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Negri, Cesare [‘Il Trombone’]free

  • G. Yvonne Kendall

(b Milan, Italy, c. 1536; d Milan, Italy 1602). Italian dance master, choreographer, and author of the dance manual Le gratie d’amore (1602). According to Negri himself, he was Milanese by birth and the father of Margherita. He described his wife Isabella de Negri (née di Nave) as a ‘townswoman . . . an excellent ballerina’. Diocesan records also identify four children – Livia (b 1573), Ottavia (b 1575), Jacobo Filippo (b 1583), and the aforementioned Margherita (b 1585). Negri’s mother, Magdalena di Marchi, apparently resided with the family. Little mention is made of his father, Jacobo Antonio, aside from a citation in a Bibliotheca scriptorum mediolanensium (1745) by Philippi Argelati Bononiensis: ‘Hujusmodi est Caesar de Nigris Jacobo Antonio patre in hac Urbe genitus, & cognomento dictus il Trombone’ (‘An example of this is Cesare Negri, born in this city to his father Jacobo Antonio, and nicknamed the Trombone’).

This nickname, found in notarial records of 1587 as the name for his home, Casa del Trombone, also appears on the title page of Le gratie and in the opening of ‘A Pompeo Diabono’, a poem by Gian Paolo Lomazzo. The poem begins: ‘Tra molto gente che danzando giva, Vidi il raro Pompeo Diabone, Co’l Valchiera e il Trombon . . .’ (‘Among the many who dancing do go, See the rare Pompeo Diabone, With Valchiera and Trombone . . .’).

Once his teacher Diabono left Italy in 1554 to serve at the court of the French king Henry II, Negri inherited his Milanese studio. He was probably 18 at the time. In 1569, he began to present his original choreographies. Among his students were those who became dance masters to Henry III of Poland and France, Philip II of Spain, and Emperor Rudolf II.

In addition to his accomplishments as a teacher and dancer in Milan, Negri served the French royal family for a number of brief visits. These encompass a two-year period that includes the 1587 publication of Lomazzo’s poem that refers to the influx of Italians into France as the ‘flies of Italy’. French archival documents list Negri as ‘César Denegris, violon du roi’ among other designations. It was not uncommon for dance masters to have additional skills such as playing instruments, fencing, and horseback riding.

Le gratie d’amore serves as a dance manual, a memoir of Negri’s professional career, and a chronicle of major Milanese productions. After the obligatory letters to readers, poems, and dedications to patrons, Le gratie is divided into three ‘treatises’. Treatise I chronicles major dance and theatre events spanning Negri’s career along with the employment and professional specialties of 45 fellow dance masters and professional dancers. Additionally, this treatise preserves poems written by members of Milan’s Accademia degli Inquieti, an academy founded by Muzio Sforza in 1594, just as Negri’s theatrical career was beginning. Since few artistic works survive for this humanistic academy, their inclusion increases the historical value of Le gratie’s contents.

Negri lists active dancers among the nobility, organized by the gubernatorial terms of Milan’s Spanish caretakers. These lists may be used to date specific choreographies by comparing dancers’ names, the periods of the governors’ tenures, and the women to whom Negri dedicates each dance, information unavailable from any other dance source of the period. Other details offered in this treatise include instrumentation for dance accompaniment, costuming and sets for theatrical events, and references to other extant sources for the events Negri recounts.

Treatise II contains lessons on etiquette, the correct performance of basic steps, and other choreographic skills. Much of this is similar in presentation to lessons taught in Fabritio Caroso’s treatise Il ballarino (1600), which Negri duly acknowledges. He presents new materials as well, including illustrations of various steps, postures, and practice positions; extended inventories of steps and step patterns; and gagliarda variations requiring significant skill especially created for women. The variations for women are exclusive to Le gratie, providing an interesting counterweight to the choreographies of Caroso where women are offered only the option of simpler step phrases, never the more complex passages such as those Negri contributes.

In Le gratie, men receive special attention in the virtuosic tassel jumps of this treatise. In these competitive jumps, men vie to do the most complex hopping, spinning, and jumping patterns, each of which ends with kicking a tassel suspended from the ceiling down to shoulder level. Traces of this acrobatic contest, pictured in Le gratie’s illustrations, survive in Scandinavian hallingdansen.

