Paolo da Firenze

Biography

Born: 1355; Florence, Italy   Died: September 20, 1436; Florence, Italy  
From the musically fruitful period of the fourteenth century in Italy, two composers' music survives in somewhat disproportionate abundance, that of Francesco Landini and Paolo da Firenze. Firenze was born sometime around 1355, probably into a humble family. He had at least three brothers and his father was named Marco. He was ordained as a Benedictine monk in about 1380. By this time, he was likely already active as a singer and may have worked Read more professionally in music before taking his vows. In 1401 he was made abbot of the monastery of S Martino al Pino, near Arezzo. By 1417, he had been made rector at the church of S Maria Annunziata Virgine (usually known as Orbatello) in Florence, and seems to have taken up residence in that city as early as 1406. A number of men with similar names have been thought to be the composer, a controversy slightly cleared up by his will, but which continues because of the existence of other local monks and an abbot of the same first name. The irregular distribution of his music has also caused its share of scholarly headaches. It is expected that the works of the second-most prolific Italian composer of the trecento would show up in more places than they do. However, the majority of Firenze's music is found in a single Florentine manuscript, while all the other important manuscripts of the period contain nothing of him. To compound the frustration, there are two entire manuscripts that were obviously prepared for his works, one with a portrait of him in the frontispiece, but which remained empty. Some fragments of manuscripts, which are neither complete nor legible enough for use, seem also to be entirely devoted to his works, suggesting that the scattering is an unlikely historical accident, not indicative of the opinion in which he was held. His catalog now contains somewhere between 33 and 61 works, depending on whose list it is, those works mainly being madrigals and ballata. The best pieces show inventive use of meter, surprising textures, and unusual tonal schemes, which are alone enough to earn Firenze credit as a highly individual composer. Another reason that the count of his works fluctuates is that Firenze himself, possibly recognizing which of his works were second rate and being concerned with posterity, seems to have suppressed the ascriptions of lesser works wherever he could. Thus what is left are "anonymous" pieces in certain manuscripts that Firenze had a hand in producing, while the same pieces are elsewhere credited as his. The most outstanding pieces, of course, all have unquestionable ascriptions to him. Either way, it's clear that he was highly influential both as a composer and theorist, as well as a man of the cloth. His resignation as abbot of S Martino al Pino is dated June 16, 1433. He died sometime after September 21, 1436, which is the date of his will. Read less