Music for the Harpsichord

The Baffo Harpsichord, by Giovanni Antonio Baffo (active 1570–95), Venice, Italy, 1574. Museum no. 6007-1859

The Baffo Harpsichord, by Giovanni Antonio Baffo (active 1570–95), Venice, Italy, 1574. Museum no. 6007-1859

The harpsichord was a popular instrument in wealthy Italian Renaissance households. This harpsichord was made in Venice in 1574 for a member of the Florentine Strozzi family. Venetian harpsichord builders were renowned for the quality of their work and artistry. The harpsichord, made by Giovanni Baffo, is no longer in playable condition.

The two recordings provided here are examples of the type of music that would have been performed on a harpsichord. Both recordings were made in the Royal College of Music museum and were performed on an Italian harpsichord made around 1678. You can see Giulia Nuti, Research Associate at the Royal College of Music, playing one of the pieces in the video below.

Audio: Passemezzo di nome antico

Passemezzo di nome antico was written in 1586 by Marco Facoli, an Italian composer who was born in Venice and who flourished in the late 16th century. The musical notation for Passmezo di nome anticho is preserved in a manuscript in the library of the Royal College of Music. It is exceptional for the period to have such a long and complex piece of solo music written out at length in a manuscript.

Download: mp3 | ogg


Audio: Venetiana Gagliarda

Venetiana Gagliarda was published by Antonio Gardane in Venice in 1551. The instrumental is a dance, probably a piece that would have been performed on a social occasion at home rather than in a grand building or formal event.

Download: mp3 | ogg


Music for the Baffo Harpsichord

The Baffo Harpsichord can longer be played, so to give an impression of how the instrument would have sounded, Giulia Nuti, Research Associate at the Royal College of Music, recorded several pieces of music on a historic harpsichord that is in playable condition.

The film begins with V&A curators James Yorke and Kirstin Kennedy introducing the Baffo harpsichord. The film then shows Giulia Nuti performing the piece called Passemezzo di nome anticho, the piece that is in the audio above, on a harpsichord in the Museum at the Royal College of Music.

View transcript of video

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