referred to as the bravi orbi, or excellent blind musicians,” who were admired by
composers and performers of “art” music,particularly Jomelli, who always sends for
them, when in the same town, to play to him.”
Outside of Italy, blind mendicant musicians seem to have been less rewarded
with bardic status by society at large, but their presence was no less conspicuous. In
particular, especially in the Low Countries and Germanic states, they were associated
with the hurdy-gurdy to the point that the instrument became an iconographic
shorthand for blindness, and Kahren Hellerstedt asserts that “blindness and hurdy-
gurdy players were as analogous to the sixteenth-century Dutchman as our proverbial
blind bats are today.
Hellerstedt has compiled a massive study of the image of the blind hurdy-gurdy
player in art “from Hieronymous Bosch to Rembrandt,” and traces early mentions of it in
literature as well. The earliest depictions of the hurdy-gurdy, the organistrum, are
favorable: like the lira da braccio, it is depicted in the hands of angels, monarchs, and
Davidic musicians in art from the twelfth century onward.
Likewise, literary
Sergio Bonanzinga, “I Canti Degli Orbi a Domicilio Per Annunciare La Festa,” La
Repubblica (Rome, December 24, 2010), sec. Palermo.
Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy: Or, the Journal of a Tour
Through Those Countries, Undertaken to Collect Materials for a General History of Music, 2nd ed.
(London: T. Becket, 1773), 228. “Jomelli” is Niccolò Jommelli, operatic composer 1714-74.
Hellerstedt, “Hurdy-gurdies from Hieronymus Bosch to Rembrandt,” 42.
Ibid., 2–11.
references in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries place it among the entertainment in
royal courts. The first clear connection of the instrument with blindness is in 1372, when
Jean Corbichon describes the hurdy-gurdy as “an instrument which the blind play while
singing their chansons de geste” (and adds that it “has a very sweet sound, and pleasant
to hear”).
Eustache Deschamps, Aymeric du Peyrat, and Jean Gerson also connect the
instrument with blind musicians (though not necessarily beggars, and without the
censure found in later sources).
In 1383, however, Bertrand du Guesclin identifies it as
a beggar’s instrument, telling of “two minstrels in the court of the king of Portugal who
decide to play the ‘chifonie’ [and] are strongly criticized for doing so.
In the fifteenth
century, Paulus Paulirinus and Mathieu D’Eschouchy connect the hurdy-gurdy with the
blind, and “a fifteenth-century Dutch Bible commentary … describes the hurdy-gurdy as
‘an instrument that blind folk are often in the habit of playing.
Furthermore, in 1456,
the French play Le Mystère de la Résurrection includes some rather cruel comedy at the
expense of a blind beggar, and mentions the “simphonie” (hurdy-gurdy) that he
However, the next century starts to give us the most emphatic connections of
blind beggars with the hurdy-gurdy. In 1512, Johannes Cochlaeus puts it as directly as
Ibid., 11. The source is Corbichon’s 1372 “Le Propriétaire des Choses,” a French translation
of an encyclopedia originally written in Latin by Bartholomeus Anglicus in 1240. The mention of
the hurdy-gurdy is orignal to Corbichon, however, and corrects Bartholomeus’ definition of it as
“a wind instrument, something like a bagpipe.”
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 16, 42.
Ibid., 62–3.
possible: “The rota [hurdy-gurdy] is an instrument which blind beggars use.
Estienne, in 1549, and Antoine Furetiere, in 1590, give similarly direct statements.
Rabelais mentions blind hurdy-gurdy players several times in his earthy satire.
The sixteenth century also contains some of the first representations of the blind
hurdy-gurdy player in visual art, starting at the very beginning of the century with
Bosch’s Temptation of St. Anthony (fig. 13). As with most Bosch paintings, the potential
symbolism of individual figures in his cryptic works is subject to disagreement, but the
figures blindness and supplicant posture are incontrovertible, and his hurdy-gurdy is
rendered in such detail as to be a valuable organological source. By Hellerstedt’s count,
there are at least three (and perhaps four, if The Garden of Earthly Delights qualifies)
Bosch works that show a blind beggar with a hurdy-gurdy. One of these, a depiction of
the biblical parable of “the blind leading the blind,” initiated a widespread popularity for
the theme over the following two centuries, and most of its successors also used the
hurdy-gurdy as a convenient way to indicate visual impairment in a visual medium.
From this point instances of the blind hurdy-gurdy in visual art become too numerous
to list individually, continuing from Bosch to Brueghel, Vinckboons, and finally
Ibid., 19. “Rota vero instrumentum est, quo coeci mendicantes utuntur.”
