Francesco da Milano

ambrosianaThis page is dedicated to the work of one of the greatest lute player-composers of the Renaissance, called “il divino” by his contemporaries.  Born into a family of musicians in 1497 at Monza, near Milan, he spent most of his working life in the service of successive Popes in Rome: Leo X, Clement VII, and Paul III.

When he died in 1543 only a few of his pieces had been published, but over the following decades much more of his music appeared in print and continued to be copied into manuscripts into the 17th century, such was his fame and the quality of his work.

In 1997, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, a symposium in his honour was held at the University of Milan.  A review by Mariagrazia Carlone is to be found in the Journal of the Lute Society of America 26-27 (1973-4), 107-114.  For a list of books and articles about Francesco see the Bibliography.

Francesco’s music still speaks to us after 500 years.  Though it can be lively and witty, more than anything it is the serenity and air of contemplation which draws the listener in and creates a unique atmosphere.  Apart from intabulations of vocal music and the one “tochata”, all his surviving pieces are designated “Recercar” or “Fantasia”, two terms which were largely interchangeable in the first half of the 16th century, and which are hard to translate into modern musical terminology. Most pieces start with a melodic fragment which is imitated by various voice parts in succession, and may be transformed in the course of the piece. It may be treated in strict canon, or free counterpoint, it may appear in augmentation or diminution.  Some pieces are essentially monothematic, crowded with entries of the same subject, often in stretto; others are less densely populated.  Pairs of voices often sing duets (see 2, 3, 28) a technique popular with admired composers of the previous generation such as Josquin Desprez.  Francesco excels in making vocal counterpoint clear on the lute: he achieves this largely by avoiding dense textures while often implying more parts than are actually present.

The pieces are identified by “Ness numbers”, corresponding to the modern edition by Arthur Ness (1970).  It is a testament to the quality and thoroughness of Prof. Ness’s work that in the last 45 years only a handful of pieces have been added to the canon.   The scores published here are intended to be complementary to those of Ness: they are usually based on alternative sources and have in any case been edited from scratch, so there will always be some differences between the two editions. Ness’ edition remains the cornerstone of Francesco studies to which the interested reader is referred for all bibliographical references and points of detail.  Here printed sources are identified by “Brown numbers” from Howard Mayer Brown’s “Instrumental Music Printed before 1600”.

My first exposure to this music was an LP by Julian Bream called “The woods so wild” (1973) in which he alternated pieces by Francesco and sets of variations by English composers of the late 16th century.  He had an uncanny knack of choosing the best pieces, most of them being favourites of present-day lutenists. It was only a short time after I started to play the lute (1979) that I got the Ness edition out of the university library and I’ve been hooked ever since.  More than thirty-five years later, I’m still finding new inspiration in these pieces.

The recordings presented here are just my own homemade recordings, usually single takes, made at hazard over a period of time. For a list of commercial recordings see Discography (link to be added).  For my own recordings I have always used gut strings.

Scores are provided for some pieces, for general musical interest and to facilitate performance on other instruments.  We should remember that many of these pieces have their origins in music which was originally written for three or four instruments or organ, for example that of Giulio Segni of Modena (1498-1561), who published a book of recercari in Venice in 1540 of which only the Bassus partbook survives (Musica nova, 15403).  Fortunately most of the pieces were reprinted (in Musicque de Joye, 154?6) and are available in a modern edition (Slim, 1964).  A further dozen or so pieces survive only in the form of intabulations for lute by Giovanni Maria da Crema (see 15484), Francesco da Milano and others.  Adapting this type of music for the lute sometimes involved leaving out one of the four parts except at cadences or other points where a fuller texture was desirable.  I have left it to the ingenuity of the reader to fill out the missing part in cases where there are long gaps (usually in the alto).

Barlines are present in the original tablatures every two (sometimes every four) minims.  They are only a visual aid for reading the music and have no other significance, unlike modern barlines with their implications for stress, accent and grouping of notes.  I have usually carried over these “non-functional” barlines into the scores in mensural notation, but again they should be studiously ignored.

