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If the news Piero had received from Ricci and Lodovico Sforza in the summer of 1493 of Charles VIII’s threatened invasion of Italy was a bombshell, he received a second one, and one much closer to home, the following October when his cousins Lorenzo and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco were appointed French officials.1 A few weeks earlier, Piero Soderini had told Gentile Becchi, his fellow ambassador in France – alluding to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco’s emblem of a coiled snake – ‘this viper has its tail in Florence, and he’s not going to give it to you’.2 The brothers’ appointment was the first open challenge to Piero’s power and it provides the subtext of his downfall.
It was not until mid-January 1504 that Cardinal Giovanni made his first apparent reference to his brother’s death. Concerned by the fate of his commend of Montecassino, which was now in Spanish hands, he explained to Silvio Passerini on 15 January that distress over Piero, as well as ‘a certain indisposition’, had prevented him from replying fully to his letters before then.1 Nine days later, he wrote again to his ‘dearest treasurer’, mainly about Montecassino, but also expressing his amazement that Piero’s body hadn’t yet been found, which he blamed on fra Leo’s and others’ lack of diligence in searching for it: Piero should surely be found if the other bodies had been recovered, and similarly ‘that little horse of ours that Piero had’, which he wanted back at a reasonable price: ‘you know what it cost, apply yourself to the matter’.2
As Charles Dempsey has argued, humanist culture often came about not through the revival of ancient models, but through the recasting of contemporary vernacular culture in light of ancient models. A central thesis of this book is that the ubiquitous humanist practice of solo singing to the lyre took shape principally in Florence, in the circles of Marsilio Ficino and Lorenzo de’ Medici/Angelo Poliziano, through adaptation of certain aspects of traditional canterino practice. This chapter sets forth what we know about the cantare ad lyram activity in these circles, establishes its clear relationship to civic practices, and argues for its integral role in both the Neoplatonic philosophy of Ficino and the vernacular poetics of Lorenzo and Poliziano. This leads to new perspectives on both Ficino’s “Orphic singing to the lyre” and Lorenzo’s lifelong involvement with singing to the lyre, both of which are typically regarded as idiosyncratic and tangential to their serious intellectual pursuits. This chapter also provides the occasion for considering the extraordinary figure of Baccio Ugolini, one of the great improvvisatori of his day, and a reassessment of Poliziano’s Fabula d’Orfeo in which Baccio sang the title role in 1480.
Girolamo Savonarola's three-pronged program focused on political, social, and religious reforms. He turned his attention to the social realm, to the reform of public morals, and he organized the boys of Florence to enforce these reforms. Music played a central role in promoting social bonding of the youths, and the texts of newly composed songs helped spread the message of change. This chapter presents a better understanding of Florentine traditions that roused his ire, by taking a brief look at Carnival and its music during the 1470s and 1480s, and examines Savonarola's transformation of civic life. After Lorenzo de' Medici's death, Savonarola mobilized the boys of Florence to perform laude written by the friar himself and his followers. The chapter takes a brief look at their place in Florentine society, and focuses attention on the musical activities of the boys.
Oral poetry in fifteenth-century Italy thrived in a dynamic environment created largely by the advent of humanism. While the fifteenth-century canterino was the successful descendant of the joculatore who had worked the public spaces and private palazzi of Italian cities. The natural habitats of the civic canterino were the republican city-states of central Italy. The recasting of solo singing to the lira da braccio as a humanist enterprise unfolded during the second half of the century in multiple center. During the fourteenth century, canterini had been active in most northern Italian courts and cities, and their pattern of ad hoc employment and itinerancy continued in the fifteenth century. Beginning with de facto Medici rule in the 1430s, a vital tradition of vernacular poetry rooted in the legacy of the tre corone, and a thriving culture of civic humanism favorable to the practice of vernacular eloquence. The improvvisatori associated with vernacular poetry in Florence overlapped to some extent with Ficino's circle.
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