Ibid., 19–20.
Ibid., 105.
Figure 13. Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, detail. 1470-1516, Museu
Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. The blind beggar with a hurdy-gurdy is on the left.
In seventeenth-century literature we find two notable mentions of the hurdy-
gurdy by contemporary organologists. Michael Praetorius seems to feel that the hurdy-
gurdy’s lowlife connections make it unsuitable for protracted discussion in his 1619
Syntagma Musicum; he illustrates the “vulgar Lyres” (fig. 14) a few pages away from the
Italian lira da braccio and da gamba, but declines to comment further on “the Lyre of
beggars and wandering women.
Mersenne has no such qualms, and indeed takes a
sympathetic position toward the instrument:
Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 2:5, 49 (illustration on plate XXII). “Lyra Rustica, seu
pagana, ein gemeine Lyra”; “der Bauren- und umblaussenden Weiber Leyre.
If men of status would ordinarily play the Symphonie, which is called Vielle, it
would not be so scorned as it is, but because it is played only by the poor, and
particularly by the blind who make their living with this instrument, it is in fact
less esteemed than others which do not give as much pleasure. This does not
mean that I will not explain it here, because science does not belong to the rich
any more than to the poor, and there is nothing so base or vile in nature, or in
the arts, that it is not worthy of consideration.
Mersenne also suggests what was later realized by Louis Braille, a system of music
notation for blind musicians. “The tablature of the hurdy-gurdy is not different from
that of Music [i.e. standard musical notation], except that one could invent another
specific to the blind, and then they could be taught to read and write.
Mersenne’s contemporary Pierre Trichet offers a paragraph strikingly similar to
Mersenne’s (perhaps derived from it, as Trichet corresponded with Mersenne),
in more vivid language:
There is evidence that in the past it [the hurdy-gurdy] was more esteemed and
more frequently played than it is now; and I have no doubt that if able, upper
class people would now smile upon it, it would soon be prized and fashionable.
But as long as the instrument is handled only by clod-hoppers and beggars, most
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:211–212. Emphasis added. "Si les hommes de condition
touchoient ordinairement la Symphonie, que l’on nomme Vielle, elle ne seroit pas si mesprisée
qu’elle est, mais parce qu’elle n’est touchée que par les pauvres, & particulierement par les
aveugles qui gaignent leur vie avec cet instrument, l’on en fait moins d’estime que des autres,
quoy qu’ils ne donnent pas tant de plaisir. Ce qui n’empesthe pas que je ne l’explique icy, puis
que la science n’appartient pas davantage aux riches qu’aux pauvres, & qu’il n’y a rien de si bas
ny de si vil dans la nature, ou dans les arts qui ne soit digne de cosideration.
Ibid., 2:214. “La tablature de la Vielle n’est pas differente de celle de la Musique, quoy que
l’on en puisse inventer une autre propre pour les aveugles, puis que l’on peut leur enseigner à lire
& à escrire ...”
Howard Mayer Brown and Florence Gétreau, “Trichet, Pierre,Grove Music Online, Oxford
Music Online, Oxford University Press, (accessed December
29, 2011).
of whom are blind, it is not surprising that it served merely to arouse pity, and to
give these poverty-stricken folk a means of surviving their abject condition.
The list assembled here of over a dozen sources connecting the hurdy-gurdy with
blind players is by no means comprehensive. I have summarized dozens of individual
examples that Hellerstedt discusses in visual art alone; I have also focused on a period
before and contemporary to the Capriccio. If we look further into history, for instance,
we encounter an explosion in popularity of the hurdy-gurdy at the French court, but
even this gentrification of the instrument begins with blind beggars: in 1661, Lully’s
Ballet d’Impatience features an interlude depicting ten blind beggars playing the hurdy-
Although incomplete, however, this body of evidence serves to illustrate the
connection between blindness and the hurdy-gurdy convincingly. This connection not
only makes sense of Farina’s mention of “li Orbi overo Ciechi,” but also conclusively
identifies Farina’s “Lira” as the hurdy-gurdy. This identification has strong significance
for performance practice, as noted above; several modern recordings have emulated the
Apollonian strains of the lira da braccio, but the pesante drone of the hurdy-gurdy would
radically alter an interpretation.
With this confusion resolved, we can attempt to draw some conclusions about
performance practices on violin-family instruments. In particular, we can address the
Quoted in Richard D. Leppert, Arcadia at Versailles: Noble Amateur Musicians and Their
Musettes and Hurdy-Gurdies at the French Court (c. 1660-1789): A Visual Study (Amsterdam: Swets
& Zeitlinger, 1978), 16, emphasis mine.
