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Pietro Paolo Melli (Melii)

b Reggio, Emilia, July 15 1579 - d after 1623


Between 1612 and 1620, Alessandro Vincenti published five books of tablature for archlute and theorbo by the composer and lutenist Pietro Paolo Melii. Aside from their contribution to the seventeenth-century Italian lute repertory, these books are particularly significant to lutenists for the author┤s discussion of playing technique and for the novel tunings Melii introduces in the first and third books. General histories of the period and bibliographical dictionaries have for the most part ignored his works, and some sources have even confused the lutenist with another Melii, ascribing, for example, the vocal works of Domenico Maria Melii to Pietro Paolo. The purpose of this article is to serve as the first documentary study of Pietro Paolo Melii, and to clear up some of the confusion that has resulted from earlier biographical accounts of the composer.

Although the two Meliis were, in fact, related - Pietro Paolo refers to Domenico Maria in his Libro terzo as his "dearest relative" - they were not born to the same parents. Domenico Maria was born in 1572 to a noble family of Reggio. Fontanesi noted that they were counts, and he specifically mentioned Domenico Maria. In a later study, Fontanesi produced the Melii family tree, which showed that the family was extinct by 1680. The name Pietro Paolo does not turn up in the lists of nobility up to this date, and it cannot be assumed that he was also a nobleman by virtue of his relationship to Domenico Maria. In 1516 the Meliis were described as "merchants of Reggio", so it would seem that their noble status applied to only one branch of the family. This might explain the exclusion of Pietro Paolo.

Pietro Paolo was born in the town of Reggio in Emilia (then called Reggio of Lombardy) on July 15, 1579 ".. in St.Peter┤s parish at the eighth hour"(Archivo Comune, Vacchette dei battezzati ,1577-1580: petrus paulus filius Domini Octavij de┤Melijs ex uxore Laura Bapt. patrinij Dominus...Silvius et domina Claudia de Alpis natus in vicinia Sancti petri heri hora octava ). There is no further mention of Pietro Paolo for the next twenty years, and we can only speculate about his upbringing and musical education. It is possible that he took part as an instrumentalist in the musical activities of the cathedral chapel, but his name does not appear in the incomplete and inconsistent capella archives.
The first substantial document mentioning Pietro Paolo is a letter of 1599 from the merchant Virginio Arlotti of Reggio to Giovanni Battista Laderchi, secretary to the Duke of Modena, regarding a lawsuit brought recently against Melii (in this period, Reggio was governed by the Duke of Modena):

Illustrious and most respectable sir,

I can do nothing else but implore your illustrious person to be so kind as to support Melii, in accordance with the enclosed memorial
[petition], both because of friendship and because of the justice of his request, and also because I feel that helping scholars and lovers of Virtue is a duty. Since the memorial explains his desire, and since his innocence is known from the judgement , I will draw your attention to the fact that this young man is in that age of life in which, according to the philosophers, going towards Evil and abandoning the right path is very easy. Therefore, if he loses the opportunity of continuing his studies, diverted from them he might follow the wrong path. This would be an unfortunate thing as it can be so easily avoided. So I implore you with all my heart to support his just request...

The exact nature of the lawsuit against Melii is not clear from Arlotti┤s letter. However, the suit did result in disciplinary action, even though Melli was declared innocent, and it appears that he was prevented from continuing his studies. During the years 1600 to 1612 there is no documentation about Melii other than an inventory of documents - which have since been lost - in the holdings of the notary Stefano Melii.
The inventory is as follows:

1600 - End of controversy between Melii and Turricellio
1604 - [Contract of] sale between Melii and Contino
1604 - [Contract of] purchase between Melii and Contino
1605 - Melii┤s declaration
1606 - [Contract of] purchase between Melii and Baisijs
1606 - "Pauli Emilij Ancini - Petri Pauli Melij"
1609 - [Contract of] assignment between Melii and Fabrelio
1612 - End [of controversy] between Melii and Marchini

Although pithy and inconclusive, the above inventory does serve to establish Melii┤s presence in Reggio until his appointment to the court of Vienna.

Documents indicate that Melii was working at the Viennese court on December 1st 1612, in the service of the Emperor Mattia. His salary was an "ordinary" 25 florins. This rather high figure was supplemented by an additional 120 florins for the period December1, 1612 to November 30, 1614. According to a receipt of February 22, 1614, he received another subsidy of 166 florins and 40 kreutzer for the expenses incurred during a trip to Italy.
This journey was probably undertaken to oversee the publication of Melii┤s Libro secondo, the dedication of which is dated to March of that year. This latter payment is also referred to in a document of September 22, 1614, concerning the expenses of the counselor Christoph Weiss, who was sent by the emperor to Piacenza to collect 20 000 florins from the Duke of Parma for help in the war against the Turks.

During his Italian trip, Weiss incurred the following expenses:

882 florins, 4 kreutzer ...for a farm
500 florins ...to N.Rossi for Italian actors [commedianti]
50 ducats (that is, 116 florins and 40 kreutzer) ...to Pietro P. Melii player of the lute, for his expenses.

