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The few fragmentary documents we possess concerning the life of Mattio Rampollini portray a figure caught up in the tormented historical events that accompanied the blossoming of the madrigal, and which are characteristic of the climate in Florence throughout the first half of the sixteenth century. Born in 1497 at Castel Fiorentino near Florence, where he learnt the art of counterpoint, probably under Bartolomeo degli Organi and perhaps Heinric Isaac, Rampollini obtained his first official position in 1515, when he was appointed singing teacher to the clergy of San Lorenzo, a church connected to the Medici family. In 1520, as the designated successor to Bernardo Pisano, he was appointed to head the cappella of Santa Maria del Fiore, which he directed until 1528. Although it is very likely that during this period Rampollini came into contact with Philippe Verdelot, whose name appears several times in the cathedral records, we have no evidence that he moved in the Florentine circles that made the earliest experiments with the madrigal, and were well-known for their republican, anti-Medici sentiments. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that between 1528 and 1530, during the insurrection that saw the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence and the installation of a new republican government, he was not in the city. He returned only after Cosimo II de' Medici had regained power, and was promptly appointed to a post in the family chapel, which he retained until 1534. After this we almost completely lose track of Rampollini: the only certainty is that he died at Florence in 1553.
This gap in his biography between 1534 and 1553 is all the more serious when one realises that it is precisely to this period that the whole of Rampollini's extant output of music must belong: the two madrigals composed in 1539 for the marriage of Cosimo de' Medici and Eleanor of Toledo, and the fifty madrigals published as Il Primo Libro de la Musica di M Mattio Rampollini Excellente Musico Fiorentino sopra di alcune Canzoni del Divin Poeta M. Francesco Petrarca (The First Book of music by Master Mattio Rampollini, excellent Florentine musician, on canzoni by the divine poet Francesco Petrarca). In the overall context of the sixteenth-century madrigal, the Libro de la Musica of Mattio Rampollini constitutes an emblematic case in every respect. Printed at Lyons on the presses of Jacques Moderne, the volume - which bears no date of publication, but can be assigned to the years between 1546 and 1554 - is one of the few books of madrigals produced outside the frontiers of Italy before the successful anthologies of Orlande de Lassus. The fact that it comprises seven complete cycles of madrigals, each of them setting a canzone taken from Petrarch's Rerum vulgarium frag-menta, places Rampollini's collection among the first of its kind to have been published. In the wake of a new aesthetic conception born of the reflections on poetic language initiated by Pietro Bembo, the flood of madrigals that poured from the printing presses from the 1540s onwards drew abundantly on the lyrics of Petrarch, who was elevated to the status of a model of form and style. Rampollini himself refers to these trends in the dedicatory epistle, in which - alongside Josquin, padre della musica - he mentions Adrian Willaert and Jacquet de Berchem among the men most worthy to compose on the 'lofty, sweet and musical words' of Petrarch, thus showing that he knew their most recent madrigal productions.
In his own madrigals, Rampollini practised the system of notation known as a note nere, which clearly aimed to adjust the contrapuntal tendencies of music to the declamatory and rhetorical requirements of a lyric text of noble lineage, often producing extremely refined results (to take one example in the madrigal Standomun giorno, the madrigalisms at the line 'E mi fe' sospirar'). Though settings for four voices are predominant in the collection, each cycle presents a variable number of madrigals in which the forces are increased to five or six voices, or (as in the case of In un boschetto novo) reduced to just three; here once again, the composers choice is guided by exegesis of the text.
While literary discourses associated with Petrarchism rapidly spread throughout the Italian peninsula, the rich and flourishing Italian community based in Lyons played a key role in exporting these tendencies towards France. They aroused the interest and enthusiasm of the French king Francois I, whose court -established on the banks of the Rhone in order to follow the military campaigns of the Italian Wars - was ,teeming with Italian poets, men of letters and artists. This fervent cultural climate was reflected by the ambitious publishing programmes undertaken at Lyons, sustained by a solid commercial structure which constantly strove to increase orders: an instance of this is the series of exquisite Italian editions by Jean de Tournes, inaugurated in 1545 with the publication of Petrarch's Rerum vulgarium fragmenta.
Unlike the numerous editions of literature produced at Lyons in these years, however, the project of publishing Italian music that Jacques Moderne seemed to be embarking on with Rampollini's Libro de la Musica was not followed up. Far from being speedily supplanted by the advent of the printed book, the circulation of music in manuscript continued to be the principal means of exchange of the most interesting musical novelties coming out of Italy, as is shown for instance, by the letter of 19 November 1534 that Lionardo Strozzi of Lyons sent his kinsman Ruberto, who was at that time in Venice.
Here we often meet in your house or in that of Niccolo Mannelli to sing and make good music together, which affords great enjoyment to your dear Neri Capponi, your Vincenzo, Messer Neri, Layolle and many others, and moreover we have a goodly number of new pieces from Florence.
If we are to judge it in terms of its manuscript diffusion, Mattio Rampollini's musical output is once again of emblematic value: his madrigals are in fact wholly absent from Florentine manuscript sources of the time. Though we cannot rule out aesthetic reasons for this, it is perhaps not improbable that a historical heritage also weighed in the balance: could it be that the Rampollini's faithful service to the Medici family earned his output of madrigals total ostracism from the manuscript repertories linked with the Florentine community of 'outlaws' (fuoriusciti)?. In any event, the Medici coat of arms that stands imposingly on the title page of the Libro de la Musica, dedicated to Cosimo II de' Medici, seems symptomatic of a transformation in the historical, political and social situation.
- Luigi Collarile