Robert A. Green, The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1995), 4.
mysteries of the term “Lirsando” and of the later section marked “Lira variata” and “die
Leyer uff ein ander art.
“Lirsando” proves a difficult word to translate, but the context provides us
enough clues to make a reasonable guess at Farina’s meaning. For one thing, the
German version of Farina’s textual instructions for this section make it clear that “lyre-
like” is a reasonable translation: “muß man dieselben Noten mit dem Bogen schleiffen
gleich einer Leyren” (“one must play these notes with the bow dragging [i.e. slurred],
like a hurdy-gurdy”).
However, this still tells us little; we must determine what the
quality of the “Leyer” was that Farina wants to emulate. First of all, it is noteworthy that
of the sections marked by Farina with slurs, the “lira” sections are the only ones not
imitating wind instruments. It would seem that, in indicating slurring, Farina is
normally trying to emulate the sustained tone of a wind instrument. This can also tell us
something, incidentally, about the lack of sustain that would be presumed to be
standard in bowing. Although doubtless present in practice long before, the concept of
slurring was just beginning to enter notated music in the early seventeenth century, and
Farina felt it necessary to explain in his textual notes what the curved line over the
notes was intended to convey (see Chapter 3, above, for more discussion of Farina’s
slurs). It is also striking that, in explaining the slurring of the “flautino” section, Farina
uses the “Lira” to explain the concept of slurring: “gleich einer Lira geschleiffet
(“bowed [or slurred] like a Lira”). It is also significant that, in the Italian translation of
For a contemporary use of “mit dem Bogen schleiffen,” see p. 79 ff.
the same instruction, Farina demonstrates that he already has an Italian term for
slurring, “strascinando” (literally “dragged”). He uses it in describing the shawm’s slurs
as well. Why, then, does he use lirsando” in describing the bowing appropriate to the
Unlike wind or bowed string instruments, the hurdy-gurdy’s rosined wheel is
capable of sustaining an infinite, unbroken drone. It should also be noted that, while the
eighteenth-century popularity of the hurdy-gurdy fostered an advanced technique
capable of distinguishing articulation by manipulating the speed of the hand-crank,
seventeenth-century sources hint at a more unarticulated style. Mersenne, despite his
sympathetic stance toward the instrument, compares its abilities unfavorably with those
of bowed instruments:
But because the left hand cannot execute the graces possible on the neck of viols
on the keyboard of the hurdy-gurdy, it is deprived of many beauties, of which it
would be capable, if one could supply all the shakes, and the ravishing strokes of
the bow, through some expedient, which many have attempted [through various
experiments with the construction of the bowing mechanism] … but these are no
substitute for the movements of the skilled hands of those who charm the ears
with the instruments with fretted, and unfretted, necks.
Of course, Mersenne is speaking partly of left-hand imitations in executing ornaments,
but he is also clearly talking about an inability to execute nuances of bowing. The sound
Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 2:214. Emphasis added. “Mais parce que la main gauche
ne peut faire les gentillesses du manche des Violes sur le clavier de la Vielle, elle est privée de
plusieurs beautez, dont elle seroit capable, si l’on pouvoit suppleer tous les tremblemens, & les
coups ravissans de l’archet par quelque industrie, que plusieurs ont recherchée ... mais l’on n’a
peu suppleer les mouvemens de la sçavante main de ceux qui charmant les oreilles par les
instrumens à manches touchez, & non touchez ....”
of the hurdy-gurdy in the early seventeenth century was one uninterrupted drone,
making it the least articulated instrument imitated in the Capriccio (perhaps after the
organ). In this case, Farina’s “lirsando” should perhaps indicate an even more sustained,
heavy slur than would be used to imitate the wind instruments, and far more sustained
than standard violinistic practice at the time.
One mystery remains in the form of the later section, labeled Lira variata” and
die Leyer uff ein ander art.” These phrases translate literally as “[the] lira varied” and
“the Leyer in another way” (or “style”). What does this signify? Is this section a musical
variation, an altered treatment of material from the first “Lira” section? Although there
are some similarities, this seems unlikely, as they do not share outright melodies, and
only by extraordinary Schenkerian exertions can “harmonic” similarities be perceived.
Does this section present a different instrument, as in “another type of Leyer”?
