Maffei’s letter on how to learn singing diminutions without a teacher (1562)

PRIMARY SOURCE: Delle lettere del Sr. Gio. Camillo Maffei da Solofra (Naples, 1562) [imslp] [Google books]

Italian transcription online: Mauro Uberti

Recommended English translation: Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance. Bloomington, Indiana University, 1982. pp.36-60; online English translation (less recommended): University of Central Oklahoma Historical Translation Series [direct link to Maffei]

TRANSCRIPTIONS of the musical examples:

  • Maffei's vocal exercises - download PDF
  • The madrigal Lasciar il velo by Francesco de Layolle with diminutions in all the four voices by Maffei - download PDF
  • Melodic cadential progressions with diminutions by Maffei - download PDF
  • The unknown setting of Vago augelletto with diminutions on the Canto part - download PDF

FOOTNOTES

1 [00:46] Maffei’s patron was Giovanni da Capua, Count d’Alta Villa.

2 [02:00] See our episode about Improvisation around 1600, 01:27 [link]

3 [05:05] Also Hermann Finck describes ugly looking singing and advise to avoid it (Hermann Finck, Practica musica (1556) [imslp]; quoted in Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (1982), p. 62). Luigi Zenobi also writes, in specific connection to the soprano singer, that he must not toss his head, contort his shoulders, roll his eyes, move his jaw, chin, or the rest of the body (quoted in Anne Smith, The Performance of 16th-Century Music, p. 140; see more in Blackburn and Lowinsky’s “Luigi Zenobi and his Letter on the Perfect Musician”, Studi musicali (1993), pp. 61-114).

4 [06:20] Ludovico Zacconi refers to this issue and writes that some singers are naturally gifted while others have to work very hard and diligently to acquire this skill. But those who are naturally gifted will always sound better. The best is a combination of talent and diligence (Ludovico Zacconi, Prattica di musica (1592) [UNT, Imslp]; quoted in Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (1982), p.69).

5 [07:10] The madrigal Lasciar il velo by Francesco de Layolle appears in its original form in Jacob Arcadelt, Il primo libro de' madrigali a 4 voci (1539) [no. 24] [imslp]. See above a modern transcription of the madrigal with the diminutions.

6 [07:43] Ludovico Zacconi writes similarly that diminutions and ornaments are best at cadences (Ludovico Zacconi, Prattica di musica (1592) [UNT, Imslp]; quoted in Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (1982), p. 73)

7 [09:37] Contradicting this, Hermann Finck regard E and I as best suitable for mellismas, while A, O and U should be avoided (Hermann Finck, Practica musica (1556) [imslp]; quoted in Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (1982), p. 63). Ludovico Zacconi doesn’t exclude any vowel, only writes that A takes the most air (Ludovico Zacconi, Prattica di musica (1592) [UNT, Imslp]; quoted in Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (1982), p. 73)

8 [10:28] Hermann Finck writes that the different voices should not embellish at the same times (Hermann Finck, Practica musica (1556) [imslp]; quoted in Carol MacClinton, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (1982), p. 63); Luigi Zenobi might be implying a similar thing when he writes that both the tenor and the bass should embellish only when the other voices are held steady (Anne Smith, The Performance of 16th-Century Music, p. 139; see more in Blackburn and Lowinsky’s “Luigi Zenobi and his Letter on the Perfect Musician”, Studi musicali (1993), pp. 61-114); Lastly, the written-out ensemble diminutions by Girolamo dalla Casa, demonstrates how each voice embellish in his own turn (Il vero modo modo di diminuir (1584) [imslp])

Credits:

Created by Elam Rotem.

Special thanks to Anne Smith.