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Composer Biography: Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361)

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Also Philippe de Vitri and Philippus De Vitriaco

Philippe de Vitry was a French poet, composer, music theorist, administrator for the Duke of Bourbon and the King of France, church canon, and Bishop of Meaux. He was called the “flower and jewel of musicians” by his contemporaries, and is credited with inventing the “new art” version of music called Ars Nova (I’ll use Ars Nova with both initial capital letters for the movement and Ars nova in italics for the treatise throughout). The Ars Nova style has come to define French music from the 1310s to the 1370s.

De Vitry was an accomplished, innovative, and influential composer, possibly the author of the music theory treatise called Ars nova notandi that gives the era its name. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest musician of his day, with even the great poet Petrarch (1304-1374) writing a glowing tribute.

Various sources claim that de Vitry was born in Vitry-en-Artois near Arras (see also Composer Biography: Adam de la Halle for another great composer from Arras), or possibly in Champagne or Paris. He died in either Meaux or Paris. (For more about great composers from this region, read Composer Biography: Guillaume Machaut, because he was also born in this region fewer than ten years after de Vitry.)

De Vitry is thought to have studied at the University of Paris where he received a Master of Arts degree. He also studied at the Sorbonne and held numerous prebends (a stipend from a cathedral). But his main sphere of activity was the French court, where he was secretary and advisor to Charles IV (1316-1378), Philippe VI (1293-1350), and Jean II (1319-1364).

He was known as a leading intellectual. He was friends with the poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-1474) and the famous mathematician, philosopher, and music theorist Nicole Oresme (c1320-1382).

He was a diplomat and a soldier, serving at the siege of Aiguillon in 1346. In 1351, he became Bishop of Meaux which is about 45 miles east of Paris. He held several canonries (an important member of a cathedral), including at Clermont, Beauvais, and Paris, also serving the antipope at Avignon starting with Clement VI (1291-1352).

He composed motets and other music, but the most important aspect of his work was the Ars nova treatise. Probably the most original part was the last ten chapters, where he wrote about mensural rhythm and notation. Music notation was in its infancy—the new styles of music, like polyphony, required more specific forms of notation than chant, organum, and conductus. (For more on these things, see The History of Music Notation, Chords versus Polyphony, and the Composer Biographies for Leonin and Perotin.)

De Vitry’s treatise presented new concepts for rhythm and notation. The two main most important features are the minim (which is now called a half-note) for which he established the notational symbol and imperfect mensuration (the division of note values into twos as well as threes, no matter how long or short the note).

The Ars nova treatise and the contemporaneous writings of music theorist Johannes de Muris (c1290-c1355) form the fundamental source of information on the development of the mensural system of notation. De Vitry pays particular attention to the relationships between the different levels of rhythmic time values, such as breve to long, semibreve to breve, and so on (these are early forms of notation that indicated very long and sort of long notes).

Unlike most medieval theorists, de Vitry was a composer of international and lasting reputation and of outstanding ability. His music shows a new lyricism and an effective use of the hocket device, which was a kind of musical exchange akin to hiccupping. The Roman de Fauvel (a 14th century allegorical poem in two lavish books, by French royal clerk Genvais de Bus and scribe Chaillou de Pesstain, and about which there will be more in a moment) contains six motets attributed to him. He discusses these motets in his own treatise, Ars nova (there will be more on that in a moment, too). Nine additional motets are found in the later Ivrea Codex (mid-to-late 14th century), illustrating the early use of isorhythm (a rhythmic pattern that repeats throughout the piece—a fixture in motet writing) as a constructive principle.

De Vitry is said to have had a vitriolic tongue and often verbally overwhelmed his opponents, such as an unidentified “Hugo” and poor Jehan de le Mote (dates unavailable), a poet musician from Hainaut, Belgium. There are 250 pages of dialog between the two, all in French poetry.

Another work pays homage to Pope Clement VI of Avignon (1291-1352) on his election in 1342, where de Vitry expresses how much he despises being at court. But he was unable to leave the busy life of officialdom, and Petrarch, whom he met at Avignon, poured out his own sympathetic dismay on learning that de Vitry had become Bishop of Meaux in 1350.

De Vitry wrote chansons and motets, although only a few have survived. They are conspicuously different from one another, each with its own distinctive structural idea, as if he were experimenting. It’s too bad that there aren’t several of each sort, though, as it would aid in studying both his thought process and the music of the period.