This was the conclusion of Ensemble Clematis, who chose the lira da braccio for the first
section and hurdy-gurdy for the second. There is a difference in the writing of this
section; instead of open-string drones, the Canto part shows a much more agile variety
of double stops, as if playing two “voices” rather than a melodic voice accompanied by
drones. There is some support for this notion, as Praetorius illustrates two varieties of
hurdy-gurdy-like instruments under the label “various peasant Leyren” (fig. 14).
shown in a vertical and inverted orientation, is the standard instrument. The second,
In this plate, the numerals identifying each instrument were somehow omitted from the
picture. This has led to the mistaken identification of the second string instrument as the
Strohfiddel, but this term in fact applies to the xylophone beside it.
shown horizontally, has the same hand-cranked wheel, but lacks the keys and tangents,
and is instead fingered directly on the strings. Praetorius’s model also clearly lacks
drone strings, though according to Palmer this is not always the case.
There appears
to be no specific name for this variant (see n. 265 above), which might explain
Praetorius’s and Farina’s vagaries, referring to “various Leyren or “another type of
Susann Palmer and Samuel Palmer, The Hurdy-Gurdy (Newton Abbot: David & Charles,
1980), 35.
Figure 14. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, plate 22, detail of hurdy-gurdies.
A third possibility is that the Leyer in another way” refers to the same
instrument, the hurdy-gurdy, played in a different style. Support for this theory comes
from J.C. Maillard, who describes a practice of disengaging the drone strings to play the
hurdy-gurdy “en violon, as it is put in the current tradition of Central France.
Such a
J.C. Maillard, “Music for the Hurdy-Gurdy,” trans. Susan Marie Praeder, in liner notes for
Les Maîtres De La Vielle Baroque by Matthias Loibner and Tobie Miller, CPO Records 999864, CD,
modification is easily done, according to Palmer, as the player could simply slide the
drone string on its bridge out of contact with the playing wheel, and some instruments
could even “secure them behind tiny studs.”
The latter two explanations seem to be the most likely: either Farina was
duplicating a secondary performance practice for the instrument, or he wished to
parallel Praetorius’s depiction of an offshoot of the hurdy-gurdy family tree. In either
case, both lira” sections are clearly hand-cranked curiosities rather than Apollo’s “lyre.
“Il Pifferino” / “Das kleine Schalmeygen”
This section is sandwiched in between the hurdy-gurdy sections, “La Lira” and
“Lira variata.” There is some ambiguity in the Italian word piffero, as it typically
indicated shawms in earlier centuries, but was also used sometimes for transverse flutes
in the early seventeenth century. This has led some to mis-identify the instrument in
question as a fife, like Schuller and Maxfield, and Bianco categorizes it under “flutes of
all sorts.”
This is all the more confusing as there is also a true fife” section later, Il
Fifferino della Soldatesca. Maxfield even identifies it as both instruments simultaneously,
translating the Italian and German side by side as the little fife/little shawm.Piffero
was analogous to the German pfeife or the English “pipe,” and of comparable vagary.
Sometimes it was used generically for assorted wind instruments (with the same kind of
Palmer and Palmer, The Hurdy-Gurdy, 20.
Bianco, Nach englischer und frantzösischer Art, 124. “... des flûtes droites et traversières de
toutes sortes (il Pifferino, il Flautino, il Fifferino della soldatesca) ...”
generality that with which “violen could include violins; Elector Johann Georg’s
collection of wind instruments, for instance, was the Pfeiffenkammer. Complicatingly,
there is also some room for it to indicate a transverse flute in some “seventeenth-
century documents”
and “north Italian sources.
However, there is no such ambiguity about Schalmeygen; it is clearly a shawm.
The diminutive ending -gen” is somewhat redundant, as Praetorius says that only “the
top descant size” is referred to as schalmei, though in his illustrated plates he shows
both the “Discant Schalmey and a smaller “Klein Schalmey.”
Praetorius also adds that
its Latin name is gingrina “—this because of its sound, which resembles the
characteristic cackling (gingrire) of a goose.
There is some work to do in figuring out exactly what role each member of the
Capriccio’s ensemble is meant to play. In some of its sections, all four parts combine to
evoke a single instrument (e.g. the hurdy-gurdy or guitar). In others, each instrument
portrays a different instrument within an imagined ensemble (e.g. Basso as kettledrums,
inner voices as trumpets, and Canto as virtuoso clarino trumpeter). Shawms were
Howard Mayer Brown and Giulio Ongaro, “Piffaro,” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music
Online, Oxford University Press, (accessed February 23,
Nancy Hadden, “The Renaissance Flute in the Seventeenth Century,” in From Renaissance
to Baroque: Change in Instruments and Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Jonathan
Wainwright and Peter Holman (Ashgate, 2005), 116.
The “-gen” ending is probably intended as a spelling of “-chen,” a diminutive.
Praetorius, De Organographia, 47, pl. 11.
