Francesco Landini

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Blind poet-organist of the ars nova era; b. Fiesole, Italy, c. 1325; d. Florence, Sept. 2, 1397. His father was the painter Jacopo del Casentino. Francesco, blinded by smallpox in early childhood, probably studied music under Jacopo da Bologna, developing a prodigious memory and great skill at improvisation. He also worked in philosophy and astrology, and supported the theories of william of ockham. He was crowned poet laureate at a Venetian festival in 1364. At least nine of his musical compositions are known to be settings of his own verses, and many anonymous verses he set are possibly his. Although he was for many years organist at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, his only surviving organ piece is an arrangement of one of his own love songs. An account book of Andrea de'Servi shows that he was paid for five motets, but no sacred works of his are known today. He is considered the most prolific ars nova composer of 14th-century Italy. There survive 12 madrigals, a caccia, and 142 ballate set for voices and instruments in two or three parts. Both his portrait in the Squarcialupi Codex (Florence, Bibl. Medicea Laurenziana, Pal. 87) and his tombstone at San Lorenzo show a blind figure holding a small lap-organ or organetto, on which he could accompany his own singing, as described in Giovanni da Prato's II Paradiso degli Alberti (1389).

Bibliography: Works, ed. l. ellinwood (Cambridge, Mass.1939). f. villani, Liber de Civitatis Florentiae Famosis Civibus, ed. g. c. galletti (Florence 1847). l. schrade, ed., Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century, 4 v. (Monaco 195658) v. 4. l. ellinwood, "The Fourteenth Century in Italy," New Oxford History of Music, ed. j. a. westrup, 11 v. (New York 1957) 3:7780. n. pirrotta, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 8:163168. p. gargiulo, ed., Dolcissime Armonie: nel sesto centenario della morte di Francesco Landini (Florence 1997). m. p. long, "Francesco Landini and the Florentine Cultural Élite," in Early Music History 3: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music, ed. i. fenlon (Cambridge, Eng.1983) 8399; "Landini's Musical Patrimony: A Reassessment of Some Compositional Conventions in Trecento Polyphony," Journal of the American Musicological Society, 40 (1987) 3152. n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (8th ed. New York 1992) 1002. k. von fischer, "Francesco Landini," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. s. sadie, v. 10 (New York 1980) 428434.

[l. ellinwood]

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Francesco Landini

Francesco Landini (ca. 1335-1397), the greatest Italian composer before the late 16th century, was also a poet.

Italian art music first came to the fore in the middle third of the 14th century. Earlier music—and there certainly was much of it—seems to have been largely confined to monophony: Gregorian chants and the songs of the troubadours and of St. Francis of Assisi. Then, suddenly, polyphonic music began to flourish in the mid-14th century, particularly in Florence, culminating in the work of the poet-musician Francesco Landini.

The son of a painter, Landini became blind in childhood because of smallpox; but he acquired great virtuosity on the organ, built organs, and invented a new stringed instrument, probably similar to the harpsichord, which emerged during his time.

Although honored as a poet in both Latin and Italian, Landini's extant poems are almost exclusively for his own musical compositions. These, although many seem to be lost, constitute about a quarter of all Italian music surviving from the period 1340-1480. They found widespread popularity and reappear in many manuscripts and in arrangements for keyboard instruments. Only one small fragment of a motet has come to light, although Landini is known to have written quite a number. What remains are 154 secular songs, which are of three types, madrigals, caccie, and ballate, all in two or three voice parts.

The madrigal, very different from the more familiar 16th-century type, was the first Italian poetry set to music; hence its name, which means "in the mother tongue." It flourished particularly in the generation before Landini. His 11 madrigals are usually composed for two or three vocalists, but voices and instruments may combine on each melodic line. Each madrigal consists of two musically different sections, the first serving the two or three three-line sections of the poem and the second one the concluding two lines of text.

The caccia—the same word as the English "catch"— was a hunting or fishing song, set in the form of a canon or round. Its poetic form is that of the madrigal, so that each caccia falls into two canonic sections. In some madrigals, also, one of the two sections may be composed as a canon. Only two of Landini's caccie are extant.

