[Early Printing - Incunabula - Milan] [Early Book Illustrations] [Music Theory - Renaissance] [Neoplatonic Philosophy] [Pythagoras] [History of Mathematics - Proportions]

Franchinus Gafurius

Theorica Musicae

[With Carmen by Lancino Curti]

Milan: Filippo Mantegazza for Giovan Pietro da Lomazzo, 15 December 1492.

$14,900   INQUIRE

Text in Latin. Illustrated with a fascinating full-page woodcut comprising 4 scenes showing Pythagoras, Iubal and Phylolaus playing various musical instruments, and numerous schematic woodcuts, and some printed music. Includes Carmen by Lancino Curti.

VERY RARE IN TRADE. (The only other copy currently on the market is listed at £75,000, i.e. about $100,000.)

Second Edition; First Edition Thus; fully revised and expanded version of the first edition printed in Naples in 1480 under the title 'Theoricum opus musice discipline", which "was the first printed book broadly devoted to the study of music. The later version of the book published in 1492 is much better known and usually treated as the definitive version of the treatise." (C. Collins Judd, Reading Renaissance Music Theory, p.18).

Offered here is a textually complete example of this GROUND-BREAKING WORK OF RENAISSANCE MUSIC THEORY, including the celebrated woodcuts of Pythagoras' musical experiments, which are "the first to portray him as a musician" (D.E. Smith, History of Mathematics, p.76).

"Among the most important early printed treatises [on music] in terms of their influence on the sixteenth century were the writings of Franchino Gaffurio. His three most significant treatises, Theorica musicae (1492), Practica musicae (1496) and De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum (1518) - often described as the theoretical trilogy - provided a complete study in theoretical and practical music. [It should be noted that] when Gaffurio's treatises were published there was no 'music print culture,' that is, there was no printed polyphonic repertory. Gaffurio's examples are in fact among the first instances of printed polyphonic music." (Collins Judd, op. cit., p.17)

"The Theorica musicae constitutes the most ambitious attempt among any musical humanist of the Italian Renaissance to subsume and synthesize Boethian harmonics and its few Hellenistic predecessors known to Gaffurio." (Th. Christensen (ed.): The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, p.31)

The author, Franchino Gaffurio, or Gafori (1451 - 1522), also known under his latinized name, Franchinus Gaffurius, was an Italian Renaissance music theorist, musician and composer, and almost exact contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, with whom he was likely acquainted. In 1484 Gaffurius became maestro di cappella of the Duomo at Milan; the Duomo's choir, patronized by the Sforza family, was at the time one of the most renowned choirs in Europe.

Gaffurio's Theorica musice was one of the most widely read and influential musical books of the early Renaissance. A compendium of musical thought derived from Boethius and ancient philosophers, it reclaimed the heritage of Greek and Latin theory for Western musicians of the fifteenth century. Gaffurio's treatise is remarkable for its vast range, covering diverse topics including the systems of classifying music, physical properties of sound and the Pythagorean mathematical ratios, musical intervals, the Greek systema teleion, and the Guidonian solmization.

"Among the [book's] woodcut illustrations is [one] picturing Pythagoras and an assistant in cap and gown working out intervals on strings, pipes, bells, and glasses containing water. The book is an extensive work in Latin, with discussions of Greek writers on musical proportion and scales, information about other modes or arrangements of tones in sequence, and the Guidonian hexachord system, whereby tones are grouped into sixes. Pythagoras, Aristoxenus, and Boethius figure largely in the text, which is profusely illustrated with woodcut charts." (Ruth Watanabe, Some Theoretical Works by Franchino Gaffurio, Vol. IX (1954), no. 2)

This remarkable woodcut on leaf b6r, comprising four separate, scenes illustrates proportions of the so-called greater perfect system based on the number series 4 : 6 : 8 : 9 :12 :16. These numbers appear on all the instruments pictured: "blacksmith's hammers, bells, glasses, weighted strings and pipes all bear the numbers 16, 12, 9, 8, 6 and 4. The upper left illustration depicts Jubal, the biblical father of music, and six blacksmiths with differing size hammers striking an anvil. This relates to the story that the young Pythagoras was first moved to investigate musical intervals on hearing the notes produced by different size hammers at a blacksmith's shop. The upper right illustration depicts Pythagoras testing the interval of an octave between bells of size 16 and 8 and between glasses filled in the proportion 16 and 8. The lower left illustration shows Pythagoras testing intervals on a stringed instrument and the lower right illustration shows Pythagoras and his pupil Philolaus testing intervals by means of flutes." (Peter Frazer)