Ibid., 47.
commonly used in ensembles, but Praetorius discusses difficulties with a consort made
up entirely of shawms due to tuning disparities,
and Herbert Myers discusses difficulty
with the unwieldy size of the lowest shawms, for which reason sackbuts and curtals
(alias dulcian, a proto-bassoon) were often used for lower voices.
Further, the title of
this section alludes only to the treble shawm. So then, perhaps the Canto should adopt a
shawm-like timbre, for example, by using a relatively slow and firm bow for a
“characteristic” anserine tone, but the other three voices are under no obligation to do
so. If one wished to argue the opposite opinion, it is true that all four parts are
comparably active (fig. 15). The topmost three voices all get running sixteenth notes,
often paralleling the Canto; perhaps they could depict three shawms and a sackbut.
Ibid., 47–8.
Herbert Myers, “Woodwinds,” in A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music, ed.
Stewart Carter, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,, 2012), 84.
Figure 15. Capriccio Stravagante, mm. 75-80 (“Il Pifferino)
The repertoire and social function of shawm bands is significant. For centuries,
they had been vested with civic responsibilities, and municipalities kept official
Stadtpfeifer (or “town waits,” in England) to provide official municipal music. These
ensembles were originally built around the shawm, to the point that one of the English
designations for the instrument was “wait pipe.” Dresden was home to a Stadtpfeifer
which, by the 1620s, had grown to be large and diverse, and performed not only shawms
but all manner of wind instruments, including the recorders and trumpets which also
appear in the Capriccio.
It is possible that Farina includes this shawm-based section
as a recognition of these local musical colleagues—though he also gives equal time to
another wind ensemble which was often in open conflict with the Stadtpfeifer (see pp.
“La Trombetta” / “Die Trommeten”; “Il Clarino” / “Das Clarin”; “Le Gnachere” /
Die Heerpaucken”
Trumpet playing, at the start of the seventeenth century, was an ancient and
largely unwritten art. Fortunately, though, the first of the very few contemporary works
on baroque trumpet playing appeared only twelve years prior to the Capriccio. Cesare
Bendinelli’s quasi-pedagogical collection of repertoire and advice Tutta l’arte della
trombetta (1614) is useful, not only for identifying the instruments imitated, but for
illuminating their performance practice. His Tutta l’arte has already been mentioned
above as (p. 56), like the Capriccio, it includes a section imitating chickens. Bendinelli
was himself an analogous figure to Farina in some ways: he was a virtuoso proponent of
his instrument and an active agent in the development of its technique (claiming to
have been the first to apply tonguing syllables to the trumpet), and he was an Italian
musician with a career in Vienna and Germany.
McCulloch, “Dresden: A Music Metropolis,” 173.
Edward H. Tarr, “Bendinelli, Cesare,” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford
University Press,
(accessed February 7, 2013).
There is some confusion surrounding the terms Farina uses, especially clarino.
Schuller translates “la trombetta as “the little trumpet” (despite the diminutive,
trombetta was a standard usage for a standard trumpet) and il clarino” as “another form
of early high-pitched wooden trumpet.” Perhaps he is thinking of the cornetto, but at
the heart of his confusion is a hydra-like mistake that rears its head periodically, the
supposition that the clarino is a different instrument. Several times, modern trumpets
have been invented to facilitate the performance of florid high-register baroque
repertoire, and have immediately been confused with mythical baroque instruments,
despite the best efforts of their inventors to set the record straight.
Rather, clarino
referred for the most part to a specialized technique, a discipline of virtuoso, high-
register playing characterized by agile passagework and extensive improvised
ornamentation. It is true that there might have been some minor physical differences in
a clarino trumpeter’s instrument—Virdung illustrated one alongside a “tower trumpet,”
though the difference is not readily visible
—but the primary distinction lay in practice
John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan, The Trumpet (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2011), 229–31; Philip Bate, The Trumpet and Trombone: An Outline of Their History, Development
and Construction., 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972), 124–5, 128–9. For a colorfully acerbic
summation of this trend, see Mary Rasmussen, “Bach-Trumpet Madness; or, A Plain and Easy
Introduction to the Attributes, Causes, and Cure of a Most Mysterious Musicological Malady,
Brass Quarterly 5, no. 1 (Fall 1961): 37–40 (e.g.: “Its cause: wishful thinking. Its cure: common
sense.”); for a thorough and well-contextualized study, see David Joseph Kendall, “The Mystique
of the ‘Bach’ Trumpet: Myth and Misinformation” (master’s thesis, University of California,
Riverside, 2007). For a first-person accounting from one of the inventors of such a trumpet, see
Walter Morrow, “The Trumpet as an Orchestral Instrument,” Proceedings of the Musical
Association 21 (June 11, 1895): 141–4.
