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Arpa, Abramo Dall'


ARPA, ABRAMO DALL' (Abraham Levi ; c. 1542–c. 1577), Italian musician; the most outstanding of a Mantuan family whose members were known for their skill as musicians, chiefly harpists – hence their name.

A document from 1542 records the participation in a ducal spectacle of "a Jew playing the harp" and assuming the role of the god Pan. This may refer to Abramo, who appears as a musician on the payroll of Duke Guglielmo in 1553 and again in 1577. Between these two dates he got into trouble with the duke and was put into prison in 1566. It is also possible that he can be identified as "Abraham the musician of Mantua" whose presence is recorded in Rome in 1555. There is also record of a passport permitting residence in Vienna being granted to Abraham of Mantua, a harpist who gave music lessons to the children of Ferdinand i (M. Grunwald, Vienna (1936), p. 78). He may be identical with the Mantuan banker Abraham Levi, whose banking activities are recorded in 1544 and 1545 and who in 1561 was granted a ten-year monopoly for ritual slaughtering for the Mantuan Jewish community. The date of Abramo's death may be fixed between 1577 (the last mention of his name on the duke's payroll) and 1587, at which date his name appears in the pinkas (Ms. Kaufmann, no. 59, fol. 35, col. d) with the the words "may his memory be blessed."

Abramo dall'Arpa's fame as one of the outstanding harpists of his time is attested to by the painter, writer, and poet Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo. He mentions Abramo, together with his father "the Jew of Mantua" and the Neapolitan (non-Jewish) Giovanni Leonardo dall'Arpa, as the three most prominent harp players of their time. Abramo's nephew Abramino ("little Abraham") was also employed as a musician at the ducal court. In 1587 Abramino collaborated in an entertainment given on the lake of Mantua on occasion of a ducal baptism. The same year he followed the dying Duke Guglielmo to his palace at Goito to comfort him in his last days with music.


A. d'Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano (18912), 400, 439; S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah, 2 (1964), index; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), 283–4; Adler, in: Taẓlil, 9 (1969), 105–8.

[Israel Adler]

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