The rest of Landini's output are ballate, essentially songs for a solo voice with the accompaniment of one or two instruments, though some of them are written for two or three voices. Their poetic form differs from that of the madrigal, for a refrain, modeled after the second section of the stanza and sung to the same melody, was sung at the beginning of the ballata and repeated after each of the usually three stanzas.

With his lyrical, songlike melody Landini stands out among his contemporaries. His songs possess an easy-flowing grace and are charmingly harmonized. The texts are in part by him and in part by his Florentine compatriot Franco Sacchetti. Their subjects are quite varied: religion, love, convivial companionship, and historical events.

Further Reading

A good account of Landini's achievements is in Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music (1960). Alec Harman, Medieval and Early Renaissance Music (1958), is also recommended. □

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Landini, Francesco

Landini, Francesco (also known as Franciscus Landino, Francesco degli orehany, Magister Franciscus de Florentia, Magister Franciscus Cecus Horghanista de Florentia, and Cechus de Florentia), important Italian composer; b. probably in Florence, c. 1325; d. there, Sept. 2, 1397. His father was the painter Jacopo Del Casentino, co-founder of Florence’s guild of painters (1339). After being blinded by smallpox as a child, Francesco turned to music; he learned to play the organ and other instruments and also sang. He became well known as an organist, organ builder, organ tuner, and instrument maker, and he was also active as a poet. He was organist at the monastery of S. Trinità (1361), and cappellanus at the church of S. Lorenzo from 1365 until his death. His output is particularly significant, for it represents about a quarter of extant Italian 14th-century music. Some 154 works have been identified as his, including 90 ballate for 2 Voices, 42 for 3 Voices, and 8 in both 2- and 3-part versions; 9 madrigals for 2 or 3 Voices; 1 French virelai; 1 caccia. See L. Ellinwood, ed., The Works of Francesco Landini (Cambridge, Mass., 1939; 2nd ed., 1945), J. Wolf, ed., Der Squarcialupi-Codex Pal. 87 der Biblioteca medicea laurenziana zu Florenz (Lippstadt, 1955), and L. Schrade, ed., The Works of Francesco Landini, Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century, IV (1958).


G. Galletti, ed., Philippi Villani liber de civitatis Florentiae famosis civibus (c. 1400; Florence, 1847); H. Nolthenius, Renaissance in Mei: Florentijns leven rond F. Landino (Utrecht, 1956); D. Baumann, Die dreistimmige Satztechnik bei F. L. (Baden-Baden, 1978).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Francesco Landini



An Eminent Organist and Composer.

Francesco Landini (1325–1397) was the most renowned Italian composer of the fourteenth century. His father was a painter and a member of Giotto's circle of artists in Florence. As the result of smallpox in his youth, Francesco was blind, an affliction that kept him from taking up the profession of his father but did not prevent him from pursuing a distinguished career as an organist, organ builder, singer, poet, and composer. He is described as poet, composer, and performer by Giovanni da Prato in his 1389 Il Paradiso degli Alberti: "He plays his love verses so sweetly that no one had ever heard such beautiful harmonies, and their hearts almost burst from their bosoms." Landini was buried in the Florentine Church of San Lorenzo, where his tombstone depicts him holding a portative organ, one of the symbols of a revered musician. He is similarly portrayed in a miniature illumination in the Squarcialupi Codex, one of the most important sources of late medieval Italian music. His compositions were all secular and almost all in a single form, the ballata, written for two and three voices. In addition to having written excellent musical compositions, Landini was influential in the adoption of the French compositional style by Italians.


The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 29 vols. 2nd ed. Ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2001).

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Landini, Francesco [ Francesco Landino] (b Florence, 1325; d Florence, 1397). It. composer, who lost his sight as child but played org., lute, fl., and other instrs. Comp. madrigals and over 140 ballate (type of virelai). Org., monastery of S. Trinità, Florence, 1361; capellanus, church of S. Lorenzo, 1365–97.