Alessandro Piccinini

Bologna 30.1 1566 - Bologna 1638

. ...The music for lute by my father, Alessandro Piccinini, whether for its merit or for its good fortune, was met with favor in the world while he was alive....
With these words, Leonardo Maria Piccinini modestly justifies his decision in 1639 to publish a posthumous collection of pieces for lute by his father. And yet only ten years previously, Alessandro, while still living, was referred to as unequaled in the playing of the lute by his countryman Adriano Banchieri.
The best known and most authoritative member of a Bolognese family which had produced musicians for at least three generations, Alessandro was born on 30 January 1566, son of Leonardo Maria, himself a lutenist, as was very probably his father before him.
Since the most recent biographical dictionarys are incomplete and inexact with regard to the Piccinini family, let us list the most significant facts in light of partially unpublished documents: Leonardo Maria (I) had, in addition to Alessandro, numerous children among whom atleast two others were also lute virtuosos: Girolamo, who was born in 1573 and died in Flanders in 1610 (and not in 1615 as was earlier believed) and Filippo (1575-1648).
Leonardo Maria I, after having declined the position offered to Alessandro at the Mantuan court (since he would have been unable to train and instruct his sister and younger brothers as he did for two or three hours a day), took the entire family with him to Ferrara where, beginning in 1582, he and his three lutenist sons appear on the employment lists of the munificent court of Alfonso II d´Este.
According to Newcomb, Leonardo died sometime before january 1597, a theory supported by the fact that in that same year the first official receipts for Girolamo and Filippo are recorded. The role of the Piccinini family at the Estense court seems to be more closely tied to the duke´s private entertainments than to public festivities, aside from special duties regarding experimentation in organology which will be discussed below.
Following the death of Alfonso II and the passing of Ferrara to the papal states (1598), the Piccinini brothers were, together with the famous Luzzaschi, the only musicians from the flourishing Estense chapel to be hired by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew of Pope Clement VIII and the most important of Ferrara´s new govenors.
The cardinal´s new arrangements in his Roman apartments provided the three lutenists with an entry into a dynamic and open musical and cultural environment. Claudio Annibaldi has carefully documented this period which marks the beginning of the brother´s separations: for some years now they had together provided entertainment for the Roman evenings of two Ferrarese destined to notoriety: Guido, the future cardinal, and the marquis Enzo, Ferrarese ambassador to Rome from 1608 to 1611.
From the year 1608, Girolamo Piccinini had even become a sort of administrator and tutor to the young Guido on his arrival in Rome, accompanying him on this first important mission as nuncio in Flanders, while Alessandro had moved on officially to the house of Bentivoglio, together with the celebrated Frescobaldi, following the arrival of the marquis in Rome in 1608. In addition to numerous letters, the dedication to Cardinal Guido in the volume edited by Alessandro´s son in 1639 testifies to the familarity of the three musicians with the Bentivoglio family.
Filippo having departed, first for the court in Turin and then for Madrid (where he was employed in the real capilla as the only lutenist from 1616 until atleast 1637), and Girolamo having died while in the service of Cardinal Guido, Alessandro now chose not to follow the marquis Enzo back to Ferrara in 1611, but rather to return to Bologna with his wife Cornelia whom he had married in Rome.(In a letter of the same year he writes to Bentivoglio: and if my wife had not still been somewhat ill, I would have come to Ferrara in place of my brother).
After this time, the correspondence between Alessandro and the Bentivoglio family remains, for at least a decade, quite intense but completely lacking in artistic references, demonstrating instead a surprising interest on the part of the Bolognese musician in wine commerce or small business affairs. His brother Paolo and his son Leonardo Maria II(who died in 1645) probably maintained more direct artistic ties with Ferrara.
Alessandro´s death must have occurred before december 1638, as a letter by the Bolognese painter Domenichino reveals.

The most important documentation regarding the compositions of Alessandro (with the exception of a madrigal by Filippo, no other works by the brothers have survived) is to be find in Intavolatura di liuto, et di chitarrone. Libro primo,published in Bologna by the heirs of G.P Moscatelli in 1623. Other compositions by Alessandro appeared posthumously in the above- mentioned 1639 collection edited by his son Leonardo Maria. (In this collection there is no distinction made between the works by the father and those of the son also included in the book, though atleast two sources in manuscript seem to present unpublished compositions by Alessandro, indicated by the sign A.P).
Information regarding the origins of the 1623 collection was based until recently upon a letter of that year by Alessandro himself in which he urged the cardinal d´Este of Modena to intervene on behalf of this first book of intabulations, the publication of which had been interrupted by the death of the printer. An unpublished letter from the previous year reveals a working relationship between the same cardinal in the role of teacher, and a young unnamed lutenist.
And still earlier, in 1614, Alessandro confided to the marquis Bentivoglio his intention of printing a book of music. I have begun an undertaking, namely, to have engraved a book ((of music)) to be played on the lute which I already begun to write in Rome; it will be quite an expense to print, but I have no doubt that I shall earn from it.
The 1623 collection, as well as the other sources cited (aside from the manuscripts, which contain the dance stereotypes most in vogue among amateurs), includes the forms of instrumental music most used in the first decades of the seventeenth century by professional musicians: above all toccate, correnti and gagliarde, forms thoroughly developed an enlivened by masters of the keyboard such as Frescobaldi and the Neapolitans, by harpists, and by lutenists such as Kapsberger and Melii.
The style of Piccinini seems in comparison to be somewhat conservative, and one often has the impression that many of the compositions date back perhaps to earlier decades, although presented here in a revised version.
The composer´s expertise is re-vealed in pieces such a the chromatic toccatas, and in the partite variate - an hommage to the Roman (and Neapolitan) styles most in vogue in those years. Of great importance is also the introductory section whose 33 chapters constitute an authentic tutor for playing the lute, including basic indications regarding performance practice ( Playing loud and soft, How to play arpeggios etc.) and organology. Moreover, until recently Piccinini´s fame was due primarly to these latter indications, albeit resulting in serious misunderstandings.
The role, played by Alessandro in the creation of the new long-bodied lutes (di corpo longo), the first experimental models of which were built around 1594-96 in Venetian workshops for Duke Alfonso II, is in fact well noted. As Orlando Cristoforetti has correctly pointed out, Alessandro never boasted of having invented the theorbo or the chitarrone (which seems instead to have orginated at the Florentine court), but only of having first come up with the idea of lengthening the neck for low strings, thus transforming the lute into an arch-lute and leading somehow to a similar configuration in the chitarrone (which is distinguished by having the first two strings tuned an octave lower than those of the lute).
Cristoforetti´s ideas are confirmed by the above-mentioned letter of 1614 from Piccinini to the marquis Bentivoglio in which he writes If the correnti that your lllustrious Lordship desires were for the lute, I would already have sent them to you, but I have never done anything on the theorbo except for certain little things taken for sport from the lute, ((pieces)) which everyone has in Ferrara.
It is probable that the Roman fashion begun by Kapsberger had an effect on the later decision also to include music for the theorbo in the 1623 publication, while the posthumous book of 1639 is only for the lute.
While musicological research has finally dismantled the belief according to which art of lute playing disappeared with the onset of the 17th century, the increasing use of historical instruments in modern performances has at the same time restored to Alessandro Piccinini, unjustly considered the last lutenist (Vatielli), his place as one of the great composers of his time.

Dinko Fabris

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