Francesco’s lute

In Francesco’s time lutes were strung entirely in gut, with no metal-wound strings.  The lute had six courses, with (usually) a single first course, and octaves on courses 4-6. The octaves serve only to brighten the sound of the basses and are almost always ignored as far as the counterpoint is concerned.  The neck of the lute was long enough for eight tied frets and as far as we know all notes above the eighth fret were fingered without frets (only much later in the 16th century did wooden frets appear, even then they were not universal in the way they are today).  The only contemporary evidence we have for positioning of frets comes from Hans Gerle (1533) whose fretting system is very close to 1/6 comma meantone. Lutes varied considerably in size, so with the top string being usually tuned close to the breaking point, they also varied considerably in pitch (as illustrated in my recording of no.4, and several others where I have used a 67cm lute tuned a tone below modern pitch).  For ease of reference in discussing pieces and scores I have regarded the lute as being nominally in G tuning, but this should not be taken to imply any particular pitch.

Pieces of uncertain attribution

Apart from the works which are definitely attributed to Francesco, there are a number of pieces which might be by him which are either unattributed or attributed to a different composer.  Many of these appear in the Appendix of the Ness edition.  I have included a few more here for interest, though I am not making any strong claims about their authorship.

Francesco in the Siena Lute Book

The Siena Lute Book (almost certainly of Sienese origin, now in the Hague Gemeentemuseum MS 28.B.39) is the most important manuscript source of Francesco’s music. It was copied in the late 16th century, long after Francesco’s death, but the scribe must have had access to reliable sources as the versions of pieces are usually quite accurate where they can be compared with earlier sources. Very few of the pieces in the Siena lute book have titles or attributions, but many can be identified from concordances. Twenty-three pieces are known to be by Francesco from other sources, of which four are attributed to “FM” and the rest have no attribution.  Five are attributed to “Francesco da Parigi”, of which two attributed to Francesco da Milano in other sources, one elsewhere attributed to Albert de Rippe, and the other two are unica (see S28 and S66 below). One piece is attributed to “Monzino”: Francesco was born in Monza, so “Monzino” could easily refer to him. One curious feature is that all but one of the pieces attributed to Francesco da Parigi or Monzino are without barlines, suggesting perhaps that they were all copied from the same source. My feeling is that this other source was not too accurate with its attributions: S28 and S66 (Francesco da Parigi) and S64 (Monzino) seem to be in a different style from the known pieces by Albert de Rippe and Francesco da Milano. A further puzzle is that the piece by Monzino seems to be another version of the piece by “B.M.” on f.19v. (S51, included below for comparison) – could “B.M.” stand for “B.Monzino”?  Other known works by B.M. include another four pieces in the Siena lute book, and one Recercare and two lute duets in Vincenzo Galilei’s Fronimo (1584): Galilei also only gives the initials B.M. and describes him as “a Florentine gentleman”. Listed below are some pieces which are not included in the main sequence of Ness numbers but some of which may be by Francesco (piece numbers beginning with S refer to Arthur Ness’ inventory of the manuscript published by Minkoff).

S28 (f.11) (Ness App.25): PDF

The previous piece S27 is attributed to Francesco da Parigi but is elsewhere attributed to Albert de Rippe.  The designation “del medesimo” at the head of no.28 therefore could refer to either composer.  As noted above the style is different from both – but it is a fine piece.  The presence of an opening flourish, before the piece gets down to business, is not typical of Francesco but is found in some earlier pieces, especially in the Capirola lute book, and some later sources (e.g., Matelart 1559, nos. 2, 7 and 10) as well.  Perhaps such openings were more common than the sources indicate, improvised introductions being rarely written down.  The figure of three repeated notes followed by a descending third (26-32) recalls Ness 28 (36 – 40).  The beginning of bar 40 seems confused and I strongly suspect that there should be a further two entries of the point of imitation (the descending scale figure which starts at 34).  I have added these editorially but not added any barline, making it easier to compare with any regularly barred version of the original (which has no barlines at all).

S45 (f.17-17v.) PDF; MP3

This piece is anonymous in both sources, but is probably by Francesco.  It appeared in Attaignant’s Très brève et familière introduction in 15293 and therefore predates the earliest printed sources of Francesco’s music (e.g., Marcolini, 15363; Casteliono, 15369).  Daniel Heartz (1964) gives an analysis of the piece and notes its similarity to Ness 24.  The Siena version seems to be more complete, and I have used this as the basis for my version, with just a few corrections based on the Attaignant text.

