In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Girolamo Frescobaldi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Catalogues and Reference Works
  • Modern and Facsimile Editions
  • Collections of Essays and Conference Proceedings
  • Printed Sources
  • Manuscript Sources
  • Patronage
  • Influences and Transmission

Music Girolamo Frescobaldi
Christine Jeanneret
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0088


Even during his lifetime, Girolamo Frescobaldi (b. 1583–d. 1643) was considered a prodigious virtuoso as well as one of the greatest composers for keyboard music in a new style. He was born in Ferrara and trained there under Luzzasco Luzzaschi. In 1608 he succeeded Ercole Pasquini at the organ of St. Peter in Rome, a position he was to retain all his life, except for two short stays in Mantua (1615) and Florence (1628–1634). Frescobaldi was the first significant composer to write instrumental music almost exclusively. He invented a fertile and imaginative musical language for keyboard, best exemplified in his two books of Toccate (1615 and 1627, with substantial revisions in 1637). Rooted in the Ferrarese tradition of Franco-Flemish counterpoint, he drew from both Venetian and Neapolitan traditions, as well as from the chromaticism of the late madrigal and the expressiveness of recitative to invent a unique style. His compositions range from pieces in strict contrapuntal style, based on ingenious games on soggetti, inganni, obblighi, and other contrapuntal artifacts to the free style of the toccatas, dances and variations based on popular tunes or ostinatos, as well as the traditional liturgical pieces such as masses, versets, and Magnificats. Frescobaldi had a strong and lasting influence both in Italy and abroad. Organists from his circle in Rome include Giovanni Battista Ferrini and Fabrizio Fontana. Johann Jakob Froberger studied with him in Rome, and Bernardo Pasquini copied Frescobaldi’s Fantasie in a manuscript preserved in D-B Mus.Ms.L121. Johann Joseph Fux uses his Fiori musicali as a model in the Gradus ad Parnassum. His contrapuntal pieces were copied by significant composers such as Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, and Johann Nikolaus Forkel. During the 19th century, pieces by Frescobaldi were published by Muzio Clementi (1801), Louise and Aristide Farrenc (1861–1874), Franz Xaver Haberl (1889), and Luigi Torchi (1898), among others. Scholarly research effectively started with Haberl studies at the end of the 19th century, inaugurating a long tradition.

General Overviews

Both Hammond and Silbiger 1999 and Mischiati 1998 provide detailed articles on Frescobaldi that can serve as a good starting point. Hammond 2002 remains the most important and comprehensive study. Silbiger 2004 and Carter and Butt 2005 are not dedicated exclusively to Frescobaldi but give excellent overviews of the context. Gallico 1986 is a biographical study in Italian.

  • Carter, Tim, and John Butt, eds. The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521792738

    This collaborative volume reflects the latest scholarship and issues. The chapter by Alexander Silbiger on solo instrumental music gives a good insight on keyboard performance, instruments, repertoire, and sources.

  • Gallico, Claudio. Girolamo Frescobaldi: L’affetto, l’ordito, le metamorfosi. Florence: Sansoni, 1986.

    Outdated but still worth reading for the original vision of the author in recounting the biography; with a study of the published works, a catalogue of the original editions, a brief catalogue of manuscripts, and a bibliography.

  • Hammond, Frederick. Girolamo Frescobaldi. Rev. ed. Translated by Roberto Pagano. Constellatio Musica 8. Palermo, Italy: L’Epos, 2002.

    Originally published in English in 1983 by Harvard University Press, this study remains the best introduction to Frescobaldi’s life and works. Includes discussions of Frescobaldi’s instruments and performance practice, as well as a catalogue, a bibliography, and a discography.

  • Hammond, Frederick, and Alexander Silbiger. “Frescobaldi, Girolamo Alessandro.” In Grove Music Online: Oxford Music Online. 1999.

    Overview of Frescobaldi’s life and works with a discussion of compositions grouped by genre and chapters on sources studies, pupils, and reception history. Includes a list of works and a bibliography up to 1999.

  • Mischiati, Oscar. “Frescobaldi, Girolamo.” In Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani Online. 1998.

    Detailed overview of Frescobaldi’s life and works based on sources. Includes a summary list of manuscripts, a list of historical editions from Spiridione onward, a list of modern editions, and a detailed bibliography up to 1998 with many sources listed.

  • Silbiger, Alexander, ed. Keyboard Music before 1700. 2d rev. ed. Routledge Studies in Musical Genres 1. New York: Routledge, 2004.

    Organized by countries and exclusively dedicated to keyboard music, the book includes chapters on notation, repertories, genre, and performance practice. Robert Judd’s chapter on Italy is an enlightening introduction to Frescobaldi and the historical context. With guides to literature and editions for every country.

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