from Liber de civitatis Florentiae famisis civibus by Filippo Villani
A good many noted Florentines have excelled in music. Most,
however, are now dead. Of those still alive I should mention in particular
Bartolo, Ser Lorenzo Masini, and Giovani da Cascia, as being more outstandingly
skilled than the rest.
A creed was to be performed in our principal church, with organ and choir in alternation. Bartholus, however, composed one of such great sweetness and artistry that the usual interruptions by the organ were quite left out, and the piece was performed straight through by human voices in unaccompanied harmony, in the presence of a great crowd of people. It was thus Bartholus who was the first to do away with the former usage of organ alternating with male choir.
Giovani da Cascia frequented the court of the tyrant Mastino della Scala [of Verona, reigned 1329-51] in search of his fortune. And so he came to take part in a contest for excellence in art with Jacopo of Bologna [leading composer of the generation before Landini and possibly his teacher], a highly skilled musician, the tyrant egging them on with offers of gifts. In that contest, he composed madrigals and many songs, in which his great skill was wonderfully displayed.
None of these, however - nor, for that matter, any composer of fabled antiquity - can measure up to Francesco, who is still alive, and whom I cannot write about truthfully without some fear of seeming to exaggerate.
Francesco was hardly past the middle of his childhood when disaster struck him blind with the smallpox. Music, however, compensated him for his loss with the bright lights of fame and renown. A harsh mischance took away his bodily sight, but his mindís eye was as sharp and acute as an eagleís. All of this, I think, will argue, to those who love the truth, in favor of beating boys who have all their senses and yet are idle in their wretched sloth. Better for them to be abused than to be allowed to fall asleep in miserable ease.
Francesco was born in Florence. His father, a painter, was named Jacopo, a just man of simple habits and a hater of vice. When Francesco had lived for a while in blindness, and was no longer a child, and could understand how miserable it was to be blind, and wanted some solace for the horrors of his everlasting night, he began, as adolescents will, to make up songs - this by the kindness of Heaven, I think, which was preparing in its mercy a consolation for so great a misfortune. When he was a little older still, and had come to perceive musicís charm and sweetness, he began to compose, first for voices, then for strings and organ. He made astonishing progress. And then, to everyoneís amazement, he took up a number of musical instruments - remember, he had never seen them - as readily as if he could still see. In particular, he began to play the organ, with such great dexterity - always accurately, however - and with such expressiveness that he far surpassed any organist in living memory. All this, I fear, can hardly be set down without some accusation of its having been made up.
The organ is an instrument made up of a great many pipes, constructed with great ingenuity, put together out of a wide variety of disparate mechanisms. And yet, Francesco would take an ailing organ, and, with all its most fragile pipes exposed and liable to be broken at the least touch, and with all its insides laid bare - so that if one of them were to be moved from its place by the distance of an inch it would be ruined and would make the air introduced by the bellows produce harsh and jangling noises - Francesco would tune it and make it sound sweetly and repair it, correcting whatever had caused the dissonance.
What is more, he played superbly on the fiddle, the lute, all the strings and winds, and every other sort of instrument. And imitating by voice all those instruments that give a pleasant sound in their various ways, and mingling them with the ordinary sounds of human voices, he invented a third species of music, a combination of both of the other two and a source of great charm and delight. In addition, he invented a new sort of instrument, a cross between lute and psaltery, which he called the serena serenarum, an instrument that produces an exquisite sound when its strings are struck.
To recount each and every one of the lovely things he did with music I think unnecessary; those who write account of this sort are, I fear, too often accustomed to forget the charms of brevity. It is worth mentioning, however, that no one ever played the organ so well. All musicians grant him that. And thus recently, at Venice, he was publicly crowned with laurel by His Majesty the King of Cyprus [this probably happened in 1364]. Just so, once upon a time, poets were crowned by the Emperors of Rome.
Let this be added to his praise, too: he is a master of rhetoric and logic, and has composed poems and novellas.
He has written a great many good things in Italian - a reproach, it seems to me, to the effeminate youth of Florence, the eager pursuers of feminine finery, dissipated in shameful wantonness, whose proud many spirit has been neglected.
Leonard Wood (ed.), The Works of Francesco Landini (Cambridge, Mass.: The Medieval Academy of America, 1939), 301-303.