The section of pieces on the fifth tone starts on f.19v. with a piece by “B.M.”.  Of  the following 15 pieces, 12 are unattributed (of which six are known from other sources to be by Francesco), two are attributed to “Francesco da Parigi” and one to “Monzino”.  Could it be that the entire sequence S52-66 is by Francesco?

S51 (f.19v.) (B.M.): PDF

S52 (f.20) (Ness 8): PDF; MP3

S53 (f.20-20v.): PDF; MP3

S54 (f.20v.) (Ness 35): PDF

S55 (f.20v.-21): PDF

S56 (f.21): PDF; MP3     An arrangement of an ensemble recercar by Giulio Segni, also included in Giovanni Maria da Crema (1548, LibroVII, Recercar ottavo, sig. E2v.)

S57 (f.21v.): PDF

S58 (f.21v.-22) (Ness 61): PDF; MP3

S59 (f.22): PDF ; MP3   A short passage (23-26) is identical to a passage in Ness 8 (49-52) and S62 (44-47).

S60 (f.22): PDF

S61 (f.22v.) (Ness 58): PDF; MP3

S62 (f.22v.-23): PDF; MP3

S63 (f.23-23v.) (Ness 5): PDF

S64 (f.24) (Ness App.26): PDF (Monzino)

S65 (f.24v.) (Ness 56): PDF (Francesco da Parigi)

S66 (f.25) (Ness App.27): PDF; MP3 (Francesco da Parigi)

Actually I think S64-66 are in a different style, though interestingly the opening of S66 uses a theme which was used by Francesco (Ness 41, bars 11-14).  The shorter anonymous pieces tend to be very much in the same style as established pieces by Francesco and often quote from them, but of course it is impossible to say whether they are by him or by an imitator.  Similar considerations apply to the following sequence of pieces:

S79 (f.31-31v.): PDF; MP3

One detail which might not be immediately apparent: the slow moving soprano part in 29-35 is an augmented version of part of the theme which is treated as a point of imitation in 47-54.

S79a (f31v.): PDF (not included in Ness’ inventory, hence the designation 79a)

S80 (f.32): PDF

S81 (f.32) (Ness 46): PDF; MP3

S82 (f.32v.) (Ness 15): PDF; MP3

S83 (f.33): PDF; MP3

S84 (f.33v.): PDF

S85 (f.33v.): PDF

S86 (f.34): PDF

S87 (f.34-34v.) (Ness 40): PDF  The Siena version differs slightly from the other sources, for which see below.

S88 (f.34v.): PDF

Possible Francesco pieces in other sources

A manuscript of Bavarian origin, now in Paris (Bibliothéque du Conservatoire, Ms. Réserve 429) includes seven pieces attributed to Francesco da Milano (Ness numbers 67, 87a, 88-91, and 95).  There is also a piece on f.109 headed Recercata ser zimlich which has many features of his style:

Recercata:  PDF; MP3

I have made many small changes, correcting obvious errors but also sometimes removing repeated notes and adding a couple of bars where needed to make musical sense. Curiously, at the end of the piece is written “176 compases” though it is in fact 195 bars long (197 in my version).

I am grateful to John Robinson for drawing my attention to this piece via his music supplement in Lute News no.88 (December 2008).  John’s edition is different from mine.  He also included a Praeludium with an almost identical opening from Phalèse (Des Chansons Reduictz en Tabulature de Lut … Livre premier, Louvain, 1545, p.6).

Pieces securely attributed to Francesco da Milano

Note: As stated above, the versions of the pieces presented here are often different from those in the Ness edition – I have identified them using “Ness numbers” for convenience of reference.  The scores cite the primary source used, and the critical commentary at the end of each piece indicates if editorial changes are based on other sources. I have reproduced the dots for right hand fingering without any emendation, even where they depart from the usual patterns, because occasionally they offer a point of interest and (unlike wrong notes) they are easy enough to ignore when they are incorrect. It is worth remembering that the dot just means an upward stroke with a finger (not necessarily index finger) rather than a downward stroke with the thumb.

Fantasia (Ness 1): PDF; MP3

Fantasia (Ness 2): PDF; MP3

According to Slim (1961, unpublished paper cited by Ness, 1970) this piece is related to the motet Elizabeth Zacharie by Jean de la Fage (fl.1518-30).  The motet was intabulated by Barberiis (Libro Sesto, 15464, f.24v.) and a shortened version appears in Munich 266 (f.119). You can see the opening of the motet here (apart from adding a few F sharps I have not added any ficta, but there are quite a few places where it is probably needed, e.g. the B naturals in bars 11 and 13 should probably be flat).

