Francesco Landini


Born: 1325; Florence, Italy   Died: September 2, 1397; Florence, Italy  
Francesco Landini was the most celebrated musician in the first school of polyphonic music in Italy. Landini was born in Fiesole on the outskirts of Florence, the son of Jacopo del Casentino, a painter and student of Giotto. A childhood bout with smallpox left him blind, and he took refuge in music; he reputedly played several instruments, but mastered the organ. Landini was famed for his ability on the organetto, a small portative organ that was Read more pumped with one hand and played with the other. In the two surviving portraits of the composer, Landini is shown with this instrument. Landini is also a featured character in a 1389 romanza by Giovanni da Prato; in it the "sweetness and harmony" of Landini's organetto playing is said to have been capable of charming the birds down out of the trees. He most likely studied with Jacopo da Bologna and Giovanni da Cascia and was largely based in Northern Italy before 1365. He helped build the organs installed in the St. Annunziata and Florence cathedrals in 1379 and 1387 respectively. Landini was named choirmaster at the church of St. Lorenzo in Florence in 1365, a post that he held until his death in 1397.

Landini was the most popular musician in Italy in the fourteenth century, and 154 works are known to have been written by him, constituting more than a quarter of all surviving polyphonic music from the Italian trecento. Of his pieces, all but 14 are two and three-part ballate, a loose form of song perhaps following French models, with a refrain or ritornello. Some of these ballate were very popular; the ballata Questa fanciulla, Amor is found in five different manuscripts, including some that set the music to sacred texts. Orsu, gentili spiriti is mentioned by name in the da Prato romanza. The short phrases and catchy rhythm of Ecco la primavera seem to project a popular, uncultivated feel, and all of Landini's surviving music is based on secular subjects. Fragments of sacred motets ascribed to Landini are known, but their authenticity remains unclear. He also wrote 12 works known as "Madrigali"; these are not sixteenth century madrigals but more resemble an expanded form of conductus. A French virelai, Adiu, adiu, dous dame and a Pesch, or fishing caccia, Cosi pensoso, round out his known works.

Landini's music is rhythmically very free, incorporating bits of hocket, syncopation, and allusions to dance steps. There are florid figurations in some parts that are clearly intended as instrumental rather than vocal, and in his late works Landini sometimes includes an untexted part that appears to have an accompanimental function. The harmonic feature that bears his name, the "Landini" or "under-third" cadence (in which the melodic line drops briefly to a third before the final note), appears commonly throughout his works, but also can be found in earlier French works. After Landini however, the under-third cadence appears with greater frequency, and it became a key element in Italian music of the fifteenth century. Composers of later generations believed that this figure originated with Landini himself. Landini was also a noted improviser and poet, and is believed to have written many of his own texts. Contemporary accounts also allude to his skill as a philosopher and astrologer. Read less

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