Melii may well have needed the money. His stay in Italy was probably extended due to insufficient funds for the publication of his book. He received a further 40 florins and 50 kreutzer, noted in a document dated July 29, 1614, and on December 4 of that year he received 12 florins for the purchase of strings. In 1615, Melii received his annual salary and extra money for clothes, and in the following year he received his salary, money for clothes and a New Year┤s gift of 25 florins.
On April 20, 1617, Melii wrote a letter introducing himself to Alfonso, Prince of Modena. In his letter he enclosed a copy of his Libro quarto, which included a piece dedicated to the Prince. Alfonso was heir apparent to the Duke of Modena but not, at that moment, in a position of power himself. It appears that Melii was writing to ingratiate himself not so much for the moment as for the future, for he was still working for Mattia. Melii wrote the letter from Prague, where he was probably attending the coronation of Ferdinand as King of Bohemia:

Most serene Prince, my Great Sir and Venerable Master,

Having had the privilege of printing this fourth installment of my work, under the most serene name of Archduke Ferdinand of Graz; and having dedicated some sonate to their Majesties and other princes, I also include your most serene Highness, to whom I dedicated a corrente entitled "l┤Alfonsina" on page 11 of the present book. This is but a small symbol of the devout affection I owe you.
I beg you to accept this in lieu of the great amount for which I am obliged, until the time arrives when I will be able to dedicate to you a work worthy of your most serene Grace. And if I am not able to offer you something better, I will devote to you my very self. With reverence

I most devout and most indebted servant to your Most Serene Highness

P.P.Melij

Two more letters by Melii are found in the Archivio di Stato in Ferrara. They are adressed to the Marquis Enzo Bentivoglio. In reality, there must have been many more such letters, since in the second Melii signs himself as "the usual M.". These letters dated May 5, 1618 and June 18, 1619 do not add much to Melii┤s biography, except to show that he was still in Vienna at the time. They are, however, interesting accounts of the turmoil surrounding the court of Vienna shortly before the Thirty Years┤ War as seen by one of its courtly residents.
In 1618, payment records show Melii┤s receipt of his annual salary and a New Year┤s gift, and on March 23rd of that year he received an additional 6 florins for.... preparation of the tomb, followed by another 6 florins for.... preparation of the coffin.
Unfortunately, no other details survive of these unusual payments.

On July 14th of the same year, Matteo Baracchi, presumably the Modenese ambassador to Vienna, sent a dispatch to the duke of Modena (or to his secretary) in which among various other messages , Melii is recommended to the duke. It is here that the lawsuit against Melii of nearly twenty years earlier is resurrected, but the letter is too short and ambiguous to permit any further deductions:

Melii, lutenist to His Majesty, asked me to recommend to your Highness the enclosed memorial. This I do willingly, as he asked [me] to do it, not so much out of its reasonableness, which I admit, but also out of good grace. Because, if indeed I am disgusted by what he writes, as he sends this [memorial] about the causa [lawsuit] thinking that I would not know about it; nevertheless, it follows that I have received the greatest pleasure from it, because his letter, and that of Florio, have served to justify myself with you concerning what I have [previously] written to you.

According to Von K÷chel, Melii┤s employment under the emperor Mattia terminated on April 30, 1618. The Viennese financial archives show, however, that Melii drew a salary until February 28, 1619. This date seems more plausible as Mattia died shortly thereafter, and there is no apparent reason why Melii would have been dismissed before Mattia┤s death. Furthermore, in 1619, Melii received an extra payment along with more money for clothes.
At this point both Von K÷chel and, in a much more recent study, Federhofer, note that the musician was rehired to serve the new emperor Ferdinand II. His annual salary was increased to 300 florins; Federhofer cites a document in his possession confirming this salary dated December 10, 1619. This would have made Melii one of the highest paid musicians at the Viennese court, second only to the Maestro di capella G. Priuli, the organist G. Valentini, The instrumentalist D. Gentilis and the singer A.Vischer.
On April 22, 1620, a few days after Meliis┤s Libro quinto was dedicated to him, Ferdinand II wrote a letter regarding Melii to Cesare d┤Este, duke of Modena. The emperor reminded the duke that his predecessors, acting predecessors, acting under the orders of the then-emperor Mattia, conceded the position of Captain of the Gate of Santa Croce in Reggio to Melii┤s paternal uncle, Ludovico. Melii had expressed the desire to succeed his uncle at his position in the event that he should outlive him, and Ferdinand was responding to Melii┤s request by recommending him for the position.
It is puzzling, however, as to why Melii desired this kind of work and wanted to return to Reggio.

It is important to note that practically all musicological sources of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries indicate that in 1620 Melii returned not to Reggio, but to Ferrara. This theory originated with Van der StrŠten who in a list of musicians, noted "Paul Melij┤musicus et citharoedus noster" (sous Ferdinand II), en 1620". First, in 1620 the court of Ferrara no longer existed - the Este had transferred to Modena. Second, the title given in quotation by Van der StrŠten is identical with that issued in the letter from Ferdinand to the Duke of Modena which was written in 1620 while Melii was still working for the emperor.
While it is possible that Melii could have been in Modena - given the imperial family┤s interrelations with the Este - it is more likely that Van der StrŠten, in the likelihood that he personally examined Ferdinand┤s letter, simply misinterpreted it. In the final analysis, there is no trace of Melii in Modena or in Ferrara, and it is highly unlikely that in 1620 Melii served in any location other than Vienna.

The final payment notices to the lutenist are found in the Viennese account books of 1622, which state that the "ex" [geweste] lutenist of the chamber, Melii, received a supplementary salary for the period from December 1617 to April 1619 .... and the musician declares himself satisfied more or less..... Further on there is a payment for clothes money for the period from December 1617 to April 1618, and other payments to Melii are found in the Viennese Court Finance Records, but they contain no information other than the date of issue.

A final shred of evidence is given in another letter from Ferdinand to the Duke of Modena, dated October 1623. The duke has finally given his consent to Melii┤s request to become Captain of the Gate of Santa Croce in Reggio, but it is clear that Melii has not yet made use of his appointment. Ferdinand explains that he is now releasing Melii from his service so that he can take up his new post.

After this, there is no further information about Pietro Paolo Melii.



Francesca Torelli

Translated by Paul Beier
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