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The Squarcialupi Codex (15th Century)

Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

The Squarcialupi Codes is one of the chief anthologies of the Italian trecento (c1325-c1425). It’s an illuminated manuscript that was compiled in Florence in the early 15 th century and is the single largest source of secular music of the Italian ars nova (the beginning of modern music, with polyphony at the center of it). The manuscript is still in good condition all these centuries later and all of the pieces included are musically complete. There are about 150 pieces that exist in this manuscript and nowhere else. This beautiful book is made up of 216 parchment folios. The 354 pieces contained in it are arranged chronologically by composer (dated by the type of music notation used), with some pages left blank for later works. There’s an illuminated portrait of each composer at the beginning of his section, elegantly ornamented in reds, blues, and purples, with gold making an occasional appearance. The remaining pages are also colorful, with edges surrounding the music displaying flowers, instruments, and animals, and people doing musical and pastoral things. Sixteen of the folios are blank, intended for the music of Paolo da Firenza (see my blog). They’re all labeled and his portrait is done, but the pages meant for music are all blank. Common thinking is that Paolo’s music wasn’t ready when the manuscript was compiled because he was away from Florence until 1409. There’s another blank section for Giovanni Mazzuoli (c1360-1426), with no explanation forthcoming. The biggest names of the Italian trecento are the composers included in this incredible collection. There are 354 pieces in all, including: 146 pieces by Francesco Landini (c1325-1397) (see my blog post) 37 by Bartolino da Padova (fl. c1365-1405, blog post to come) 36 by Niccolo da Perugia (fl. late 1300s) 29 by Andrea da Firenze (d.1315) 28 by Jacopo da Bologna (fl.1340-c1386) 17 by Lorenzo da Firenza (d c1372) (see my blog post) 16 by Gherardello da Firenza (c1320-c1362) 15 by Donato da Cascia (fl.c1350-1370) 12 by Giovanni da Cascia (1270-1350) 6 by Vincenzo da Rimini (mid-1300s) 12 pieces from two unidentified composers The pieces included are all secular, and are mainly ballatas and madrigals, with a few caccias thrown in. They cover the period from 1340-1415. They were probably all copied by the same scribe, as the handwriting is much the same throughout. All of the pieces are vocal and have Italian texts. Conspicuous by their absence are pieces by Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ciconia (c1370-1412), who spent the bulk of his productive lifetime in Padua and is probably the biggest name to come out of Italy during that period, and Italian Antonio Zacara da Teramo (c1350-c1415), whose compositions were rather innovative. The anthology was compiled by Antonio Squarcialupi (1416-1480), who was an Italian organist and composer. He was a licensed butcher, but his talent on the organ got him a post at the Florence Cathedral from 1432 until his death in 1480. You have to remember that the de Medici family was prominent during this period, and they could have had any organist they wanted. They chose Squarcialupi. Suarcialupi is known to have visited Naples and Siena. He was highly esteemed by his contemporaries, including Guillaume Dufay (c1400-1474), with whom he exchanged letters. None of his own compositions survive—he was obsessively self-critical about them and he may have destroyed them himself. The eponymous codex was probably compiled in Florence at the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, between 1410-1415. A family seal that hasn’t been identified is on the first folio and on the portrait page of Paolo da Firenza (c1355-1436); original theories were that Paoli had a part in compiling the collection or that he was part of the family that commissioned it. Recent findings about Paolo’s poor finances make this unlikely. The Italian trecento has three distinctive developmental periods. First Generation: Giovanni da Cascia (also Giovanni da Firenze) (1270-1350) Jacopo da Bologna (fl. 1340-1386) Bartolomeo da Padova (Padua, c1365-1405)) Grazioso da Padova (fl. 1391-1407) Vincentino de Arimino (fl. 1360s) Piero (from Assisi, Milan, or Verona, fl.1340-1350) Second Generation: Francesco Landini (1325-1397) Paolo da Firenza (c1355-1436) Niccolo da Perugia (1350-1400) Gherardello da Firenza (c1320-c1362) Donato da Firenza (also Cascia, fl. c1350-1370) Lorenzo da Firenza (d1372) Andrea da Firenza (d1415) Egidio (fl. 1390) Guglielmo di Santo Spirito (not dates available) Third Generation: Zacherie (papal singer from 1420-1432) Matteo da Perugia (fl. 1400-1416) Giovanni da Genova (Genoa, no dates available) Johannes Ciconia (c1370-1412, Belgian) Antonello da Caserta (1355-1402) Filippo da Caserta (c1350-c1436) Corrado da Pistoia (fl. 1410) Bartolomeo da Bologna (fl. 1405-1427) The manuscript was inherited by Antonio’s nephew, and then by the estate of Giuliano di Lorenzo d’Medici (1479-1516), the third son of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), who gave it to the Biblioteca Palatina in the early 16 th century. At the end of the 18 th century, it became part of the collection of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. Antonio Squarcialupi is eulogized on one of the original flyleaves. If you want a copy for yourself, there are 988 handmade reproductions available through purveyors of ancient manuscripts and Incunabula. I’d imagine that they’re pretty expensive. You can save the money and take a video tour of the codex here:


“A Dictionary of Early Music; From the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome & Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981. “Medieval Music,” by Richard H. Hippin. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1998. “Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997. “The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979. “The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994. “A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.
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