Treatise III summarizes instructions for the steps most frequently used in choreographies, giving them abbreviations for convenience. These abbreviations can be misleading, however, since they often refer to a ‘step family’, as opposed to an individual step. A step family includes a set of related movements where each member is similar to the parent step. The seguito family, for example, includes the seguito spezzato, seguito finto, seguito scorso, seguito grave, and seguito ordinario. Most of the family members can be performed in the same amount of time, implying a certain amount of choice for the dancer, which can be exercised as part of dance improvisation. The concept of participant choice is confirmed in Orchesographie, the French dance manual where the pseudonymous author, Thoinot Arbeau, instructs fictitious student Capriol on the subdivisions and flourishes that can be added at will.

Le gratie d’amore contains six basic choreographic genres, all of which, except the brando and entrata, are also found by name in the Il ballarino and Nobiltà di dame, the volumes written by fellow Italian dance master Fabritio Caroso:


alta – a couple dance with an average of six choreographic parts and two dance types. They include hops and end in triple metre (e.g. ‘Alta Visconte’).


ballo – a simple repetitive dance in short sections, typically moving forward in lines; also used as a generic term for any dance, for a dance-related event, or for the dance floor (e.g. ‘Ballo per sei dame’).


balletto – a choreography for two, three, or four dancers that includes at least two dance types, typically with metre changes. The coordination of music and dance sections is particularly close (e.g. ‘Lo spagnoletto’).


bassa – a dance for one or two couples typically in two sections: a duple-metred procession followed by a triple section, possibly related to bassadanza, or to pavane-gagliarda pairings (e.g. ‘Bassa delle ninfe’).


brando – a choreography for two or more couples with at least four dance types and long sections, at least two of which are triple metred; these often include braids or other patterns that alternate dancers. Brandos are used as ending choreographies for intermedii (e.g. ‘Brando di Cales’). Despite the similarity of its name to the French branle, Negri’s brando is not the same. The branle is a simple repetitive dance, folk-like in quality, while the brando is the most elaborate of Italian choreographic forms.


entrata – a brief duple-metred entry dance common to Spanish choreographies (e.g. ‘Ballo per sei cavalieri’ which is entitled ‘l’Entrata’ in the music source Balletti moderni facili per sonare il liuto).

Other dance forms (terms in parentheses are not used in Negri) include:


ballo del piantone – a ‘changing of the guard’ dance in which a couple begins and the man or the woman leaves, to be replaced by another. The remaining member of the original couple then leaves to be replaced. This trading continues until everyone has been included.


battaglia – a ‘battle of the sexes’ with a dueling couple backed by seconds.


(mixers or country dances) – dances for variable numbers of participants with flirtatious movements and/or changing of partners (e.g. ‘La nizzarda’):


caccia – a mixer in which men and women ‘hunt’ (caccia) for partners.


catena – a mixer in which dancers hold hands to form a ‘chain’ (catena).


corrente – a mixer in which men ‘run’ (corre) after women to capture dance partners.


mutanze [variations] – in three basic formats:


variations alternating between man and woman that follow a joint opening passage and precede a joint closing passage (e.g. ‘Tordiglione’).


a short variation section that may be part of a larger balletto or brando choreography (e.g. ‘Adda Felice’).


a basic repetitive ternary dance form (ABC) in which the B-section varies with each repetition of the music (e.g. ‘Pavaniglia’).

Treatise I records instrumentation for specific choreographies, including a five-viol consort for the ‘Ballo per sei dame’; a four-harp consort for ‘Ballo per sei cavalieri’; and a consort of four violas da braccio for ‘Il pastor leggiadro’, the final choreography of the Milanese Intermedio of 1594. For each choreography, Treatise III contains music in mensural notation for the tune and in Italian lute tablature for the accompaniment.

In terms of music surviving elsewhere, Gasparo Zannetti’s Il scolaro per imparar a suonare di violino, et altri stromenti (1645) contains several four-part instrumental settings of Le gratie music. Balletti moderni facili per sonar il liuto (‘Easy modern dances for playing the lute’), a volume of lute tablature published in Venice, is contemporary with the 1611 Neapolitan edition of Negri’s book. Between these two volumes, concordances for 90% of Negri’s dance music survive. Only two dances in Le gratie (‘Alta Somaglia’ and ‘Bizzaria d’amore’) lack known concordances.