De Vitry’s motets are distinctive because of the notation using smaller note values. The notation system (semi-breves, breves, and minims) was probably a product of the College of Navarre in Paris (founded in 1305 to rival the Sorbonne). They were documented for the first time in his Ars nova treatise.

Ars nova notandi

As I’ve been saying, de Vitry was most famous for Ars nova notandi (1322), a treatise on music that lent its name to the music of the whole era. Although his authorship and the existence of the treatise itself have come into question, his music also survives elsewhere, showing his innovations, especially in music notation and particularly in mensural and rhythmic notation, for which he gets credit. Such innovations are particularly clear in the motets of the Roman de Fauvel.

His motets set the standard for the next hundred years, past the beginning of the Ars subtilior (1380-1420; see Composer Biographies on Paolo da Firenza and Zacara da Teramo for more on this era). In many ways, modern notation started with de Vitry’s Ars nova, separating for the first time from the old rhythmic modes (see Musical Modes, Part 2: Rhythmic Modes) that didn’t need mensuration in the same way. Modern time meters (like 3/4 time and 6/8 time) also originate from this era and are documented in the treatise. He’s credited with coming up with the idea of isorhythms, where the voice’s melodic line consists of repeating patterns of rhythms and pitches, but the patterns overlap with those of other voices rather than correspond—not chordal (vertical) relationships, but musical gestures and repeated patterns or melodies in a linear (horizontal) sense.

The Ars nova treatise listed the rules of the old and the new art form. De Vitry’s primary intent was to show new ways of notating motets using his own compositions as examples. He barely mentions polyphonic songs, but his late 14th century compositions that are polyphonic are the only Ars Nova works that continue the earlier traditions of form and notational precision.

The Ars nova treatise describes innovations in rhythmic notation that are attributed to both de Vitry and to Jehan des Murs (c1290-1355), a mathematician, astronomer, and music theorist. One innovation allowed duple (“imperfect”) division of note values along with the triple (“perfect”) division that was already popular. Another innovation divided the semi-breve, formerly the smallest note duration, into minims. Both of these innovations resulted in new meters and allowed greater rhythmic flexibility, including, for the first time, syncopation.

De Vitry wholeheartedly embraced the duple time that became the modern time-systems 9/8, 6/8, 3/4, and 2/4. In fact, we still use one of his key signatures, the capital C (for Common time), and our black notes (quarter notes) are successors to his red notes (about which there will be more in a moment), used to distinguish sections of notes with a different rhythm.

Everyone quickly adopted his ideas, although Jacobus of Liege (1260-1340), who wrote the huge musical encyclopedia Speculum musicae, advocated against it. Pope John XXII (1244-1334) issued a papal bull, not against the theory but against the practical results of the new art. He wanted to ensure that the sanctity of the Divine Office and that the tranquility of plainsong was maintained. The new pieces, he complained, were agitated by short notes and disturbed by hockets and the plainsong was made unrecognizable by the rhythmic treatment to which it is subjected. In fact, the pope condemned all such music, insisting that the only allowable polyphony be that with the simple addition of consonant harmonies, such as the octave, the fifth, and the fourth, and those few only on feast days. Most musicians thought that the simplicity was inadequate, though, and the bull was promulgated by 1324. That’s right. The Ars Nova movement was considered a menace!

In addition to the red notes, another innovation from de Vitry was the dot after a note to indicate both the lengthening of a note (as in modern notation), and to divide one group of notes from another as an aid in syncopation, a precursor to measure lines.

De Vitry meant his treatise to describe French music specifically, but it raises the question of the new styles in other countries. Italian music had already moved on, so the Ars Nova period doesn’t apply there. Spain and Northern Germany also resisted the new style. The English liked it and Poland accepted it, both influenced by Southern Germany. This difference is part of why it’s so hard to define when the Renaissance happened. Each nation had its own cultural preferences and influences, but by the Baroque era, everyone was on the same page—it only took 150 years or so.

Only two years after de Vitry’s treatise showed up, Marchetto de Padua (fl.1305-1319) published his own treatise, Pomerium, in 1318. This treatise described Italian forms of notation, including the same minim idea and comparing the French and Italian rhythmic methods. Marchettus dedicated Pomerium to Robert of Anjou (1309-1343), and de Vitry also dedicated a motet to him, so he was probably an important patron for musicians.

