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Paolo Tenorista

Biography

In the late fourteenth century, Florence had been the musical center of Italy for more than 50 years. Beginning with composers such as Gherardello da Firenze, Donato da Firenze, and Lorenzo Masini, and continuing with the like of Francesco Landini, Andrea da Firenze, Bartolino da Padova, and Nicolò da Parugia, Florentine composers had dominated the musical landscape. They had popularized and made the greatest contribution to the corpus of the Read more Italian dance-forms, the ballata, madrigale, and caccia.

One of the last known composers of the Florentine trecento was Paolo Tenorista. He is second only to Landini in the number of works attributed to him, composing two sacred works, 11 madrigals and 22 ballate. There are a further 15 ballate tentatively attributed to him. Yet we know very little about the man himself. We have no idea of his birth date or place, but we know that he died in September 1419 at the monastery of S. Viti in Arezzo. He was an abbot in the Camaldolese order, a branch of the Benedictines. He was possibly a member of the Leoni family of Florence and had close ties with the powerful Capponi family. He seems to have moved in the same circles as Landini and Andrea da Firenze. He was a good performer, as the Tenorista (or performers of the tenor line of a polyphonic work from whence Paolo draws his appellation) were skilled and more highly paid than other musicians.

Paolo's musical style is a mixture of the conservative and the progressive. Nowhere is this more evident than in his madrigals. For example, his two-voice madrigals are texted in the traditional Italian manner with both the tenor and cantus texted. Yet rhythmically, they preempt the increasing French influence in their highly complicated rhythms. Ten of the 11 madrigals are in the more archaic two-voice form, but Godi Firenze, written in 1406 to celebrate the Florentine victory over Pisa, is a more progressive three-voice madrigal. Some madrigals are notated in the traditional Italian notational system, some in the increasingly influential French and others in hybrid system, as if Paolo wanted to utilize the best features from each.

His ballate are more progressive as a corpus than his madrigals. Paolo is the sole major trecento composer whose three-voice ballate (numbering 20) outnumber the two-voice (of which there are six). His three-voice ballate follow Landini's example and text either the cantus only (in the French style) or text the cantus and tenor leaving the contratenor to be performed instrumentally. Particularly his later works have the intense lyricism and intellectual approach of the late-medieval - early-Renaissance mannered composer.

Paolo's work survives in four manuscripts and one fragment: the manuscripts Lucca, Archivo di Stato (the Mancini codex); London, British Museum add. mss. 29987, Paris, BNF fonds italien 568, Paris BNF nouv acq. Frc. 6771 (the Reina codex) and the Lowinsky Fragment in Berkeley, CA. The famous Squarcialupi codex contains a miniature of Paolo and 31 pages of ruled staves, but no music was ever entered, perhaps because Paolo spent his final years away from Florence.

With Paolo's death, Florence's dominance of Italian music drew to an end. Perhaps reflecting this decline, Paolo himself probably spent the last years of his life away from Florence. The northern cities such as Milan and Venice became dominant during the fifteenth century, but even they were largely subservient to English music, which rose in importance to dominate the early Renaissance. Read less
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