Fantasia (Ness 3): PDF; MP3

Gombosi (1955) and Ness (1970) offer interesting analyses of this piece.  In some sources, the pattern in bars 14, 34 and 36 uses repeated notes, in others, tied notes are implied.

Recercar (Ness 4): PDF; MP3

The MP3 file shows this piece played on three different lutes in e’, a’, and g’ (in that order).

Recercar/Fantasia (Ness 5): PDF

The Siena lute book text is very close to that of 15467, except for a few corrections and extra bars.  However it does end rather surprisingly on the dominant chord, suggesting perhaps that this version was used as a prelude to another piece in the same key.

Fantasia (Ness 6): PDF; MP3

Fantasia (Ness 7): PDF; MP3

The little burst of fast notes in bar 3 gives a hint as to one way in which this style of music was decorated.

Recercar (Ness 8): PDF; MP3

Unusually, the first few bars seem to form an introduction.

Recercar (Ness 10): PDF; MP3

This piece also survives in a more decorated form (Ness Appendix 1): PDF; MP3

A player’s tip for bars 55-56 of the decorated version: when you stop h1f4 in bar 55, do it by flattening the 4th finger over the top three courses – then you can keep the h1 sounding until it is replaced by g1 (it also simplifies the fingering of the chord at the start of 56).

Recercar (Ness 15): PDF; MP3

This piece and the following one seem to form a pair, see note to nos. 33 and 34. The vihuela book of Enriquez de Valderrábano (Silva de sirenas, Valladolid, 1547) includes a Soneto (Libro VI, f.XCII) which is really another version of this piece: PDF; MP3.  See also Ness 72.

Recercar (Ness 16): PDF; MP3

An interesting puzzle concerns the first note of bar 9, which is the open 5th course in the source. If this note is regarded as part of the tenor line which continues D-Bb-C it makes a leap of a ninth, which seems very implausible.  If it is regarded as a bass note which sustains under the following few notes it is dissonant with all of them until the second half of bar 10, for which it is hard to see any motivation.  I have usually corrected it to an open 4th course, but I now think that  open 3rd course might be a better solution (as you can hear on my recording).

Fantasia (Ness 20):  PDF

The first piece in the Casteliono lute book of 1536. At first sight it looks less contrapuntal than most Francesco pieces, but that’s because the first section is really an introduction – the first real point of imitation starts at bar 21.  The beautiful duet between the top two voices over a slowly changing bass in bars 158-166 is one which occurs in several other pieces (see for example no.24, bars 68-72).

Fantasia (Ness 21)

This piece is undoubtedly one of Francesco’s greatest hits – it appeared in the one of the first printed books to feature his music (G.A.Casteliono, 15369) and one of the last (J.B.Besard’s Thesaurus Harmonicus, 1603, where it is attributed to Edinthon).

Fantasia (Ness 22):  PDF; MP3

Another piece from Casteliono’s book.

Fantasia (Ness 24):

I have chosen the text from the Siena lute book here because although it is very close to the version in the Casteliono lute book it seems more complete.  In bar 44 I have changed the order of the first two bass notes from that given in both the sources to correct the counterpoint (if you don’t believe me just try playing a1e3a5 and then a1e3d5).

It has some difficult corners technically: in bars 21-23 I prefer to play the chord h1g4f5h6 without using a barré, and in the following chord use the third finger to play both the 4th and 5th courses.  It’s still not easy.  In bar 45 I use a “hinge barré”: on the second note the first finger holds the first fret on the first course not with its tip but with its root, so that it can be held while the finger flattens itself across the fingerboard to stop the first fret on the sixth course (in this instance the finger hinges again, this time on its tip, to allow the open first course to be sounded on the next note, and back down again to stop the first fret on the second course). This is a technique which finds many uses in this style of music, though of course we have no idea whether anyone did it in the 16th century – they may have reached over the top of the neck with the thumb instead.

Fantasia (Ness 26): PDF; MP3

Fantasia (Ness 27)

Bars 31-47 are the same as bars 86-102 of no.21.