Sebastian Virdung, Musica Getutscht: A Treatise on Musical Instruments, ed. Beth Bullard,
trans. Beth Bullard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 108. To add to the confusion,
(perhaps analogous to the difference between the words “coloratura” and “soprano”).
Philip Bate laments a reemergence of the clarino confusion,
… reviving the exploded fallacy that “clarino” is the name of a particular
instrument and not merely of a register within the theoretical compass of any
trumpet. The fact that some clarino specialists seem to have used a relatively
small-bore instrument is nothing to the point…. The important thing to
emphasize here is that no special instrument was employed by these musicians;
the ordinary trumpet of their day served them with no more modification than
the application of a personally selected mouthpiece to support the lips in the
tense embouchure.
Without the valves of a modern trumpet, trumpeters of the period were limited
to the pitches of the harmonic series, and such alterations as masterful manipulation of
lips and breath would allow, to ideally bend the “out of tune” members of the harmonic
series towards diatonic alternatives. Every ascension in pitch represented an escalation
in difficulty, so the lofty register of the clarino was reserved for the most exceptional
virtuosity, which “called for a naturally suitable lip, good teeth, physical strength, and
the most assiduous practice, and there seem always to have been few players who
achieved it in perfection.
Despite this soloistic role, trumpets almost always operated as ensemble
instruments (in fact, the size of the ensemble was something of a status symbol for their
employer, though Bendinelli advocated only five parts, and doubling or antiphonal
Virdung’s woodcuts were copied into Martin Agricola’s Musica instrumentalis deudsch in 1529, but
were reversed, so the identification of the two trumpets was exchanged.
Bate, The trumpet and trombone, 124–5, 107.
Ibid., 107.
groupings for greater numbers).
They also typically went hand in hand with
kettledrums (even when mounted on horseback
), and Farina marks the Basso part as
such in m. 169 (“Gnachere and “Heerpaucken,” both typically indicating paired, pitched
kettledrums), and restricts it to rhythmic iterations of the first and fifth scale degrees
(see fig. 16). These trumpet and kettledrum ensembles were explicitly connected with
military use and with royalty, to the point that legal decrees (and even more forcible
social pressures) restricted their use to the nobility, as we will see in more detail below.
Figure 16. Capriccio Stravagante, Basso part, mm. 169-181.
Unlike consort instruments, such as shawm, recorder, viol, and violin, the
various parts in the trumpet ensemble were performed on physically equivalent
instruments, but the registers in which they operated called for varying degrees of skill.
Bendinelli describes the parts of the ensemble as falling into five clearly-defined roles
Mario Bertoluzzi, “Bendinelli’s ‘Entire Art of the Trumpet’ of 1614: A Modern Edition”
(D.A., Greeley, CO: University of Northern Colorado, 2002), 311, 320.
Bruce P Gleason, “Cavalry and Court Trumpeters and Kettledrummers from the
Renaissance to the Nineteenth Century,” The Galpin Society Journal (April 2009): 31–54.
by range. The terminology he uses most consistently is, from lowest to highest,
“Grosso,“Vulgano,” “Alto e basso” (often contracted as Altebasso”) “Sonata,” and
Bendinelli outlines a system of organized improvisatory imitation, in which
each voice follows a conventional formula. The Sonata was the only voice to play a
notated melody, while the other voices extrapolated their parts from it; the Altebasso
shadowed the Sonata in similar motion at the distance of one partial lower; the two
lower parts provided unwritten but obvious harmonic motions; and the Clarino
improvised floridly above the Sonata. Bendinelli cautions that this requires some care to
avoid parallel octaves, which “are not used by those who are knowledgeable about
We see these ranges and functions more or less duplicated in the Capriccio,
and also see similar motion between the top two voices in mm. 149-155. Bendinelli also
prescribes the staggered entry of the different parts: “Be careful that only one player
begins, and others follow in order, as is customary.”
While we do not see the parts
enter one by one in the Capriccio, we do see a considerable delay until the clarino enters.
The social use of such trumpet ensembles was clearly linked to royalty, and there
was a heated feud during the seventeenth century between Stadtpfeifer musicians and
court trumpeters. The trumpeters defended zealously the elite restriction of their
instrument to the use of their noble employers, and perhaps even more zealously the
Cesare Bendinelli, The Entire Art of Trumpet Playing, 1614, trans. Edward H. Tarr (Nashville:
Brass Press, 1975), 13.
