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'Al gioco si conosce il galantuomo': artifice, humour and play in the enigmi musicali of Don Lodovico Agostini

Stras, Laurie, Fenlon, Iain(ed.) (2005) 'Al gioco si conosce il galantuomo': artifice, humour and play in the enigmi musicali of Don Lodovico Agostini Early Music History, 24, pp. 213-286. (doi:10.1017/S0261127905000094).

Record type: Article


In 1571 and 1581, the Ferrarese cleric-musician Don Lodovico Agostini published two books each containing, amongst other pieces, a group of madrigals cryptically notated as musical puzzles, advertised as enigmi musicali on their title pages. The enigmi are aptly named; no doubt the composer would have delighted in the doppio senso, or double entendre, inherent in the term, for they are musical riddles in both a formal and a metaphorical sense. Their content and their very existence in print pose an intriguing array of questions beyond the obvious enquiries regarding the identifying characteristics of the genre and the identity of their composer. Certainly, the enigmi musicali invite speculation about the nature of music as a pastime in late sixteenth-century courtly Italy. Agostini's enigmi musicali are secular, polyphonic vocal works, but they cannot be classed simply as madrigals, nor are they representative of so-called lighter genres of villanelle or canzonette. They exist somewhere on the fringe of the repertoire, with a specific character that reaches in towards the (to us) more familiar forms of Italian secular music, but that also reaches out to and overlaps with other spheres of play and philosophical engagement. So where may the enigmi be placed within the wider compass of early modern social recreation, and what factors might have motivated their composition and their use? Furthermore, if we accept them as evidence of some sort of collective diversion, how are they intended to amuse – are they humorous or cerebral, or both?

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Published date: October 2005
Additional Information: Portions of this article were presented at the Conference for Medieval and Renaissance Music, Bristol, July 2002, and the Sixty-Eighth AnnualMeeting of the American Musicological Society, Columbus, Ohio, November 2002. I am grateful to a host of generous scholars who have read and commented upon earlier versions, or who have shared their knowledge with me: Bonnie Blackburn, Cees de Bondt, Jeanice Brooks, Tim Carter, Andrew Dell'Antonio, Flora Dennis, James Haar, Matthew Head, Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Donna Cardamone Jackson, Melanie Marshall, Anthony Newcomb, Patrick Macey, Massimo Ossi, Richard Wistreich, my anonymous readers and the community of the Ficino e-discussion list. I am particularly indebted to Andrew Dell'Antonio and Leofranc Holford-Strevens for their translation assistance; however, any vagaries or errors in the translations I must claim for myself. I am grateful to Dr Ernesto Milano, Director of the Biblioteca Estense, Modena; Prof. Domenico Carboni, Director of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio di Musica ‘Santa Cecilia’, Rome; and the Staatund Stadtbibliothek, Augsburg, for permission to reproduce photographs of books in their collections. Financial assistance for the completion of this research was given by the Arts and Humanities Research Board of Great Britain.


Local EPrints ID: 37506
ISSN: 1474-0559
PURE UUID: c7a0b8fe-5d80-4a0e-9e82-5756071031b3
ORCID for Laurie Stras: ORCID iD

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Date deposited: 23 May 2006
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 15:42

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Author: Laurie Stras ORCID iD
Editor: Iain Fenlon

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