In addition to instrumental sources, three vocal concordances survive. Orazio Vecchi’s canzonetta ‘So ben mi ch’ha buon tempo’ is choreographed in Le gratie. The tune for Negri’s ‘La caccia’ matches Giovanni Gastoldi’s five-voice balletto ‘La sirena (Questa dolce sirena)’, while another Gastoldi balletto, ‘L’innamorato (A lieta vita)’, is concordant with ‘Alta Mendozza’. Gastoldi’s balletti were published in Balletti a cinque voci (1596), a volume labelled as appropriate for ‘cantare, sonare, & ballare’ (‘singing, playing, and dancing’). For each of these part-songs, Negri adds an instrumental gagliarda section in the choreography.

Negri’s volume is an extremely rare source of information on choreographies used in four theatrical events: a mascherata of 1574, a festa for the Archduke and Archduchess of Austria, and intermedii of 1594 and 1599. For the festa, Le gratie is the only known Italian source for choreographies or specific descriptions for this type of event. Aside from the choreography that ends ‘La pellegrina’, the well-known Florentine intermedio of 1589, Negri’s dances for the events staged in 1594 and 1599 are the only surviving intermedio choreographies.

Although Negri does not include choreographies for the mascherata produced for Don Juan’s visit to Milan in 1574, he depicts the event as one of stupendous magnitude. This mascherata was a formal costumed parade of floats with allegorical subjects, each float accompanied by instrumentalists. The parade ended with a brando performed by 80 participants, followed by general social dancing. This use of social dance to end an event is echoed in English masque performances. It also reflects the real version of a fictionalized event found in Rabelais’ Gargantua. Such evidence for the progression of a formal event into the informal nachtanz grants interesting insights into the entertainments of a lesser-known geographic venue.

The festa as described by Negri was a formal presentation of the city’s lords and ladies to its honoured guests, the newly married Archduke and Archduchess of Austria. This may well have been a practice more common to Spain, as can be inferred from the formal structures of Negri’s two festa choreographies. One is an entrata, an entry processional with simple repetitive steps choreographed for six women; the other is a balletto for six men that is preceded by an entrata. The word ‘entrata’, however, is only used once in the volume – for describing this part of the men’s dance. Aside from these examples in Le gratie, entrate with the same choreographic qualities are otherwise found solely in extant dance sources from Spain. In fact, five of Spaniard Antonio Jaque’s six choreographies in Libro de danzar begin with an entrata.

The intermedio of 1594 was produced for the wedding of Count d’Aro, son of Milan’s governor Don Juan Fernandez de Velasquez. Leandro (the stage name for Francesco Pilastro), who directed this production, left an account of the performance with notes on props, sets, and costumes. The ‘Fall of Phaeton’ (‘La caduta di Fetonte’) was in three sections (also called intermedii). Leandro’s notes list actors that hanno a vestirsi (‘must be dressed’) for the production. Although dancers appear as extras in the second intermedio, for the finale Leandro notes ‘villagers, dressed as before, dancing with cymbals or other instruments, played together’. For this performance, a temporary theatre was erected in the garden of the ducal palace. The venue proved so popular that a permanent stage, named Salone Margherita, was constructed there for Spanish Queen Margarita who visited in 1598.

The intermedio of 1599 was produced in honour of the wedding of Isabella and Albert of Austria; Inquieti academy member Giovanni Battista Visconte wrote its text. The commedia, entitled Arminia Egloga, consists of a prologue followed by five acts, with interludes (intermedii) of songs and dances between the acts. Intermedio prologues, summarizing the theme, evolved into the prologue characteristic of early opera. Between the acts, Camillo Schiafenati provided songs and dances. Architectural drawings and sumptuous verbal portraits of the permanent theatre for this performance survive in a publication by Guido Mazenta, ‘Doctor of Laws at the College of Milan’. Negri choreographed the brando for four couples that ends the production.