Bertoluzzi, “Bendinelli’s ‘Entire Art of the Trumpet’,” 36.
Ibid.. Tarr suggests that it was most likely the Sonata who started first, since both
Bendinelli and Praetorius refer to it as a “leading” role (13), while Bertoluzzi interprets the order
as lowest to highest.
position that if anyone else chanced, after all, to employ trumpets, say in “weddings,
baptisms, dances of rejoicing, church festivals, or similar convocations,” that the court
trumpeters should be the ones employed.
The Stadtpfeifer, on the other hand,
maintained that it was “their time-honored right to play at weddings,” and “were
incensed at the way in which other bodies of wind players, both military and from the
Court [i.e. trumpeters] tried to muscle in on the act.
Feelings ran hot on both sides. In
one case, a group of court trumpeters, hearing the sound of a trumpet from a
Stadpfeifer’s house, invaded the house “and smashed his trumpet, in the course of which
they roughed him up very badly and broke his teeth.”
Stadtpfeifer musicians won some
protections and leniency in specific towns such as Leipzig, but not in Dresden: when
they complained to Elector Johan Georg II of court trumpeters monopolizing wedding
jobs, their suit backfired, as he “banned the use of horns in all churches outside the
Given these tensions, it is striking that Farina brings the “ancient grudge” of
these two instrument groups together in the Capriccio. It is conceivable that the
inclusion of shawms is a small tribute to the venerable legacy of his colleagues in the
Dresden Stadtpfeifer, but then again Farina was himself a court, rather than a civic,
Timothy A. Collins, “‘Of the Differences between Trumpeters and City Tower Musicians’:
The Relationship of Stadtpfeifer and Kammeradschaft Trumpeters,” The Galpin Society Journal 53
(2000): 52.
McCulloch, “Dresden: A Music Metropolis,” 177, 173.
Collins, “Of the Differences between Trumpeters and City Tower Musicians,” 53.
McCulloch, “Dresden: A Music Metropolis,” 177.
employee, and his sympathies might be expected to lie with the court trumpeters.
However, his imitation of trumpets was not necessarily a welcome gesture either, as
court trumpeters were not amused by imitations of the trumpet on inferior instruments.
A 1658 edict forbids Stadtpfeifer musicians to use trumpets “—and certainly not
trombones as if they were trumpets.
In 1671 two Altenburg trumpeters complained of
this “degrading kind of activit[y]” at a banquet, and an official explained that trombones
were simply one of many instruments present, and “if townspeople … requested a tune
in the manner of trumpets on trombones, cornettos and violins, they could not help but
oblige them.”
If anything, then, Farina’s trumpet section might be seen an act of mild
sedition—but more likely, he simply presents both instruments here, without comment,
as a neutral party.
“Il Flautino pian piano” / “Die Flöten still stille”
Flautino, like lyra, violen and piffaro, is a somewhat vague and generic term. The
word simply meant “flute,” and could comprise not only recorders but other duct flutes,
including some folk varieties, as well as the flauto traverso, the transverse flute from
which the modern flute is derived. However, the traverso was usually specified as such,
and flauto and flöten were generally understood to indicate recorders. Antonio Brunelli,
Collins, “Of the Differences between Trumpeters and City Tower Musicians,” 52.
Ibid., 58.
for instance, lists both traverse and flauti as suitable instruments for his 1614 book of
As such, the Canto probably represents a soprano recorder, and it is a reasonable
assumption that the other four voices are also contributing to evoke a full recorder
consort. Although this appears to me to be the clearest solution, the timbre is somewhat
problematic. Farina directs that this section (and the Fifferino) be played ponticello, with
the bow “just half a finger’s width away” from the bridge.
The ponticello effect on
string instruments seems to me to yield a timbre diametrically opposed to that of the
recorder. The string ponticello could be described as “breathy” and diffuse, rich in upper
harmonic overtones (sometimes to the point of suppression of the fundamental pitch),
whereas the recorder sound could be characterized as comparatively “focused” and
direct, and is particularly rich in the fundamental pitch and lacking in upper harmonics.
If anything, the string ponticello sound is most suggestive to me of the pan pipes, or
other folk flutes, such as the Scandinavian willow bark flute (a simple duct flute played
entirely by overblowing). I have also at times entertained the speculation that this could
be a flageolet, but as it is not documented in Germany until 1643 it is unlikely.
Hadden, “The Renaissance Flute in the Seventeenth Century,” 116.
… si suona pianino sott'al scannello del violino solamente un mezzo ditto discosto ….”
The German specifies a distance the width of a finger laid sideways: “… nahe bey dem Steg etwan
ein quer Finger darvon….”