Fantasia (Ness 28): PDF (tab); PDF (score)

A favourite piece of mine which always seems too short – a compact masterpiece.  Soprano and alto sing a duet in strict canon for the first 7 bars, then it’s the turn of tenor and bass.  Bars 9-13 see the same pattern with a different theme, this time started by the alto.  In bar 21 the soprano starts another canon, but this gets broken off in bar 24 and we arrive at a perfect cadence, and the beginning of a new idea, in bar 27.  The overlapping entries in bars 36-40 could be realized as successive entries of different voice parts, but then the entries don’t follow a regular pattern.  In leaving the tenor out of the texture, it becomes yet another canon between the top two voices which extends to bar 45.  In performance, however, the impression is still of successive voices jostling for a piece of the action – a lovely example of how Francesco uses a thin texture to give an impression of many more voices.  In the chords of bars 46-48, notice the descending sixths in the middle voices and the syncopation of the soprano pattern in 48.

Fantasia (Ness 30): PDF (tab); PDF (score)MP3

Another favourite piece which treads a very consistent contrapuntal path.  The opening theme is almost the same as that of Ness 83.

Fantasia (Ness 31): PDF (tab); PDF (score); MP3

Fantasia (Ness 32): PDF (tab); PDF (score); MP3

Like Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas of nearly two centuries later, some of Francesco’s pieces seem to be in pairs.  This pair is designated as such explicitly in the source I have used (Siena, ff.58v.-59v.) where the second piece is called “La compagna”.

Fantasia/Recercar (Ness 33)

Recercar La Compagna (to no.33) (Ness 34)

Another pair of pieces which occur together in the source (Libro Terzo, 15472):

Fantasia (Ness 38)

I love the bell-like effect of the descending scales at the beginning, with their overlapping entries. A new theme is taken up by the tenor in bar 10 and this is worked through all the voices until the cadence at 20-21. Scale passages in imitation in 21-28 recall similar passages in no.34.  A question and answer session between soprano and alto take us through to 32. The final theme starts with the tenor halfway through 35, and makes its last sneaky appearance halfway through 41, just when we thought it was all over.

Fantasia (Ness 39)

This piece begins in a conventional way with the first theme being followed through many points of imitation, making its last appearance in the alto in bar 26 (the only entry starting on Eb).  Then a curious thing happens – the cadential figure Bb-Bb-A-Bb in the soprano in bars 32-33 is taken up as a theme in bar 34 and continues to the end of the piece, with entries on F, A, D, C and G. I particularly love the more dissonant ones at bar 41 (bass, starting on A), 42-43 (starting on G) and 47-48 (starting on C).

Such dense counterpoint gives rise to some difficult fingering issues. In bar 18 I play the first two notes with 2 and 3, then flatten the first finger across the first two courses to play the next two notes so that I can arrive on the chord halfway through the bar with 4 and 2.  The last note of the bar must be played with 3, the first two notes of bar 19 with 2 and 1.  In bar 32, the third finger is moved across to play the penultimate note, again so the first chord of bar 33 is played with 4 and 2, the next note on the first course with 3 and the following two bass notes on the 5th course both with the second finger (almost the same pattern occurs at bar 45).  If the last two notes of bar 40 are played with 3 and 1 (also the next two notes), it makes it easier to play the chord c2d3c6 3-4-2 which means the second finger stays on the sixth course for the following chord.

Fantasia (Ness 40): PDF; MP3

The duet version by Matelart (see the bottom of this page for an MP3) seems to imply a slower tempo than is usual nowadays for solo performance, providing food for thought about our current notion of the correct speed for this piece. Matelart also incorporates the rather surprising cross-relation in bar 28 (F where we might expect C in the bass, giving rise to a close clash with the immediately following F# in the treble), suggesting that he regarded the F as deliberate.

Fantasia (Ness 41): PDF (tab); PDF (score); MP3

Fantasia (Ness 42): PDF; MP3

[Recercar] (Ness 46): PDF; MP3

Recercar (Ness 49): PDF; MP3

Only found in 15484.  A lovely piece which deserves to be better known.  At bar 106/2 a note c is required (tied into the following bar) – this is provided by the upper octave of the 5th course.

Recercar (Ness 51)

Also found only in 15484.  This particular piece is not entirely typical of Francesco but has nevertheless become a favourite of present-day lutenists.

