Bellerofonte Castaldi

b Modena 1580-81 - d Modena 27 Sept 1649

Italian composer, theorbist, guitarist, poet, engraver and adventurer. He was one of the most colorful musicians of his day. From the age of 23 he travelled widely to Germany and throughout Italy. He was living in Venice by 1623 ("Sono vivo, sono in Venezia" he started the dedication of his publication of that year) and built up at his home a notable collection of instruments, books, pictures and other objects.
As a young man he had been a party to the killing of the murderer of one of his brothers and was banned from Modena for many years, but late in life he was able to settle there again. His scurrilous writings also made him many enemies and several times landed him in prison. Much of this is related in a long verse autobiography (in I-MOe). He was better known in his day as a poet than as a composer, and no less a poet than Fulvio Testi contributed a commendatory poem to his 1623 collection. Among musicians, he seems to have known Monteverdi, to whom he dedicated a poem.
His bizarre, independent personality is reflected in his two volumes of music. That of 1622, which he engraved himself, is an interesting source of theorbo music, even if it is of no great distinction. Some pieces have fantastic titles or directions - among the duets Hermafrodito, among the theorbo solo pieces marked "fulminante" and "perfidiosa". Several pieces are dances, and a number of the 19 strophic arias in his idiosyncratically titled 1623 book are headed "corrente" or "gagliarda" and are agreeable, unpretentious examples of the dance-song.
The other strophic songs are marked "passeggio", denoting a vocal line moving mainly in short, even values over a bass in longer values. Castaldi had more of a share than was usual in the presentation of the music in this volume: not only his portrait included (it is reproduced by Roncaglia) but he insisted on three other features rare at the time: that the vocal parts should be in the tenor clef (three are in the alto clef) since it seemed to him laughable that a man adress his beloved in female or falsetto tones; that for the convenience of singers all the verses of strophic songs be printed between the staves; and that his pages should not be disfigured by the "pedantry" of the guitar alphabet.
The other seven items in the book are on the whole a little more interesting than the strophic pieces: they include an echo madrigal, and two highly elaborate sets of strophic variations for two voices. 15 songs in the book are settings of poems by Castaldi himself. Of the 13 songs marked "di bc" (or an equivalent) in I-MOe Mus.G.239 six are from the 1623 book, which means that the other seven can certainly be ascribed to him; some of the other 14 songs in the MS may be this too.

Nigel Fortune
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