Distinguished baroque composer and Vatican organist; b. Ferrara, c. August 1583; d. Rome, March 1, 1643. As a youth he had a voice of great beauty, and studied organ with Francesco Milleville, a Ferrarese who became organist of Voltera. In 1694 he became organist and cantor of the Congregation of St. Cecilia. He was appointed organist of Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome, in January 1607, but left in June for a year in the Netherlands.
At Antwerp Frescobaldi published his first volume of five-part madrigals (Phalese 1608) and returned to Italy, where he published his second book of four-voice fantasies in Milan (1608). In November 1608 he was appointed organist at St. Peter's, Rome, where, according to G. Baini, 30,000 persons came to hear his first performance. Dissatisfied with the pay, he took a leave of absence
in 1628, to be organist to Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in Florence. Because of political upheaval, he left Florence in April 1634 and was directly reinstated at St. Peter's, where he played until his death. Some records mention him as organist of S. Lorenzo in Montibus during his last year. J. J. froberger was his pupil from September 1637 to April 1641 and handed down his method, spreading it to Germany.
His music is remarkable for its high intelligence and artistic taste. All his extraordinary talents are combined in one work, the Ricercare con obligo di cantare la quinta parte senza toccarla, from the Messa della Madonna, of the Fiori Musicali. Here it is provided that a fifth part, a theme of six notes, may be superimposed over the four manual parts, presumably to be sung by the player. The realization by Guilmant has been reprinted by Bonnet and others. Although best known for his organ works, he composed a comparable number of choral and instrumental pieces. Transcriptions of his better-known instrumental works have been made by B. Bartók, O. respighi, and several other composers.
Bibliography: Orgelund Klavierwerke, ed. p. pidoux, 5 v. (Kassel 1950–54); Fiori musicali, in Les Grands maítres anciens de l'orgue, ed. j. bonnet and a. guilmant (Paris 1922) v. 1, with biog. by a. guilmant; Fiori musicali, ed. f. germani (Rome 1936); Ausgewählte Orgelwerke, ed. h. keller, 2 v. (Leipzig-New York 1943). a. machabey, Gerolamo Frescobaldi Ferrarensis (Paris 1952). h. f. redlich, "G. F.," Music Review 14 (1953) 262–274. m. reimann, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–) 4:912–926. f. gehring, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom, 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 3:494. m. f. bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era (New York 1947). p. h. lÁng, Music in Western Civilization (New York 1941). c. annibaldi, "Palestrina and Frescobaldi: Discovering a Missing Link," Music and Letters 79 (1998) 329–345. n. j. barker, "Analytical Issues in the Toccatas of Girolamo Frescobaldi" (Ph.D. diss. Cornell University 1995). i. godt, "Frescobaldi's Viol? An Unsolved Mystery," Consort 46 (1990) 10–15. f. hammond, "The Influence of Girolamo Frescobaldi on French Keyboard Music," Recercare (1991) 147–167. f. krummacher, "Phantastik und Kontrapunkt: Zur Kompositionsart Frescobaldis," Die Musikforschung 48 (1995) 1–14. a. newcomb, "Girolamo Frescobaldi" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. s. sadie, v. 6 (New York 1980) 824–835.
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was an Italian composer, teacher, and organist. His keyboard works are the culmination in the development from the Renaissance keyboard style to that of the baroque era.
Girolamo Frescobaldi was born in Ferrara, which, through his fifteenth year, was a rich cultural center under the Este court. He studied with the court organist Luzzasco Luzzaschi, who introduced him to a number of illustrious native and foreign musicians and to many species of music. Undoubtedly important among these contacts was a familiarity with the radical madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa.
In 1598 Ferrara became an ecclesiastical state and the opulent cultural life of the court came to an end. Frescobaldi, perhaps influenced by these developments, went to Rome, possibly with the support of the Bentivoglio, a noble family of Ferrara. In 1604 he was organist and singer with the Congregation and Academy of S. Cecilia in Rome; in January and February 1607 he was organist of S. Maria in Trastevere. At that time Guido Bentivoglio went to Brussels as nunzio and Frescobaldi accompanied him. This gave him an opportunity to become acquainted with many important musicians of the Low Countries, including some of the English exiles resident there.
The year 1608 may be taken as the end of Frescobaldi's formative period; his first work, containing five-part madrigals, was published in Antwerp (such a work often signified the end of an informal apprenticeship). His music also made its first appearance in an anthology, one that included works by such renowned masters as Luzzaschi, Claudio Merulo, and Giovanni Gabrieli. Frescobaldi returned to Rome and in November 1608 became organist at St. Peter's.
Growth of His Reputation
Frescobaldi's reputation grew rapidly; his stipend, however, was small. He frequently received permission to be absent from his post. Undoubtedly he spent several periods in Venice, since many of his works were published there. In 1614-1615 he was in the service of the Duke of Mantua, but, finding a cool reception, he returned to Rome, having neither resigned his position nor moved his family. In 1628 he accepted a position in Florence as organist to Ferdinand II de' Medici.
In 1634, possibly because of plague and civic upset, Frescobaldi returned to his position at St. Peter's, with an increase in stipend, and entered the most illustrious portion of his career. In 1635 he published what is probably now his best-known work, Fiori musicali, a collection of organ works to be played during various portions of the Mass. He remained at St. Peter's until his death.