Fantasia (Ness 56): PDFtab; PDFscore;

A fine example of point-of-imitation technique which lends itself to an interpretation in four parts.

Fantasia (Ness 58): PDF; MP3

The opening theme is taken from the chanson “Bonjour m’ayme” by Claudin de Sermisy, of which there is an intabulation (unattributed) in the Intavolatura di lauto dell’eccellente Pietro Paolo Borrono da Milano, Libro Ottavo (15482) which also contains Francesco’s fantasia: PDF

Fantasia (Ness 61): PDFtab; MP3

The opening phrase strongly recalls the beginning of the chanson “J’attends secours” by Claudin de Sermisy (thanks to Ray Nurse for pointing this out).   Here is the chanson, with the superius and lute parts taken from the voice and lute arrangement by Attaignant (15293, f.24v.): J’attends secours

Ness 64

Ness 66

Fantasia (Ness 67): PDF

Like 31, 32, 40 and 41, this was used by Matelart (15597) as the basis of a lute duet, this time for two lutes at the same pitch.

Recercar (Ness 70): PDF; MP3

Recercar (Ness 72): PDF; MP3

The second half of this piece recalls Ness no.15.

Ness 73

I find this the most satisfactory and convincing of the six pieces which appear uniquely in Galilei’s 15637 book (Ness 68-73).  A short passage (bars 46-58) corresponds to part of no.51 (and also recalls some of no.84).  At 65/2 there is a “O” indicating the open first course where we would expect a “12” (an octave higher).  I suspect this may be because there was no standard system for printing notes which run into double figures: some printed books, e.g. 15468 use a superimposed double X as a sign for a 10th fret, as a hold sign (explained in the preface), and also as a vertical alignment mark.  However a contemporary publication from the same publisher Dorico (Matelart, 15597) uses a straightforward X for tenth fret and + as a hold sign.  Could it possibly be a harmonic?  As far as I know there are no other instances in lute literature of the use of harmonics, but it might give a clearer note here and it is worth considering.  In any case I don’t think playing that note at the lower octave is really an option.

Rechercha (Ness 75): PDF; MP3

Another version of this piece is found in CH-Bu F.IX.70, p.41(I am grateful to John Robinson for drawing my attention to this concordance): PDF; MP3

The opening theme is also found in an anonymous fantasia in the Marsh lute book (p.235; I am grateful to Gail Gillispie and Ron Andrico for discussion of this piece): PDFtab; PDFscore; MP3

Fantasia (Ness 82): PDF; MP3

Only found in Dd.2.11 (f.16), but on stylistic grounds the attribution to Francesco (“fra de mylan”) seems reasonably secure.

Fantasia (Ness 83): PDF (tab); PDF (score); MP3

The unusual key of A minor suggests this could be an arrangement of a vocal or ensemble piece.  It is only found in one English source (Dd.2.11, f.16) dating from the 1590s.  Another version of the piece is found in another English MS (Hirsch, f.65v.) and in Mertel’s (1615) anthology, but I feel this version is even further from Francesco: PDFtab; MP3

Ricercar (Ness 84): PDF; MP3

There is also a version of this piece in Joan Maria da Crema’s 1546 book (15469): PDFtab

Ricercar (Ness 88): PDF; MP3

This appears to be a parody of the Recercar terzo from Joan Maria da Crema’s 1548 book (15484), itself an arrangement of an ensemble ricercar by Julio (Segni) da Modena: PDFtab; MP3

Tochata (Ness 92): PDF; MP3

Found only in Casteliono’s book of 1536, this “tochata” is the earliest known piece with that title.  It appears at the end of a suite of dances, suggesting a postludial function.

[Ricercar] (Ness 95): PDF; MP3

This piece appears only as a fragment in Ness, but a complete version can be found in the Sulzbach print of 1536 and this is the basis of the version given here. There are quite a few editorial difficulties but I think it has the character of a written-out improvisation. A list of editorial changes can be found here.

Intabulations of vocal music

O bone Jesu (Ness 111): PDF

An intabulation of the motet “O bone Jesu”, attributed to Loyset Compère in a Petrucci publication of 1519 but now thought to be by the Spanish composer Antonio de Ribera (thanks to Ron Andrico for pointing this out).  Francesco has added very little decoration, and has stuck very close to the original voice parts, even when this creates some technical difficulty (bar 60) or even lack of clarity (bars 75-76).  I have therefore corrected his text in a few places where it deviates from the original because I believe these are oversights or printers’ errors rather than deliberate changes.

Music for two lutes

There are only three surviving lute duets by Francesco:

Canon (Canono a Dua liutti)

This and the following piece come from the Cavalcanti lute book, dated 1590 (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique).  The Canon is unique in the lute repertoire in that the two lutes play exactly the same single line of music, forming a strict canon at the unison.

La Spagna (Tenore De la Spagnia / SPagnia Contrapunto)

The first lute plays a free-ranging melodic part while the second plays three parts.  The Spagna melody is not easy to discern in this part because it is not always the highest or lowest sounding part in any given “chord”.  The first lute part (without the tenor) is also found in a mansucript in Florence (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale).


This piece comes from the tantalizingly unavailable Castelfranco manuscript.  The style recalls the two Contrapunti by B.M. published by Galilei (Fronimo, 1584), so much so that the attribution to Francesco might be called into question.

Duets by Joanne Matelart

The Intavolatura de leuto by Joanne Matelart published in Rome in 15597 includes seven lute duets of which five are based on solo pieces by Francesco.  The Fleming Matelart was primarily a composer of church music and clearly studied Francesco’s pieces in some detail: his added parts are carefully dovetailed into Francesco’s contrapuntal texture and while not easy to play, make a delightful whole.  The first five pieces (four of which are attributed to Francesco) are for lutes a tone apart.  In the pieces by Francesco the original lute solo is played on the lower pitched lute, the added part on the higher pitched lute. For the third piece (Anon.) the situation is reversed, and a note in the margin instructs the players to swap instruments.  The last two duets in the set are for equal lutes: Fantasia sexta adds a part to Ness 67, and Fantasia Settima adds a second part to an ensemble piece by Julio da Modena which was intabulated by Giovanni Maria da Crema (15469, Recercar quinto, sig.B1;15484, Recercar secondo, sig.D).  For a modern edition of all seven duets see Gordon Gregory’s (Lute Society Publications, 1997).

Prima: (Ness 31)

Seconda: (Ness 41)

Terza: MP3

Quarta: (Ness 32); MP3

Quinta: (Ness 40); MP3

Sexta: (Ness 67)

Inspired by Matelart’s example, here are a couple of duets based on Ness 16:

Fantasia prima by Stewart McCoy (2002, tone apart lutes):  MP3

(reproduced with the permission of the composer)

Fantasia seconda by Martin Shepherd (2002, equal lutes):  MP3

Thanks to Richard MacKenzie for playing the duets.  In the tone-apart duets, Richard is playing the lower pitched lute.

Pieces probably not by Francesco da Milano

There are a few pieces which are attributed to Francesco in one or more sources but which may not be by him:

Ness 11: PDF

This piece is attributed to “MD. La” (Marco d’Aquila) in Munich MS 266 (f.27v.) and it seems to be much more in Marco’s style.

Ness 23

This is untitled in the Casteliono Lute book (f.55) but is listed in the table of contents as “Fantasia del ditto”, the preceding piece being styled “Fantasia del divino Francesco da Milano”.  A more satisfactory version appeared in the Quart livre de tablature de luth … par feu maistre Albert de Rippe de Mantove published in Paris in 15539 by Le Roy and Ballard (f.5).  Another related piece appeared in Enriquez de Valderrábano (15475, f.70) where it is unattributed.

Fantaisie by Albert de Rippe: PDF

Fantasia by Anon./Enriquez de Valderrábano: PDF

Ness 25: PDF

Ness speculates that this may be by Pietro Paolo Borrono.  In appears only in the Intabolatura di lauto del divino Francesco da Milano, et dell’eccellente Pietro Paolo Borrono da Milano … Libro Secondo (15468).  Later the same year Gardano reprinted all the pieces by Francesco from this book except this piece, possibly because it was in fact by Pietro Paolo.

Ness 37: PDF

This piece appears in the Intabolatura de lauto di M. Francesco Milanese et M. Perino Fiorentino, suo discipulo… Libro Terzo (15472) but is attributed to Perino in the Intabolatura de lauto di M. Francesco Milanese et M. Perino Fiorentino… Libro Primo 15661) which was almost certainly published in 1546.