Roman de Fauvel

The Roman de Fauvel (1310-1320) is an allegorical poem by the French royal clerk Gervais de Bus (dates unknown) and Chaillou de Pesstain (even less is known about this fellow). It tells the story of a curry- (or fauve) colored horse that rises to prominence in the French royal court. The poem consists of 12 lavish manuscripts replete with poetry, 77 colorful miniatures, and 169 pieces of music that span the gamut of 13th and early 14th century genres.

Just for fun because I’m a bit of a word geek, it’s this collection that led to the expression “to curry Fauvel” which has been corrupted to “curry favor” in English, in reference to everyone, starting with popes and kings, currying (or pandering to) the sins represented by the letters in the horse’s name (Flattery, Avarice, Guile [which begins with a V in French], Variety [inconstancy, in French], Envy, and Cowardice {begins with an L in French]).

Gervais de Bus completed the first part of the poem (1226 lines) in 1310 and the second part (2054 lines) in 1314. By 1316, Chaillou de Pesstain completed collecting the music. These seem to have come from a variety of sources and include diverse musical styles. There are 34 motets and there are monophonic songs in even greater numbers. Most have Latin texts. Over 50 of the monophonic songs are liturgical chants. There are also some conductus pieces (see Composer Biography: Perotin for more on conductus).

Fauvel contains songs with French texts including four lais, four rondeaux, and nine ballades, two of which have the musical and poetic form of the virelai. Shorter entries with French texts include 15 refrains and 12 brief quotations of “sottes chansons” (foolish songs). Finally, a complete duplum (two-part conductus) with French text has been extracted from a motet and broken into 11 fragments, each of which is followed by text explaining it.

Much of de Vitry’s literary output is lost, but he probably wrote the poetic texts of his surviving motets. The earliest of these appear in the Roman de Fauvel, and some of the monophonic songs there may also be de Vitry’s.

In the Roman de Fauvel, de Vitry concentrates on religious or political subjects, attacking, for instance, an unidentified hypocritical “Hugo” who was an enemy of Robert of Anjou (1277-1343), King of Naples. He also wrote a piece in celebration of the election of Clement VI (1291-1352) as Pope in 1342.

His works in Fauvel depart from the modes, a kind of “new lyricism,” according to one source. There’s also hocketing (a way of alternating voices that sounds a lot like hiccupping) and full harmony on accented syllables, although it’s not full-on harmony as would come in the century after.

The most interesting aspect (to me, anyway) is that de Vitry used red notes in Fauvel to indicate a change in rhythm, indicating the difference between a cantus planus (without rhythm or regularity) and cantus mensurabilis (rhythmic and regular). He also used them to show that the rhythm was changing from three (triplum) to two (duplum), that the melody was to be sung up an octave, that a note should be altered by a half step (an accidental) to prevent a note from being a perfect fifth or fourth, and to change the meter to cut-time (twice as fast).

When red notes weren’t available, “vacant” notes—white with black outlines—replaced them, and soon red notes weren’t used at all because the white notes were more convenient. Red notes survived well into the 15th century in the more elaborate manuscripts, especially in England.

White notes were used for special purposes in the Italian trecento. In the first part of the 15th century, white notes replaced black ones for all the values, and in the latter half of that century, the semi-minim lost its tail and became black, and notes of shorter value—also black—appeared with increasing frequency until the same divisions we have today (white for everything from a half note—minim—and larger, and black for the quarter note—semi-minim—and smaller). (For more about this, see The History of Music Notation.)

The Robertsbridge Codex

Two of de Vitry’s motets are in the earliest known collection of keyboard music, the Robertsbridge Codex. It’s part of a collection that includes an old church registry at the Robertsbridge Abbey in Sussex, England. It’s probably as old as 1325 and is roughly contemporary with the Roman de Fauvel.

De Vitry’s motets were probably meant to be played on a small organ or an eschiquier (a small harpsichord). The only trouble was that the player had to read the music from two separate pages simultaneously. At the time, organ tablature involved writing the highest voice on a staff and the rest were in letters of the alphabet written below them. The highest part wasn’t just written out, though. It was colored in and surrounded with decorative figuration, a term that survives until today: it’s where we get the term “coloratura.”