At one time Frescobaldi was thought to have developed, almost single-handedly, the baroque keyboard style. More recent scholarship has shown that many of the stylistic innovations attributed to him already existed, and he must be seen as perfecting rather than introducing many of the elements that characterize his music. He brought to a high level the control of the form of the whole. Like others, he reduced the number of sections in multipartite forms, introduced thematic relations between the sections, and used other structural devices to relate the sections, thus strengthening the formal arch. He used various musical devices, such as pungent harmonic colors, in a baroque manner for expressive purposes, rather than for primarily esthetic satisfaction, as had been done in the Renaissance.
Although many of Frescobaldi's works have been lost, probably including a major part of his vocal music, his extant works are still numerous. His keyboard music in secular forms (partite), primarily for harpsichord, are outstanding examples of the use of the variation technique. His various forms for organ were intended for occasional use (such as introductory music) or as parts of the liturgy; they include toccatas, ricercars, and canzonas that are both structurally unified and highly expressive. In his vocal works—Masses, motets, arias, and the like—he used contemporary techniques but not the most advanced styles of his day.
Frescobaldi's music is discussed in Willi Apel, Masters of the Keyboard (1947), and Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach (1947).
Hammond, Frederick, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press, 1983. □
Frescobaldi, Girolamo, great Italian organist and composer; b. Ferrara (baptized), Sept. 9, 1583; d. Rome, March 1, 1643. He studied with Luzzasco Luzzaschi in Ferrara; by the age of 14, he was organist at the Accademia della Morte there. In 1604 he was elected to membership in the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. In early 1607 he became organist of S. Maria in Trastevere; then, in June 1607, traveled to Brussels in the retinue of the Papal Nuncio. He publ. his first work, a collection of 5-part madrigals, in Antwerp in 1608, printed by Phalese. Returning to Rome in the same year, he was appointed organist at St. Peter’s on July 21 and assumed his duties on Oct. 31. He retained this all-important post until his death, with the exception of the years 1628 to 1634, when he was court organist in Florence. A significant indication of Frescobaldi’s importance among musicians of his time was that Froberger, who was court organist in Vienna, came to Rome especially to study with him (1637–41). Fresco baldi’s place in music history is very great; particularly as a keyboard composer, he exercised a decisive influence on the style of the early Baroque; he enl. the expressive resources of keyboard music so as to include daring chromatic progressions and acrid passing dissonances, “durezze” (literally, “harshnesses”); in Frescobaldi’s terminology “toccata di durezza” signified a work using dissonances; he used similar procedures in organ variations on chorale themes, “fiori musicali” (“musical flowers”). His ingenious employment of variations greatly influenced the entire development of Baroque music. O. Mischiati and L. Tagliavini ed. Frescobaldi’s complete works (Milan, 1974 et seq.)
INSTRUMENTAL 3 canzonas a 4, 5, and 8 (1608); II primo libro delle  fantasie a 4 (Milan, 1608); (12) Toccate e  partite d’intavolatura di cembalo…libro primo (Rome, 1615; 2nd ed., rev. and aug., 1616; 3rd ed., c. 1617–26; 4th ed., 1628, as II primo libro d’intavolatura di toccate di cimbalo); (10) Ricercari, et  canzoni franzese fatte sopra diverse oblighi in partitura…libro primo (Rome, 1615); // primo libro di  capricci fatti sopra diversi soggetti et arie in partitura (Rome, 1624); // secondo libro di  toccate,  canzone,  versi d’hinni,  Magnificat,  gagliarde, correnti et altre  partite d’intavolatura di cimbalo et organo (Rome, 1627); // primo libro delle  canzoni a 1 to 4, basso continuo, accomodate per sonare con ogni sorte de stromenti (Rome, 1628); In partitura, il primo libro delle  canzoni a 1 to 4, basso continuo per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, con 2 toccate in fine (Rome, 1628); (40) Canzoni da sonare, a 1 to 4, basso continuo,…libro primo (Venice, 1635); Fiori musicali, di diverse compositioni, toccate, kyrie, canzoni, capricci, e ricercari, in partitura a 4 (Venice, 1635); (12) Toccate d’intavolatura di cimbalo et organo, partite di diverse arie, e correnti, balletti, ciaconne, passacagli…libro primo (Rome, 1637); (11) Canzoni allafrancese in partitura…libro quarto a 4 (Venice, 1645). VOCAL : S a c r e d : Liber secundus diversarum modulationum for 1 to Voices (Rome, 1627); Missa sopra Varia della monica for 8 Voices and Basso Continuo (n.d.); Missa sopra I’aria di Fiorenza for 8 Voices and Basso Continuo (n.d.). S e c u lar: II primo libro de’  madrigali for 5 Voices (Antwerp, 1608); Primo libro d’arie musicali per cantarsi for 1 to 3 Voices, Theorbo, and Harpsichord (Florence, 1630); Secondo libro d’arie musicale per cantarsi for 1 to 3 Voices, Theorbo, and Harpsichord (Florence, 1630).
N. Bennati, ed., Ferrara a G. F. (Ferrara, 1908); L. Ronga, G. F. (Turin, 1930); F. Morel, G. F., organista di S. Pietro di Roma (Winterthur, 1945); A. Machabey, G. F.: La Vie, I’oeuvre (Paris, 1952); F. Hammond, G. F. (Cambridge, Mass., 1983); C. Gallico, G. F.; L’affetto, I’ordito, le meta morfosi (Florence, 1986); A. Silbiger, ed., F. Studies (Durham, N.C., 1987); F. Hammond, G. F.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1988); H. Klein, Die Toccaten G. F.s (Mainz, 1989).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire