Transferring Tunes and Adjusting Lines: Leonardo Giustinian and the Giustiniana in Quattrocento Florence
Uno Gentile et Subtile Ingenio: Studies in Renaissance Music in Honour of Bonnie J. Blackburn
In 1429 Ambrogio Traversari wrote from Florence to Leonardo Giustinian (ca. 1383-1464) praising his manner of singing “sweet arias,” and asking for samples of his poetry cum melodiis suis. It is not entirely clear to us what Traversari expected to receive since the Venetian poet’s arie, born in direction relationship to his poetry, were probably never precisely notated. The relatively ephemeral condition of this music is revealed in a letter of ca. 1475 from Cicco Simonetta, secretary of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza, to a Milanese agent in Venice:
You will learn from Girardo [de’ Colli, Milanese ambassador to Venice] that I have written asking him to have a book copied for me containing all the canzone [i.e., the texts] of Leonardo Giustinian…You should get this from Maserato [a Venetian singer] who knows music and similar things very well…but do this as quickly as possible and include the musical notation for two or three canzone so that one can understand the Venetian style of singing.
Obviously, the several notated pieces described here were intended to serve the much larger number of poetic texts, either as templates for various poetic forms, or as repositories of melodic phrases, formulae, and embellishments that conveyed a general Venetian “style.” Furthermore, the writer’s insistence that the texts be obtained only from a Venetian singer “who knows music” strengthens the impression of an oral music tradition that resided more naturally in the memory and execution of a performer than in written notation.
Wilson, Blake. "Transferring Tunes and Adjusting Lines: Leonardo Giustinian and the Giustiniana in Quattrocento Florence." In Uno Gentile et Subtile Ingenio: Studies in Renaissance Music in Honour of Bonnie J. Blackburn, edited by G. Filocamo, and M. J. Bloxam, 547-567. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009.