BIOGRAPHY

b ?Venice1492d mid-16th century). Italian instrumentalist and writer. He was the author of two treatises on instrumental performance. Ganassi joined the pifferi of the Venetian government in June 1517, when he was hired as ‘contralto’ to fill a vacancy. From the 1517 document it is clear that his nickname ‘dal Fontego’ was derived from his place of residence near (or at) the Venetian ‘Fontego’, the palace by the Rialto where German merchants lived and traded. He is also mentioned in a few other documents from the late 1540s, and he might be the ‘Silvestro del cornetto’ who rented a storeroom near the Rialto in 1566. In his capacity as ‘piffero del Doge’ he probably supplied ceremonial and court music for the Doges and instrumenal music at the Basilica di S Marco.

Ganassi published two treatises, one on the recorder, Opera intitulata Fontegara (Venice, 1535), and one in two volumes on the viola da gamba, Regola rubertina (Venice, 1542) and Lettione seconda(Venice, 1543). Most 16th-century books on instruments are either quasi-encyclopedic surveys, like those by Sebastian Virdung (1511) and Martin Agricola (1528 and later), or else very simple sets of instructions for tuning, fingering and intabulating, like the lutebooks by Hans Gerle (1532 and later) and Adrian Le Roy (1574). Ganassi’s works differ from all others in their detail and subtlety. They offer a complete discussion of instrumental technique up to its most sophisticated aspects: how to produce a good sound, rules for articulation (including advanced problems in bowing, tonguing and fingering), how to improvise ornamentation and, most important, how technique must be subordinated to expressiveness. In short, Ganassi’s volumes should be regarded as the starting point for any serious study of 16th-century performing practice, for together they give the most extended and most complete statement on the subject and reveal the high level of achievement the instrumentalists of the time had reached. Unfortunately the volumes are not easy for the English-speaking musician to use since they are written in a difficult Italian and partly in Venetian dialect. The existing translations of Fontegara into German and English are not wholly satisfactory.

Fontegara purports to be an exposition of the principles of playing wind instruments, dealing with ways of controlling the breath, tongue and fingers. Much of the volume is taken up with a rather scholastic presentation in a series of tables of the sorts of passaggi which may be applied to a melodic line; this merely dramatizes the central position improvised ornamentation held in the education of young instrumentalists and in the professional activity of master players. Besides passaggi, Ganassi also explains trills by semitones, whole tones and 3rds; various sorts of articulation including several varieties of double tonguing; fingerings, among them some that extend the range of the recorder to more than two octaves; and breath control, for good intonation, dynamic contrast and expressive performance. Throughout his book Ganassi holds up the human voice as the model for instrumentalists to follow. The copy of Fontegara in D-W has an appendix in Ganassi’s own hand setting out some 175 varied diminutions on a melodic formula.

In the two volumes of Regola rubertina, Ganassi first describes the most elementary aspects of viol playing – how to hold the instrument, how to finger it and so on – and then proceeds to explain in a complicated way various sorts of bowings, fingerings and tunings, including several scordatura tunings and some for viols with only three or four strings. He discusses techniques for playing above the frets, how to transcribe vocal music into tablature, how to place frets on the instrument, how to tell good from bad strings, how to improvise unaccompanied ricercares and how to play polyphonically. The volumes are illustrated with a number of charts, tables and diagrams.

%d bloggers like this: