Michelagnolo Galilei

b Florence 18th Dec 1575 - d 1631

The age of the Counter Reformation, more than any other in the history of civilization, was marked by a close connection between science and art, and the birth of experimental method coincided with the most ardent experimentation in the field of music. The ideal focal point in this irrepeatable confluence is represented by the name of Galileo Galilei, whose musical disposition was remarked by Viviani as follows: "... Among his most treasured entertainments were the practice of music and playing upon the frets of the lute, in which, with the example and instruction of his father, he came to such excellence, that he found himself in competition with the best professors of the time in Florence and Pisa, being most rich of invention on that instrument, and exceeding his father in gentleness and grace of playing; he retained his suave style always even to his last days..".
His father was the Vincenzo Galilei who contributed in such a decisive way to the recovery of the music of the ancient Greeks and to the new style of accompanied monody welcomed with enthusiasm in Florence at the end of the 16th century. Vincenzo transmitted the qualities of lute virtuoso to his children: besides the first-born Galileo, the youngest child Michelagnolo was a lutenist.
Born in Florence the 18th of December 1575 (as recorded in an horoscope generated for his brother by the famous scientist), the education of Michelagnolo was dedicated from the very beginning to his training as a professional musician. At the age of just nine years, in fact, he signed the dedication of a volume of instructional compositions by his father, eloquent as to the type of study he had already undertaken: "...My father having composed the present two-part Counterpoints a few days ago, so that with them (after lessons of greater import that he has given me to study) I could exercise the voice and the playing of the viola with the help of a solo,...."
The death of Vincenzo in 1591probably destroyed a secret plan to place his musician son in the court of the Grand Duke. Thus Michelagnolo, sixteen years old, had to be given into the custody of his older brother the scientist, and so he joined Galileo in Padova; from this moment on the lives of the two brothers were to be closely intertwined, if also problematic. Thanks to the vast epistolary documentation compiled by Antonio Favaro in his edition of the works of Galileo (Florence 1890-1909), and to a few specialized studies (for example the recent one by Claude Chauvel in his introduction to the facsimile edition of Galilei´s Primo Libro d´Intavolatura , (Minkhoff, Geneva 1988), we can plausibly reconstruct Michelagnolo´s biography.
Galileo, then, was to materially direct the future life of his brother: after having him come to Padova in 1592, he sent him off the following May to Poland, surely in the train of some nobleman of those parts, possibly a student whose acquaintance had been made in his Padovan studio. In 1599 Michelagnolo returned to Italy; Galileo now tried to find, with the help of friends (particularly that of Emilio del Cavaliere), an appointment for him at the Medici court, but without success, due to the overabundance of musicians euphoric over the new music-theater teatro in musica in Florence.
Thus, Galileo had no choice but to send his brother back to Poland in the summer of 1600, again in the service of "that Polish gentleman in whose care Michelagnolo had been previously", this time, however, with a very high salary, and every convenience. (His protector has generally been identified as Prince Radziwill of Vilna, in Lithuania, but there is no documetary confirmation of this).
Michelagnolo´s son, Vincenzo, in his turn also a lutenist, was to retain the connection with Poland; Michelagnolo, however, was again in Padova in 1606: one can easily imagine the disappointment of his brother. Galileo aimed higher this time, to the court of the Duke of Baveria in Munich, where Michelagnolo subsequently moved, definitively, in 1608. There he married Anna Clara Bandinelli, who gave birth to seven children, of whom Alberto Cesare, as well as the above mentioned Vincenzo, were to became lutenists. Galileo continued to procure lute strings for his brother from Florence "for his use and his students", and satisfied the desire of the Duke of Baveria, via his brother, to obtain the scientist´s latest book´s and that rarest of prizes, a telescope.
In 1620, Il Primo Libro d´Intavolatura di liuto di Michelagnolo Galilei[..]Liutista del Ser.mo Sig.r Duca Massimiliano di Baveria appeared in Munich, a collection of almost all of the surviving works of the author; excluded are a few works scattered through printed anthologies and manuscripts, all of Baverian origin. The frontispiece and the dedication are written in Italian (notice of a contemporary version in German does not seem credible), which suggest the possibility that Galilei might at first have intended to print the book in Italy, or to dedicate it to an Italian prince. In point of fact, even before his first departure to Poland Michelagnolo possessed a collection of his "sonate" which were particularly appreciated in Florence, as seen in a letter, until now overlooked by scholars, written to Galileo by his mother in 1593: "...(Michelagnolo) says that you gave certain sonate into the possession of I know not which gentlemen, who sent here all the Princes asking for others similar to the ones they have, the which he took badly, and doesn´t want to give them out anymore to anyone...."
The permanent appointment in Munich did not resolve the economic situation of Michelagnolo´s family, and until his death in 1631 he did not quit bothering his brother, even up to their last encounter in Florence in 1628, with requests for money and for help with his children. Of his two lutenist sons, both were sent to Rome by Duke of Baveria to study the lute, theorbo, Italian and Latin; Vincenzo ended his days in Poland, after having saddened and disappointed his famous uncle, who became his guardian at the death of Michelagnolo ; Alberto Cesare took over his father´s position as official lutenist to the court of Munich until his death in 1692.
Until a few years ago only a single copy of the lute book printed by Michelagnolo was known to have survived, that in the British Library in London, originally owned by Albert Werl, author of a manuscript of the same period and possibly student of Galilei ; a second copy has recently been found in Crakow, a complete handwritten copy of the volume is the so-called "Pauer" manuscript. The book of 1620 is very important for several reasons: first, the extraordinary nature of a collection by an Italian author living abroad, written in "French" tablature for a lute of ten courses; then the presence of the most modern compositional styles of the time, particularly evident in the durezze, dissonances, in the Italian manner of Kapsberger, style-brisée and the exploration of the textural effects in the French style, and the still contrapuntal style as found in Laurencini or Piccinini.
But then, this kaledioscope of influences is in fact the summation of the life work of the musician who, starting out in the school of his father Vincenzo, must have proceeded through many encounters with personages of the highest calibre: we think, for example, that his sons in Rome were students of Kapsberger, of a lutenist in the service of Cardinal Ludovisi who was probably Falconieri, and of a celebrated Parisian known as "René".
The collection presents twelve group of compositions organized in ten different modal groups, each composed, in the style of proto-suites, of an opening toccata followed by one or more correnti and volte, with the addition of two gagliarde in the first suite. At the end of the collection are two passemezzi in two parts followed by saltarelli.
Even at nearly four hundred years distance, the collection reveals itself to modern listeners as an high artistic witness to a period in the history of Italian and European music that is still, in good part, waiting to be discovered.

Dinko Fabris
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