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The Lute Books of Francesco Spinacino

To this day, most of Francesco Spinacino’s life remains a mystery. All we know about him is that he was born in Fossombrone, Italy and that he composed two books of lute music that hold the distinction of being the first of their kind to be printed by Ottaviano Petrucci (you might remember Petrucci as the first publisher in history to print music from movable type during the first two decades of the 16th Century). Aside from a little other information about Spinacino that corroborates these two main points, there is literally nothing else.

But, where there are few stories to be told about him in the 16th Century, a much later sequence of events has a fascinating tale to tell about how the last existing copies of his lute books, known as the "Intabulatura de lauto" of 1507, ended up at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow, Poland.

The only known copies of Spinacino’s lute books, found today at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow, can be traced as far back as 1822 when they were supposedly purchased in Florence by Georg Pölchau, a collector. Sometime later they were acquired by the Berlin collection (part of the Prussian State Library) which preserved them until World War II when they, along with nearly four hundred priceless scores that included significant manuscripts by Mozart and Beethoven, were moved out of Berlin by the Nazis who hid them away at a monastery in Grussau.

When the war ended, the border between Germany and Poland changed dramatically and the monastery was then located in Polish territory. The Berlin collection was moved out of the monastery and into Cracow’s Jagiellonian Library where the collection was considered state property and its librarians given orders not to say anything. In the post-war chaos, the Berlin collection was thought to be lost.

Many decades passed before the Berlin collection, Spinacino’s books included, was not only discovered but also attracted international attention (the primary issue being ownership—Gemany wanted them back while Poland insisted they were a form reparation for their own cultural losses at the hands of the Nazis).

Nevertheless, one positive thing has come out of the Berlin collection resurfacing. The priceless scores once thought lost are now accessible to scholars. And in the case of Spinacino, we thankfully have the last three known copies of his lute books to appreciate and study.

Francesco Spinacino’s lute books of 1507 include numerous lute settings of vocal works by Josquin, Brumel, Busnois, and others. They also have many original and prelude-like pieces called ricerars. In fact, the books contain the earliest known appearance of the word “ricercar” (another first associated with Spinacino).

The lute books not only give us evidence of a creative composer and deft musician, but of a highly sophisticated music, which the Renaissance Era nurtured into full bloom.

New Release

Our new release of the week features the Holland Baroque Society (directed by Matthew Halls) in a recording of Georg Muffat’s Auserlesene Instrumental-Music, which is a set of twelve Concerti Grossi published in 1701. The Society’s release includes a selection of six that are known for their enigmatic Latin titles.

Georg Muffat was an important composer who was also a noted writer. He left us with several publications, normally printed along with his music, that describe how the early orchestra functioned. In particular, Muffat is recognized for his first-hand account of how Jean-Baptiste Lully’s orchestra played.

Here's a video of the Holland Baroque Society performing baroque and folk music:

The music heard on this episode was performed by the Holland Baroque Society (Matthew Halls, dir.)

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