In total, 14 motets are attributed to de Vitry, but only four have been authenticated with any certainty.

De Vitry’s original approach to composition established a hierarchic concept for voices, in which the sustained tenor had a clearly defined structural foundation. He combined the slow-moving and patterned tenor with a superstructure of two faster moving voices, which created increased melodic and contrapuntal flexibility. Of the 14 motets that can be ascribed to him, none has a chant-like tenor as cantus firmus (so it’s much like modern music in that way), and only one uses French texts. His structural use of isorhythm clearly influenced Guillaume Machaut (c1300-1377). Machaut based some of his motets on de Vitry’s, as is made clear by the structural complexity that occasionally seems like an effort to outdo de Vitry.

Only one love song came from de Vitry during the age of chivalry. It’s a French motet, but the lost or unidentified ballades, lais, and rondeaux he is said to have written were concerned with love and in French.

He may be seldom performed any more, but pretty much everything else that came since is beholden to Philippe de Vitry—modern music notation grew from his ideas.


“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“The Encyclopedia of Music,” by Max Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson. Anness Publishing, Ltd., Wigston, 2012.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York 1981.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” edited by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960.

“Music in the Medieval World,” by Albert Seay. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, 1965.

“Early Medieval Music up to 1300,” edited by Dom Anselm Hughes. Oxford University Press, London, 1954.

“The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900-1600,” by Willi Apel. The Mediaevel Academy of America, Cambridge, 1961.

“Medieval Music,” by Richard Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1998.

“Music in the Middle Ages,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1940.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University o California Press at Berkeley, Berkeley, 1997.

Composer Biography: Francesco Landini (c1325-1397)

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Also Franciscus caecus, Francesco il cieco, Francesco degli organi and Ferancesco da Firenze. Florentine sources never use a surname, but called him Franciscus de organis or Francesco degli orghanij.

Francesco Landini is probably the most well-known composer, poet, and performer from 14th century Italy. He was—and is—often considered the Italian counterpart of Flemish composer and poet Guillaume Machaut. Both were endowed with considerable talent, although musically, Machaut explored every compositional innovation of the time, and Landini limited himself to only a few. Landini’s music represents about a quarter of the surviving Italian music from the period and it’s preserved in diverse sources in Florence and elsewhere.

Landini’s father was Jacopo del Casentino (c1297-1358), a noted painter in the school of Giotto di Bondone (c1267-1337). He (Francesco) was born in northern Italy, probably Florence or in nearby Fiesole. His great-nephew, the humanist Cristoforo Landino (1424-1498), was his biographer, and lists his birthplace as Fiesole, but Francesco had been dead for 27 years when Cristoforo was born, so there’s no way to know if it’s accurate or family folklore.

Blinded by smallpox before he was a teenager, Landini studied music instead of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a painter. He also studied the seven liberal arts (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical theory, dialectic, rhetoric, and grammar), plus philosophy and astrology.

He learned to play the lute, the organ, and other instruments, he sang, he wrote about philosophy, religion, and politics, he wrote poetry, and, of course, he wrote music. He invented instruments, including a stringed instrument called the syrena syrenarum that combined features of the lute and the psaltery, and is believed to be the ancestor of the bandura (a Ukrainian folk instrument that has a flat playing surface like that of the psaltery or zither and is long-necked like a lute).

Jacopo da Bologna (fl.1340-c1386) was Landini’s teacher on the organ before 1351. Landini was gifted and his talents brought him attention from the other notables of the time—he was friends with poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). He also spent time in northern Italy prior to 1370, and wrote a motet dedicated to Andrea Contarini (d.1382), who was Doge of Venice from 1368-1382. Landini’s music is well represented in northern Italian collections, so he probably spent considerable time there.

Landini became organist at the Florentine monastery of Santa Trinita in 1361 and at the church of San Lorenzo from 1365 onward. He was heavily involved in politics and religious controversies, but managed to stay in the good graces of the authorities anyway.

He was crowned with a laurel wreath in Venice by King Peter of Cyprus (1328-1369) upon the recommendation of a jury that included his good friend Petrarch. He was also employed by the Veronese court and visited northern Italy from Florence, serving, as usual, as an organist.