Beryl Kenyon de Pascual and William Waterhouse, “Flageolet,Grove Music Online, Oxford
Music Online, Oxford University Press, (accessed February 23,
Farina offers other clues as well. The title of the section, in both languages,
emphasizes its softness by reiteration (“pian piano” and “still stille”). Farina reiterates it
again in the “avertimenti”: “pianino” and “gar stille,” and also adds that it should be
played “very sweetly” (ganß lieblichen). Is the “pian piano” to be taken as a dynamic
indication to the player—i.e. the instrument is a flautino, and to best imitate it one
should play pian piano—or is it perhaps a clue to the instrument’s identity? Is it perhaps
a particularly soft variety of flute? Or an ordinary recorder, but played unusually softly?
Perhaps the “breathy” sound of ponticello replicates the effect of playing a recorder with
just the merest trickle of air?
These speculations are probably off the mark, however. “Pian piano” is most
likely a dynamic marking after all, and one of only two in the piece; immediately after
the Flautino section Farina indicates “Forte” / “Starck,” perhaps simply as a return to the
default volume of the rest of the piece. The simplest explanation is that Farina is
envisioning a recorder consort, and sees their identity as a “soft” instrument as their
outstanding characteristic (particularly coming only a few measures after the trumpets
and kettledrums). Perhaps he requests ponticello not for its potential for outlandish
harmonics but simply as a means to reduce the volume of the pitch as much as possible.
In this case, not only a light but a fairly slow bow should be used. (In contrast, Farina
says that the Fifferino section should be played in the same manner, but a bit closer to
the bridge and with a bit more force.)
“Il Tremulo” / “Der Tremulant”
Once again, this section has been the cause of some confusion. David Boyden
surmises that this is “probably” an early manifestation of the modern string technique
of tremolo, i.e. an unmeasured rapid reiteration of a given note.
However, in “The
String Tremolo in the 17
Century,” Stewart Carter shows that this is in fact another
section imitating an instrument, rather than simply one showcasing a technique, like
the col legno section.
Or, more accurately, this section mimics a technical device native
to another instrument, the “tremulant” setting of an organ. This is not a literal organ
stop, in the sense of a register of pipes, but rather a physical device designed to regularly
interrupt or attenuate the flow of air, producing an undulation in volume, something
akin to the effect of a Leslie speaker for a Hammond organ. Such devices are
documented well before the Capriccio; Carter quotes a letter written by Giambatista
… me desimamente il fifferino vien sonato conforme il flautino ma sonando la mita piu
sotto al scanello & piu forte”; “… deßgleichen das Soldaten Pfeiffgen nur allein daß es etwas
stärcker und näher am Stege gemachet wird.”
Boyden, The History of Violin Playing, 130.
Stewart Carter, “The String Tremolo in the 17th Century,” Early Music 19, no. 1 (February
1991): 43–59.
Morsolino in 1582 in response to the Cremona cathedral’s interest in installing such a
device, mentioning that one was already installed at Basilica of San Marco in Venice.
Once again, Farina’s “avertimenti” clarify the organological identification of the
section and offer technical guidance: “The Tremuliren is done with a pulsating of the
hand in which one holds the bow, in this way imitating the Tremulanten of the organ.”
The Italian corollary adds information: “Il Tremolo va sonato solamente facendo tremar
il pulso della mano dell’Archetto.” However, for this sentence to make any sense, it is
most likely that pulso (the first person form of the verb pulsare, to pulsate) is a
typographical error for polso (a noun, in this case “wrist”). So then, the whole notes that
Farina has written are meant to be subdivided into many smaller articulations. Further,
Farina suggests that these subdivisions be accomplished not merely by starting and
stopping the bow arm, but by bowing smoothly through the note, while a back-and-forth
motion of the hand at the wrist interrupts the sound.
There are abundant clues that can inform the execution of this passage on string
instruments. In the above-mentioned letter, Morsolino cautions that the effect of the
tremulant should be “languid and sweet,” instead of “harsh and displeasing, like
someone tormented by fever, whose teeth are chattering.”
In addition, many sources
connect the use of the organ tremulant with moments of high emotional affect.
Girolamo Diruta suggests its use in conjunction with the hypodorian and hypophrygian
Ibid., 46–7.
“So wird das Tremuliren mit pulsirender Hand darinnen man den Bogen hat auff art des
Tremulanten in den Orgeln imitiret.”
Carter, “The String Tremolo in the 17th Century,” 46.
modes, which make “the harmony mournfully sad and dolorous,” and which “serve for
playing at the Elevation of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ,