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Composer Biography: Bartholus de Florentia (fl.1375-1405)

Completely Off Topic
Completely Off Topic

Also known as Frate Bartholino, Frater Bartholomeus, scappucia Frate Baroino, Magister Frater Bartolinus de Padua, Bartolino da Padova, Bartolino da Padu, and Bartolo da Firenze.

Bartholus de Florentia is an obscure composer but for his one Credo movement, once attributed to Lorenzo da Firenza. He may have been the first Italian to compose a polyphonic Mass movement, but the documentation is so sparse, it’s hard to tell. He’s portrayed in the Squarcialupi Codex (blog post to come) having a tonsured head and wearing a Carmelite habit.

It’s possible that he was prior at the Carmelite abbey in Padua in 1380. In 1405, he was forced into exile to Florence. It seems that he’d written some unfavorable allusions regarding the political and moral behavior of the Visconti family that controlled Padua, so off he went.

The music collections of the time include only or mostly secular songs—there’s a surprising dearth of sacred music from the century. Ecclesiastical composers were focusing on secular polyphony, which is why only a handful of Mass movements survive. And even fewer complete Masses from a single composer survive. Bartholus wrote the Credo I mentioned earlier, but that’s the extent of his sacred output.

The Credo is in two voices, like the other movements from other composers, and both parts sing the text. On a few occasions, the voices sing phrases of text at different times, and alternate in singing successive phrases. The style is called “restrained madrigal” and includes short and unobtrusive melismas (where the melody wiggles around on an open syllable). Most of the time, though, the text is sung in unison.

Of the eleven madrigals and twenty-seven ballate that he wrote, most are in two voices with a handful in three. His style lacks the flow and clear-cut melodic lines that are characteristic of the Italian composers who came before him. But despite the lack of information regarding how such a thing could occur, his work seems strongly influenced by the French ars subtilior in its rhythmic complexity. What would become a French invasion of Italian musical circles had begun with Johannes Ciconia, but didn’t really become a game-changer until long after both were gone.

Just as I found very little about his life and family, I found nothing about his death or burial. I think that makes him MORE intriguing.

Sources:

“Medieval Music,” by Richard H. Hippin. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1998.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.