The treatise is divided into five 'books' the contents of which can be summarized as follows:

I. The traditional schemas of music.
II. The mathematical foundations of proportion.
III. The doctrine of proportion.
IV. The derivation of musical interval from proportion.
V. The generation of the tetrachords and the different species of imperfect consonance." (ibid)

The Theorica musicae "begins with a general section on the benefits of music and the difference between celestial, human and instrumental music. From the second part onwards it is solely devoted to musical mathematics, as at the time music was correctly considered closely related to mathematics and geometry. Gafurius was heavily inspired by the ancient Greek tradition, by which all music intervals are established around set ratios-a system illustrated with woodcut diagrams of proportions. Using the ratios of Pythagoras (himself portrayed in four handsome woodcuts) as well as Greek notation (diapason, diapentes, etc.) as a starting point, Gafurius discusses consonances - with long analyses on the mathematical proportions, their definition, types (including the 'superparticulares', containing fractions) - tones and semitones, the invention and disposition of sounds along strings, intervals and the application of syllables to notation. The staffs with letters and notation reproduced at the end were produced with wood blocks, so cut that the lines of the staff and the shapes of the notes stood out in relief, [...] locked in the form with the letterpress, and the whole page was easily printed in one impression." (Otto Kinkeldey, 'Music and Music Printing in Incunabula', Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 26 (1932), pp. 100-1).

Gaffurio was born on January 14, 1451 in the town of Ospitaletto near Lodi (in Lombardy, Northern Italy). "Although his father was a soldier in the service of nobility, Gaffurio himself seemed to care little for such a career but started rather early to be interested in singing and in collecting material about music. His first churchly affiliation, therefore, was that of a choirboy; he later became a priest. Johannes Goodendag (or Godendach), a Carmelite friar, was his first music teacher, giving him a working knowledge of musical theory and composition. [...] In Mantua, where young Gaffurio went to be with his father who was then serving Ludovico Gonzaga, he studied music assiduously, preparing and writing his first tracts on theory. A little later, when he moved to Verona, he became a public professor of music, lecturing on theory and counterpoint. [...] His great reputation as a lecturer prompted Prospero Adomo to invite him to take a position at his court in Genoa. Unfortunately, the Genoese stay was cut short by his patron's causing such displeasure among the powers at that city that he was expelled to Naples.

"In 1478 Gaffurio accompanied his patron to Naples, where he made the acquaintance of other prominent musicians of his time. [...] He did some of his most important writing in Naples, and possibly he could have remained there longer if it had not been for the terrible pestilence which threatened the city. After a short visit to his former home near Lodi, he subsequently became maestro di cappella (head of the musical chapel) in Monticello and Bergamo. In 1484 Gaffurio was invited to Milan to become maestro di cappella at the cathedral. His reputation by this time was considerable, and if we are to believe the universal praise given him by the city and church officials, he must have been thought of as the foremost music theorist in Milan. He continued his lecturing and his writing, finishing his last known theoretical dissertation, De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum, during his forty-ninth year. [...] He died in Milan on June 24, 1522.

"That Gaffurio's theoretical works were widely read in the sixteenth century is attested to by the number of editions of certain treatises and by the references to them, both good and bad, by later Renaissance authors. Thomas Morley, the Elizabethan composer and musical theorist, writing his Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke toward the end of the century, derives some material from Gaffurio's Theorica. [...] Undoubtedly, Gaffurio was partly responsible for arousing interest in Greek musical theory and science of scales which marked one aspect of Renaissance scholarship. His discussions of the measured notation of the later Middle Ages are valuable also for the understanding of certain Renaissance ideas. A thorough study of his treatises reveals a veritable treasury of musical knowledge." (Watanabe, op. cit.)