Petrarch wasn’t Landini’s only literary pal. He also wrote to and received letters from poet and novelist Franco Sacchetti (c1330-c1400).

Landini is a principal character in Giovanni da Prato’s Paradiso degli Alberti, which is a narrative poem from around 1425 that records scenes and conversations in Florence. Prato includes a legendary incident regarding Landini’s skill as a performer: On a very hot day, the audience remained in the shade, with a thousand birds singing in the treetops. Landini played the organ to see whether the birds would respond in kind. At first, many of the birds fell silent. But then they resumed their song and sang even more enthusiastically than before. One nightingale in particular seemed to be enjoying it, and it came over and perched on a branch above Landini’s head.

He knew most of the other Italian composers of the time, including Lorenzo da Firenze (d. c1372), who was also at Santa Trinita, and Andreas da Florentia (d. 1415), whom he knew in the 1370s. Around 1375, Andreas hired Landini as a consultant on the organ construction at the Servite house (one of the mendicant orders of Catholicism) in Florence. Records of receipts for wine show that it took the two of them three days to tune the organ. Landini also helped build the new organ at the Basilica Santissima Annunziata in 1379. Also in 1379, Landini was paid 9 solidi for writing 5 motets—a rare record of payment to a composer. In 1387, he was involved in building an organ at the Florence Cathedral.

He was the master of many instruments, especially the organetto, a small portative organ. According to 14th century chronicler Filippo Villani (fl. late 14th century, early 15th), Landini played the organetto “as readily as though he had the use of his eyes, with a touch of such rapidity (yet always observing the measure), with such skill and sweetness, that beyond all doubt he excelled all organists within memory.”

After the 1370s, he was organist and cappellanus at San Lorenzo, where he would be buried in 1397.

Now to the music. There’s not a lot of difference in the trecento between the French and Italian idioms—relatively few Italian composers for the whole century were innovators (a failure for which they would make up in spades in the coming centuries). So if you heard music from the 14th century, it would sound much the same if the composer were Flemish, French, English, or Italian. (The English would really branch out during the Tudor years—for more on that, read my post On Henry VIII’s MP3 Player.)

Landini displayed his Italian heritage by performing outdoors (as was the style in Italy and you saw it in Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron.” Boccaccio lived from 1313-1375), and by describing the outdoors in his texts. The intention was to move the listener rather than to charm or challenge, like in the French and English styles.

There are records of Landini writing sacred music, but it’s all lost. At the time, Italian church music was Gregorian chant. Polyphonic liturgical music was the occasional exception, but it was even more rare in Italy than elsewhere in Europe.

Two-part religious polyphony was the new rage all over Europe from Spain to Poland and in all the lands peripheral to French musical culture. But the only complete polyphonic Italian Mass of the period was a composite: the Gloria and Agnus Dei were by Gherardello da Firenze (biography to come), the Credo by “Frate Bartholino” (Bartholus de Florentia, fl. c1410-1425), and the Sanctus by Lorenzo da Firenze (biography to come). Paolo da Firenza (biography to come) contributed a three-part Benedicamus Domino in a later style, with a chant tenor in long-note values—the cantus firmus that is evidence of the French influence.

With none of his sacred music available, it’s possible to assume that the bulk of Landini’s work was secular, the polyphonic ballata, which was the Italian version of the virelai (a musical format, possibly the descendent of troubadour songs). It wasn’t a new form, as Gherardello da Firenze had already written some, along with others of Landini’s predecessors and peers.

Landini wielded the polyphonic ballata masterfully. His earlier works are predominantly in two parts, with both parts sung or one sung and the other instrumental, and occasionally in three parts, sometimes entirely vocal but most often with an instrumental tenor or countertenor.

Landini used the new French notation, although, as he was blind, it was someone else who wrote his music down. (If you want to know about the whole history of music notation, check out The History of Music Notation.)

French notation used a six-line staff (the Italians were using a four-line staff with ledger lines for individual notes that exceeded the four-line range). They used dots to separate one breve (the shortest note value in medieval music—modern music uses this term for the longest note) from the next. Breves had downward-extending diagonal stems that indicated a longer note. There were also flagged stems on minims and dragmas (other flavors of notation indicating duration) that indicated triplets, duplets, and quadruplets, plus one-note ligatures that indicated a held note (like across-the-bar in modern notation).

