26 February Feb 2015 1229 3 years ago

Gaffurio, Leonardo’s musician who made great the Musical Chapel of the Duomo

For almost forty years until his death, the composer from Lodi led in an exemplary way, with rigour and creativity, his role as Kapellmeister

Is not music one of the Arts that bring man closer to beauty, both natural and supernatural? It was Music, over the centuries, through the voice of singing, the sound of organ and the great composers of the most various sensibilities, that has played a central role in the story of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano. In particular, a very interesting and important personality was that of Franchino Gaffurio who, with his inspiration and discipline gave international prestige to the Musical Chapel of Duomo di Milano.
Music theorist, composer and Kapellmeister, born in Lodi in 1455, his father was of Milanese origin and his mother belonged to a noble family in Lodi, Gaffurio received the orders as priest between 1473 and 1474 being, at the same time, introduced to musical studies and to ecclesiastical career, getting immediately in contact with the Renaissance cultural élite.

Music is definitely a universal language, a mean of communication among the highest with which man has tried to rise to the Divine. An artistic and humanistic tradition that Franchino Gaffurio interpreted at its best, also thanks to his connections in the Sforza Milan, where he taught at the Gymnasium Mediolanensis, university founded by Lodovico il Moro. The ducal milieu let him know illustrious mathematicians, jurists, grammarians and artists among which Leonardo da Vinci, and Bramante. Precisely the 1485 painting, Portrait of a Musician, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and preserved in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, is likely a portrait of Franchino Gaffurio, to whom the city of Milan also entitled a street in the area of the Central Station.

Gaffurio must be credited, above all, for the fast reorganisation of the Musical Chapel of the Duomo di Milano: in fact, after a period of cultural and artistic settlement, the year 1484 marked the beginning of a renovated prestige of the Chapel, with the priest from Lodi taking the role of Kapellmeister.
Gaffurio had already been active in various cities such as Mantua, where he perfected his qualities in the cultural milieu of the Gonzaga court, in Bergamo as Kapellmeister of Santa Maria Maggiore, and in Naples where he deepened his theoretical studies. Only on the 3rd September 1402 the Council of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo appointed its first Kapellmeister, an innovation which Gaffurio immediately faced with great commitment: he did not limit to teaching polyphonic chants, but he also reformed the choir, imposing a severe discipline. In addition, he reorganised the schola of the child cantors with bona prudentia ac solecitudo (good prudence and promptness), as related by the Archive papers, caring about being for them not just a music teacher, but also magister of a basic education. The composer from Lodi granted a payment for his most worthy pupils and adult singers, and he prescribed to wear a white surplice over a green dress, and to keep a diligent and constant presence. Also for this Gaffurio is considered as the true founder of the Musical Chapel of the Duomo di Milano, of which he considerably increased the repertoire, the discipline and the importance, at the point that in 1492 Lodovico il Moro convened him at his court as first cantor, with mainly teaching tasks.

In his many polyphonic compositions, such as masses and hymns, Gaffurio instilled his fervent religious spirit, and the rigour coming from Flemish tradition, with clarity and simplicity, playing an important role of transition between the Flemish and the Italian tradition of gentle, Latin singing, preceding this way the start of the great XVI Century polyphony personified by Pierluigi da Palestrina.
In the Archive of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano three Gaffurio Codices are preserved, masterworks of the musical branch of the Archive. The fourth one, unfortunately, burnt in the night between the 3rd and the 4th August 1906 in the fire that destroyed the Duomo pavilion at the World Fair, taking place in Parco Sempione. The compositions of the Milanese years include masses for the Ambrosian and Roman rites, Magnificat, antiphones, litanies, one Stabat Mater, hymns, madrigals and motets, the most of which are collected together, as mentioned before as far as religious music is concerned, in the four manuscripts known as Codices Gaffurienses. Gaffurio also wrote many texts about Music theory, among which the Theorica musicae and the Practica musicae. In these texts he resumed the medieval tradition dated back to the treatise De institutione musicae by Boethius, developing an authentic Philosophy of Music. According to Gaffurio, the art of sounds is similar to the science of numbers, and is dealt with on the basis of mathematic proportions, according to the Pythagorean and Neoplatonic traditions which considered the harmony of sounds as the result of precise numeric ratios. 

For almost forty years until his death, Franchino Gaffurio led in an exemplary way his role as Kapellmeister. He died in Milan in 1522, and was buried in the church of San Marcellino a Porta Comasina, of which he was rector, in a sarcophagus realised by the sculptor Agostino Busti.
His personality had been such central for the Duomo that, at his death, a problematic succession followed. The Veneranda Fabbrica committed itself in setting, again, a high standard in the pueri both under an artistic and a behavioural point of view.