It is quite likely that Gaffurio was acquainted (and might even have been friends) with Leonardo da Vinci - both lived in Milan during the last two decades of the 15th century. "Gaffurius worked in Milan from 1484 until his death in 1522. Leonardo lived in Milan from 1483 to 1499, and again from 1506 until his departure for Rome and other cities in 1513; thus they were together in Milan for no fewer than twenty-two years. In these twenty-two years there were beyond doubt close friendly relations between Leonardo and Gaffurius. A musical pioneer of the wide and profound knowledge of Gaffurius, who combined the local Italian tradition with the subtleties of Netherlandish counterpoint as a former disciple of Goodendag and Tinctoris, must have been of great interest to Leonardo. They lent each other books. Gaffurius could not have failed to be impressed by Leonardo's mastery of improvisation on the lira da braccio, and he must have admired Leonardo's activity as organizer of feasts, theatrical spectacles, and concerts at the ducal court. Leonardo may also have been curious to acquaint himself with Gaffurius' specific attitude toward the theory of proportions and numerical ratios." (Emanuel Winternitz, Leonardo da Vinci as a musician, p.6)

"In connection with [Sforza] court festivals, Leonardo may have met the music theorist Franchino Gaffurio, appointed choirmaster of the Milan cathedral in 1484. [...] Although it is not recorded whether they ever collaborated musically, Gaffurio and Leonardo, along with the architects Donato Bramante (who also had a keen interest in music) and Francesco di Giorgio, were involved in the competition to to design a new lantern tower for Milan cathedral in 1490. Leonardo's knowledge of Gaffurio's theories may explain why his discussions of painting in terms of polyphonic harmony as early as 1492 are similar to arguments recorded a few years later by Luca Pacioli, who arrived in Milan only in 1496." (Claire Farago, Leonardo da Vinci's Paragone, p.43)

Throughout the 20th century, Gaffurio was the most widely-accepted candidate for the (unknown) subject of Leonardo's famous 'Portrait of a Musician' (dated to c. 1483–1487) kept in Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan. Now, however, scholarly opinion has shifted to consider Atalante Migliorotti as the most probable candidate.

Included at the end of the book is a laudatory poem (Carmen) by Lancino Curti (1460-1512), a humanist poet at the Sforza court in Milan.

Bibliographic references:

Goff G-6; Hain 7405; BMC VI, 785; GW 10437; Proctor 6055; IGI 4115; Klebs 430.2; Oates 2319; Pellechet 4948; Polain 1528; Sander 2982; Eitner, Biographisch-Bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker, IV, 121; Fétis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens & Bibliographie Générale de la Musique III, 377; Kristeller 161; O. Kinkeldey, 'Music and Music Printing in Incunabula', PBSA 26 (1932), 89-118.

Physical description:

Chancery Folio, leaves measure 262 mm x 191 mm; bound in 17th-century brown calf over thick boards; flat spine (rebacked in matching modern leather).

64 (unnumbered) leaves [forming 128 pages).
Signatures: a8 b–i6 k8. 

Bound without the preliminary quire *4 (4 leaves comprising title with a woodcut, errata, table of contents, dedicatory epistle and prefatory verses); otherwise complete: THE ENTIRE TEXT OF GAFURIO'S 'THEORICA MUSICAE' WITH ALL ITS WOODCUT ILLUSTRATIONS, AS WELL AS THE CONCLUDING 'CARMEN' BY LANCINO CURTI, AND THE COLOPHON ARE PRESENT.

Printed in single column, with printed marginalia; 38 lines per page, in roman letter Typ. 1:110R. Capital spaces with printed guides (unrubricated).

Illustrated with the celebrated full-page woodcut (on b6r) comprising 4 separate blocks showing Pythagoras, Jubal and Phylolaus performing musical experiments and playing various instruments, as well as over twenty diagrammatic woodcuts in text (four of which are full page). Woodcut music example on four-line staves on leaf i6r.

Text of Theorica musicae is followed by Lancino Curti's humanist poem (Carmwn) on leaves k5r-8r. Colophon on k8r (verso blank).


Very Good antiquarian condition. Complete except for the title and preliminaries; Gafurius' Theorica musicae is complete in its entirety, with all the illustrations present, except for the title woodcut of an organist. Binding slightly rubbed, inconspicuously rebacked. Internally, with some scattered soiling (mostly marginal); first two leaves with somewhat heavier soiling and light staining (rather harmless and not affecting legibility). Outer corners of leaves of the first quire slightly frayed and worn. Inner margin of the first leaf reinforced along gutter; a few minor marginal tears, a minor marginal repair (without loss) to the final leaf (k8). First leaf (a1) with a small hole affecting a few letters (without loss of sense). A couple of very minor manuscript marginal notes in a very early hand; manuscript foliation (at top outer corners) beginning from f.10 (which does not account for the four preliminary leaves, proving that they were missing from a very early date, probably ab origins). In all, a pleasing, well-margined, genuine (unwashed and unpressed), textually complete example of this exceedingly important and rare musical incunabulum.

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