At any rate, as I mentioned, most of his surviving works are ballata, of which roughly two-thirds are for two voices and one third is for three voices. His style ranges from simple dance-songs to intricate canonic (Bach would later be a fan of this style, where a melody is cascaded among voice parts) or isorhythmic forms, synthesizing the Italian style of his predecessors with French influences, and displaying a distinctive gift for melody.

He frequently used what would later be called the “Landini-cadence,” especially in upper parts. (It’s also called the Landini 6th) This name was given to a cadential formula (a sequence of notes that indicates the end of a piece or a change from verse to chorus) in which the 6th degree of the scale (in the do-re-mi sense) is interposed between the leading note (the penultimate note of the scale) and its resolution to the tonic or final degree (the “do” note). Examples appear aplenty in the music of Landini, but it was already common, and it appears in 15th and 16th century polyphony as well.

The Landini cadence can also be heard in the songs of Gilles Binchois. Gherardello da Firenze is the earliest composer to use the cadence whose works have survived, and he was roughly Landini’s contemporary.

Hardly any poetry or texts for Landini’s music can be securely attributed to him, although the texts of the autobiographical songs, in the Italian dolce stil novo that are associated with Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch are presumably his. He was a distinguished poet in his own time, though, and he was awarded poetic honors in Venice.

Of his 140 ballata, 89 are for two voices, 42 are for three, and nine survive in both two- and three-part versions. The two-part ballata are presumed to be his earlier works and resemble madrigals in texture, with two texted vocal parts. Many of the three-part ballata are in a treble-dominated style that feature a solo voice with two untexted accompanying parts that were most likely sung, like in Machaut’s canons.

In his entirely vocal two-part ballata, the upper voices were more florid than the lower. Some of the pieces are so regularly rhythmic that they were probably intended as dances. It’s his three-part ballata that are his most incredible, with a modern “consonant” sound, a kind of musical foreshadowing of what was to come (chords and harmonies).

Only one of his three-part pieces was transcribed for keyboard. It can be found in the Codex Reina.

His music tends to be smooth and melodic rather than dissonant—you have to remember that chords and harmony hadn’t been invented yet. He wrote particularly sweet harmonies. Sonorities containing thirds and sixths are plentiful, though they never begin or end a section or a piece.

His vocal melodies are charming, arranged in arching phrases and often moving step-wise. They’re decorated with varied and occasionally syncopated rhythms, but are smoother in both pitch contour and rhythm than most melodies by Machaut, to whom he is most often compared. Melismas (wiggly melodies) on the first and penultimate syllables of a poetic line are characteristic of the Italian style, as is the clear, almost syllabic declamation of melody between melismas.

The end of every line, and often the first word and the mid-point or caesura (pausing point) of a line, is marked by a cadence, frequently the Landini cadence, and consist of a lower voice descending by steps, and the upper voice decorating its ascent by first descending to the lower neighbor and then skipping up a third—the Landini cadence. This cadence became ubiquitous in both French and Italian music in the late 14th and early 15th century.

In addition to his 140 ballata, he wrote 12 madrigals (texted polyphony, like a motet), one caccia (like a round, but more complex), and one virelai (the French version of a ballata).

There are two modern editions of Landini’s and other trecento secular repertory prior to Johannes Ciconia: Leonard Ellinwood’s “The Works of Francesco Landini,” and Leo Schrade’s “The Works of Francesco Landini, Polyphonic Music of the 14th Century.”

The two known likenesses of Landini depict him as blind—his eyes are closed and darkened—and both show him holding a portative organ. One image is carved on his tombstone in San Lorenzo, Florence. The other is a painting in the Squarcialupi Codex, where he is shown seated at his organetto. The painting has a decorative border that includes a psaltery, three kinds of lute, and another small portative organ, played by St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music and musicians.

Landini is buried at San Lorenzo, Florence. His gravestone was lost until the 19th century, but is now displayed at the church, replete with the carving.


“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978.

“A Dictionary of Early Music; From the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome & Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music,” edited by Ross W. Duffin. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2000.

“Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Middle Ages,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1940.

“The Notation of Polyphonic Music 900-1600,” by Willi Apel. The Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge, 1961.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1 Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960.

“Medieval Music,” by Richard Hippin. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1978.