  • Le gratie d’amore (Milan, 1602; R/1967)
  • Nuove inventioni di balli (Milan, 1604)
  • Arte para aprendera dançar (E-Mn Barbieri 14085, 1630)


  • J.A. Jaque: ‘El libro de danzar’ (E-Mn Madrid, MS 14059/15, MS 18580/5)
  • F. Caroso: Il ballarino (Venice, 1581; facs. New York, 1967)
  • Breve narratione di quanto passo appò la persona dell’illustriss. et eccellentiss. Signor’ Contestabile di Castiglia; Dal giorno che partì, sino à ritornò à Milano, con la Sereniss. et Potentiss. Regina Margarita, Signora Nostra Clementissima (Milan, c. 1589)
  • P. Lutij: Opera bellissima nella quale si contengono molte partite et passeggi di gagliarda (Perugia, 1589)
  • G. Gastoldi: Balletti, a cinque voci, con li suoi versi per cantare, sonare & ballare, con una Mascherate de cacciatori a sei voci, & un concerto de Pastori a Otto (Antwerp, 1596)
  • A Briefe Discourse of the Voyage and Entrance of the Queene of Spaine into Italy: with the Triumphes and Pomps Showed in the Cittyes of Ostia, Ferrara, Mantua, Cremona, Milane, as in other Boroughes and Towns of Italy (London, 1598) [trans. from French and Dutch]
  • G. Mazenta: Apparato fatto dalla città di Milano per ricevere lo serenissima Regina D. Margarita d’Austria (Milan, 1599)
  • L. Lupi: Libro di gagliarda, tordiglione, passo è meaao, canario, è passeggi (Palermo, 1607)
  • Balletti moderni facili per sonar il liuto (Venice, 1611)
  • G. Zannetti: Il Scolaro per impar a suonare di violino, et altri stromenti (Milan, 1645; facs. Florence, 1984)
  • G. Pagani: ‘Del teatro in Milano avanti il 1598’, Il Teatro Illustrato (April 1884)
  • A.P. Brozzi: Il reggio ducale teatro di Milano: Contributo alla storia del teatro (Milan, 1894)
  • A.R. Villa: Correspondencia de la Infanta Archiduquesa Doña Isabel Clara Eugenia de Austria (Madrid, 1906)
  • M. Maylender: Storia delle accademie d’Italia (Bologna, 1929)
  • F. Saxl: ‘Costumes and Festivals of Milanese Society under Spanish Rule’, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol.23 (1936), 403–56
  • C. Vianello: ‘Geste tornei, congiure nel cinquecento milanese’, Archivio storico Lombardo, vol.62 (1936), 370–91
  • S. Pagani: Il teatro milanese (Milan, 1944)
  • J. Subirá: ‘Libro de danzar de don Baltasar de Rojas Pantoja, compuesto por el maestro Juan Antonio Jaque (s.XVII)’, Anuario musical, vol.5 (1950), 190–98
  • G.Y. Kendall: ‘Le gratie d’amore’ (1602) by Cesare Negri: Translation and Commentary (DMA diss., Stanford U., 1985)
  • P.A. Jones: ‘Spectacle in Milan: Cesare Negri’s Torch Dances’, EMc (1986), 182–96
  • P.A. Jones: ‘The Relation between Music and Dance in Cesare Negri’s “Le gratie d’amore” (1602)’, (diss., King’s College London, 1988)
  • M. Esses: Dance and Instrumental Diferencias in Spain during the 17th and Early 18th Centuries (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)
  • F. Luisi: ‘Musici in comedia nel primo cinquecento’, Origini della commedia nell’Europa del cinquecento (Rome, 1993)
  • K.T. McGinnis: ‘At Home in the “Casa del Trombone”: a Social-Historical View of Sixteenth-Century Milanese Dancing Masters’, Reflecting our Past, Reflecting our Future: Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Meeting of the Society of Dance History Scholars (Riverside, CA, 1997), 203–16
  • G.Y. Kendall: ‘Ornamentation and Improvisation in Sixteenth-Century Dance’, Improvisation in the Arts, ed. T. McGee (Kalamazoo, 2003)
  • G.Y. Kendall: ‘Music, dance and theatre in late cinquecento Milan’, EMc (2004), 74–95
  • A. Pontremoli: Intermedio spettacolare e danza teatrale (Milan, 2005)
  • K.T. McGinnis: ‘Your Most Humble Subject, Cesare Negri Milanese’, Dance, Spectacle, and the Body Politick, 1250–1750, ed. J. Nevile (Bloomington, 2008)
  • G.Y. Kendall: ‘Mutanze, Divisions, and Diferencias in Late Renaissance Dance’, Music, Dance, and Society: Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Memory of Ingrid G. Brainard, ed. A. Buckley and C.J. Cyrus (Kalamazoo, 2011)
  • G.Y. Kendall: The Music of Arbeau’s ‘Orchesographie’ (Hillsdale, NY, 2013)
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional
Early Music