1555 · Roma
A beautiful copy, complete with all the eight plates, of the extremely rare first edition, first issue, of one of the most influential music theory books of the sixteenth century. The book is dedicated to Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este.
Unlike most early theorists, Vicentino, who was a pupil of the Flemish-Venetian composer Adrian Willaert, did not simply summarize the practice of his time, but also attempted to adapt the Greek musical modes to the purpose of modern harmonic singing and instrumental performance. His major contribution is the adaptation of the ancient Greek chromatic and enharmonic genera to modern polyphonic practice. Anticipating Vincenzo Galilei and Claudio Monteverdi, Vicentino also expressed avant-garde's views on the relation between music and text. He stated that, in order to better express the feelings of a verbal text, music should be sometimes allowed to break the strict rules of counterpoint.
"This treatise is a major contribution to the growing movement that sought to free both theory and practice from a dependence on the traditional ecclesiastical modes. Of particular interest is his description of the 'arcicembalo', a unique harpsichord that was built with two keyboards, each containing three orders of keys. This construction allows the performer to play intervals smaller than a semitone as well as the possibility of playing pure intervals against tempered intervals in any key. Thus, for the first time, ancient Greek theory as well as progressive free chromaticism could be realized, and from this would gradually emerge 'the stabilization tuning into the equal temperament of more modern times'. Vicentino was also interested in both the melodic and vertical functions of intervals, which is remarkable for this period. Understandably, his theories generated fervent opposition both from his contemporaries and later from the likes of Zarlino, Artusi, and Doni. The French printer Antonio Barré, although primarily a printer of music, produced twenty music books during his career, of which this is the most famous. Vicentino's treatise is also significant as a very early example of the printing of the natural sign from type" (R.H. Cowden, A Collector's Journey: Notable Music Books Written Prior to 1800, New Castle, DE, 2015, pp. 24-25).
"Vicentino, a real humanist among musicians, was so strongly influenced by the newly rediscovered Greek theory of music that he invented an instrument, the 'archicembalo', the super-harpsichord, using quarter tones, and based on his ideas of Greek music. This treatise explains the instrument and the corresponding theory of a system built on chromatic and enharmonic scales. Vicentino was himself an excellent performer on the clavichord. Vicentino was an ordained priest who entered the service of Ippolito d'Este, Cardinal of Ferrara (to whom this work is dedicated), and accompanied him to Rome. Later he returned to Ferrara, where he was 'maestro di cappella' in the court of the cardinal until his death" (W. Schab, Catalogue 14, 1950, no. 149).
The book was later reissued by Barré with a new title page dated 1557. Copies of both issues complete with all the eight plates are extremely rare. The plates show diagrams of the keys of the clavichord invented by Vicentino. According to Worldcat, only one copy is recorded in America at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Edit 16, CNCE30787; N. Vicentino, Ancient music adapted to modern practice, M. Rika Maniates & M.V. Palisca, eds., New Haven, 1996; RISM, B6, p. 861; W. Schmieder, Musik, no. 1316; Cowden, no. 22; Grove, V, 495; Eitner, X, 76; Wolffheim, 1093; Gregory-Sonneck, p. 281; Hirsch, 591; Fétis, VIII, 338. (Inventory #: 40)