Il Transilvano

I ordered what I thought was a modern edition of Diruta’s classic text, Il Transilvano (The Transylvanian).  This is a book on keyboard performance–organ and harpsichord.  Its “spooky” title describes its picaresque hero, a young Transylvanian rube who comes to glorious Italy to study music.  The work is cast in dialogue form.

This is a book we all learn about, and hear or play samples from, but rarely read in detail, unless it’s our specialty or dissertation topic.  I wrote about Calvin Hampton, who lived centuries after Diruta!

The thing is, I was determined to get to the bottom of Diruta’s toccatas “with a good leap” and “with a bad leap.” I’ve played the “bad leap” (salto cattivo) and it’s a gorgeous piece of harpsichord music.  But as a fun summer project, I thought I’d get to the bottom of his meaning, chapter, verse, jot, and tittle.

Turns out I got a facsimile of the first edition of volume 1.  My mistake.  No matter, thought I:  that’s what doctorates are for.  So I started in on page one.

The preface (“L’Auttore dell’opera al prudente lettore”)  contains some of the most beautiful descriptions of the pipe organ I’ve ever read.  It also lays out the point and purpose of the organ, and the role of organists in the “grand scheme of things.”

I am morally certain I hadn’t read it before.  It enhances my own strong sense that an organ can be compared to a human community–an idea that Benedict XVI has also expressed–but to a human individual as well.  Wonderful.  (I don’t plagiarize, and I won’t say that “great minds think alike,” because they don’t and “great” is a code word for envy.  The word “organ,” for me, has always been uniquely felicitious, and of itself suggests these comparisons.)

The salto buono and salto cattivo have to do with fingering–the famous good and bad fingers of Renaissance technique–what note leaps to what note.  I’ve been using approximately modern fingering for the piece, and it works, and I don’t want to use early fingering just for the sake of it; but maybe “just for the sake of it” is the wrong attitude.  More anon, perhaps.

But the real bonus has been that dense, closely-printed prologue.  Well worth the few seconds it took to acclimate to the language and printing.

Let’s see if I think the same when I start in on the “good leap” toccata.


About Jonathan B. Hall

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food. Cat lover, too.
This entry was posted in Arthur, Baroque Music, Church, Harpsichord, Music History, Music Theory, Pipe Organ. Bookmark the permalink.