Girolamo Frescobaldi

1583 - 1643

About Girolamo Frescobaldi

Frescobaldi was born in Ferrara. His father Filippo was a man of property, possibly an organist, since both Girolamo and his half-brother Cesare became organists. There is no evidence that the Frescobaldi of Ferrara were related to the homonymous Florentine noble house. He studied under Luzzasco Luzzaschi, a noted composer of madrigals and an organist at the court of Duke Alfonso II d'Este. Although
Luzzaschi's keyboard music is relatively unknown today - much of it has been lost - contemporary accounts suggest he was both a gifted composer and performer, one of the few who could perform and compose for Nicola Vicentino's archicembalo. Contemporary accounts describe Frescobaldi as a child prodigy who was "brought through various principal cities of Italy"; he quickly gained prominence as a
performer and patronage of important noblemen. Composers who visited Ferrara during the period included masters such as Claudio Monteverdi, John Dowland, Orlande de Lassus, Claudio Merulo, and Carlo Gesualdo.
In his early twenties, Frescobaldi left his native Ferrara for Rome. Reports place Frescobaldi in that city as early as 1604, but his presence can only be confirmed by 1607. He was the church organist at Santa Maria in Trastevere, recorded as “Girolamo Organista”, from January to May of that year. He was also employed by Guido Bentivoglio, the Archbishop of Rhodes, and accompanied him on a trip to Flanders
where Bentivoglio had been made nuncio to the court. It was Frescobaldi's only trip outside Italy. Although the court at Brussels was musically among the most important in Europe at the time, there's no evidence of Peeter Cornet's or Peter Philips' influence on Frescobaldi.

Based on Frescobaldi's preface to his first publication, the 1608 volume of madrigals, the composer also visited Antwerp, where local musicians, impressed with his music, persuaded him to publish at least some of it. While abroad, Frescobaldi was elected on 21 July 1608 to
ucceed Ercole Pasquini as organist of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Frescobaldi remained in Flanders, however, through the summer and did not return to Rome until 29 October, delaying his arrival with an extended stay in Milan to publish another collection of music, the
keyboard Fantasie. He took up his duties on 31 October and held the position, albeit intermittently, until his death. He also joined Enzo Bentivoglio's musical establishment after the latter settled in Rome in 1608, although he grew estranged from his patron after an affair with
a young woman. A scandal involving competition between Bentivoglio and the Medici family eventually forced him to leave his position.

Between 1610–13 Frescobaldi began to work for Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini. He remained in his service until after the death of Cardinal Aldobrandini in February 1621. On 18 February 1613 he married Orsola Travaglini, known as Orsola del Pino. The couple had five
children: Francesco (an illegitimate child born on 29 May 1612), Maddalena (another illegitimate child born on 22 July 1613), Domenico (8 November 1614, poet and art collector), Stefano (1616/7), and Caterina (September 1619).

In October 1614, Frescobaldi was approached by an agent of the Duke of Mantua, Ferdinando I Gonzaga. Frescobaldi was given such a good offer he agreed to enter his employ. However, at his arrival in Mantua the reception was so cold that Frescobaldi returned to Rome by
April 1615. He continued publishing his music: two editions of the first book of toccatas and a book of ricercars and canzonas appeared in 1615. In addition to his duties at the Basilica and the Aldobrandini establishment, Frescobaldi took pupils and occasionally worked at other churches. 1615–28 was Frescobaldi's most productive time. His major works from this period were instrumental pieces including a second version of the first book of toccatas (1615–6), ricercars and canzonas (1615), the cappricios (1624), the second book of toccatas (1627), and a volume of canzonas for one to four instruments and continuo (1628).

St. Peter's Basilica gave Frescobaldi permission to leave Rome on 22 November 1628. Girolamo moved to Florence, Italy into the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, a Medici. During his sojourn there he was the highest paid musician and served as the organist of the Florence baptistery for a year. He stayed in the city until 1634; the period resulted in, among other things, the publication of two books of arias
(1630). The composer returned to Rome in April 1634, having been summoned into the service of the powerful Barberini family, i.e. Pope Urban VIII, the highest prize offered to any musician. He continued working at St. Peter's, and was also employed by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who also employed the famous lutenist Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger. Frescobaldi published one of his most influential
collections, Fiori musicali, in 1635, and also produced reprints of older collections in 1637. No other prints followed, although a collection of previously unpublished works appeared in 1645, and in 1664 Domenico Frescobaldi still possessed pieces by his father that were never published.

Frescobaldi died on 1 March 1643 after an illness that lasted for 10 days. He was buried in Santi Apostoli, but the tomb disappeared during a rebuilding of the church in the late 18th century. A grave bearing his name and honoring him as one of the fathers of
Italian music exists in the church today.

Playalong Pieces

Title Instrumentation
Ricercare No. 1 4 recorders