Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Nicola Vicentino (1511 – 1575 or 1576) was an Italian music theorist and composer of the Renaissance. He was one of the most visionary musicians of the age, inventing, among other things, a microtonal keyboard, and devising a practical system of chromatic writing two hundred years before the rise of equal temperament.
He was born in Vicenza, but little is known of his early life. He may have studied with Adrian Willaert in Venice, which was close by, and he acquired an early interest in the contemporary humanistic revival, including the study of ancient Greek music theory and performance practice (about which little was known, but was then being uncovered, through the work of scholars such as Girolamo Mei and Giangiorgio Trissino ).
At some time in the 1530s or early 1540s he went to Ferrara, which was to become the center for experimental secular music in Italy from the middle to the end of the 16th century. Apparently he served as a music tutor to the Duke of Este as well as some of his family members, and some of Vicentino's music was sung at the court of Ferrara.
During the late 1540s his reputation as a music theorist grew. He established his reputation as a composer with his publication of a book of madrigals in Venice in 1546, and in 1551 he took part in one of the most famous events in 16th century music theory, the debate between Vicente Lusitano and himself in Rome in 1551. The topic of the debate was the relationship of the ancient Greek genera to contemporary music practice, in particular whether contemporary music could be explained in terms of the diatonic genus alone (as Lusitano claimed) or (as Vicentino claimed) was best described as a combination of the diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic genera, the last of which contained a microtone. The debate was rather unlike those among contemporary musicologists, being more like a refereed prize fight, with a panel of judges; they awarded the prize to Lusitano. Unbowed, Vicentino continued his experiments, and went on to build the arcicembalo which could play the music he described in his publications.
After a short time in Rome, Vicentino returned to Ferrara, and later moved to Siena. In 1563 he became maestro di cappella at the cathedral in Vicenza, thus returning to his home city, but only briefly, for he accepted a position in Milan in 1565. Around 1570 he had some connection with the Bavarian court in Munich, though he may never have gone there. He died in Milan during the plague of 1575-1576, though his exact date of death is not known.
In the 1550s, in Italy, there was an surge of interest in chromatic composition, some of which was part of the movement known as musica reservata, and some of which was motivated by research into ancient Greek music, including modes and genera. Composers such as Cipriano de Rore, Orlande de Lassus and others wrote music which was impossible to sing in tune without having a system for adjusting the pitch of chromatic intervals in some way. Several theorists attacked the problem, including Vicentino.
In 1555 he published his most famous work, L'antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (ancient music adapted to modern practice), in which he fully explained his ideas linking ancient Greek musical theory and practice with contemporary works. In this work he expanded and justified many of the ideas which he first brought up in his debate with Lusitano. Whether or not Lusitano ever attempted to refute Vicentino's expanded version is not known; however Vicentino's book was influential with the group of madrigalists working in Ferrara in the next two decades, including Luzzasco Luzzaschi and Carlo Gesualdo.
Vicentino's most famous invention was the arcicembalo , a keyboard containing 36 keys to the octave. Using this keyboard, it was possible to play acoustically satisfactory intervals in any key, and therefore some of the recently composed music in a chromatic style, which was only in tune when sung, could be played on the keyboard. Later he applied the same keyboard layout to the arciorgano , a microtonal keyboard for the organ. While these keyboards did not achieve wide popularity, they did attempt to solve a difficult problem which was not solved in a standardized way until the advent of equal temperament in the 18th century.
References and further reading
- The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0393095304
- Edwin M. Ripin: "Arcicembalo", Henry W. Kaufmann/Robert L. Kendrick, "Nicola Vicentino," Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed January 8, 2005), Grove Music Online
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details