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Francesco da Milano -
Intabolatura de Lauto, Libro Terzo

I've set just three of the pieces from Intabolatura de Lauto, Libro Terzo into modern tablature, but figured there was no reason not to share them even if it's not a complete job. I've also gathered together some basic information about Francesco da Milano and his music.

The cover page is laid out as follows:


Suo Discipulo Di Recercate Madrigali, & Canzone Francese
Novamenta Ristampata & coretta.
In Venetia Apresso di
Antonio Gardane

Early in 1998, my mandolin buddy lent me some old Guitar Reviews he had bought from a used book store. Guitar Review 9, dated 1949, was devoted to the lute. A footnote to the article about Francesco da Milano mentioned that the Library of Congress held copies of the Libro Segundo and Libro Terzo of his Intabolatura de Lauto. Well, you can guess where I headed.

Sure enough, Libro Terzo is still there (and almost just as sure, Libro Segundo isn't.) Its date is 1547 and it looks like it should last another few thousand years (as opposed to items from around 1900, which are turning into yellow crumbs as you read this.)

Francesco da Milano was born Francesco Canova. He lived from 1497 to 1543. Contemporaneous writers - both musician and non-musician - heaped superlatives on his playing and composing abilities. He stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack in the first half of the 16th century.

The introduction to The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano tells us: "His works for the lute, which survive in a quantity considerably greater than that of any other lutenist of the time, are contained in over forty extant tablatures printed in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the Lowlands between 1536 and 1603, and in nearly 25 manuscripts of almost equally diversified provenance. In several English manuscripts his music appears side by side with that of the eminent Elizabethan lutenist and composer John Dowland, who was born some twenty years after Francesco's death."

There are more than 90 fantasias in his extant lute books. There are no dances at all. The 7th fantasia in Libro Terzo, one of the samples presented here in modern tablature, is an example of what Guitar Review calls Francesco's "free", as opposed to "strict", fantasias. In these "free" fantasias, "imitative sections alternate with free, toccato-like passages."

It's safe to say the situation has improved immensely since 1949, when the Guitar Review lamented that Francesco "[is] completely forgotten today," and that he "deserves to be retrieved from the limbo of 'dictionary composers'." I think they would be pleased with the current situation. For example, I found pieces by Francesco in 9 publications in my music collection, and guitarists have been performing and recording his music for some years now.

The links below take you to the 3 pieces converted to modern tablature. For convenience, each piece has been assigned a short ID.

  • FM1: 1. Fantasia di F. Milanese
  • FM2: 2. Fantasia di F. Milanese
  • FM7: 7. De mon triste di F. Milanese

Performance tip generally applicable to Francesco's pieces: While evolution has generally been very good to us humans, it's pretty clear that it's been sabotaging our left hands over the last few hundred years. That "flying wedge" 4-finger, 2454 formation (for example, measure 6 in FM7) must have been child's play in the 1500s and 1600s, judging by its ubiquity. For most modern guitar mortals, it's a sure-fire crash point. Suggestion: use a 3-finger formation and leave out the second note from the top. Hey, it sounds the same!

1. The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543), edited by Arthur J. Ness. Harvard University Press, 1970.
2. "Francesco da Milano". Joel Newman, Guitar Review 9, 1949.
3. "Fantasia de mon triste" by Francesco da Milano. Peter Danner, Soundboard, Summer 1993.

Thanks to the Library of Congress.


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