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date: 09 December 2019

Del Lago, Giovanni [Pre Zanetto]free

  • Bonnie J. Blackburn

(b c1490; d Venice, 8 March 1544). Italian theorist. All that is known of his early life is that he was a student of the frottolist Giovanni Battista Zesso of Padua. In 1520 he was a cleric attached to the small parish church of S Sofia, Venice, in the sestiere of Cannaregio, where he remained throughout his life; he became deacon in 1527 and was promoted to titular priest in 1542. Towards the end of his life he published a small and largely insignificant treatise on the fundamentals of music, Breve introduttione (reviewed unfavourably by Pietro Aaron; see SpataroC, no. 66), but his chief claim to fame lies in the correspondence he conducted with the foremost theorists of his time, Giovanni Spataro and Aaron, and a host of lesser musicians. Although his plan to publish his letters failed, his correspondence survives, together with many of the letters written to him (I-Rvat, ed. SpataroC). These show that he revised his original letters to correct errors, sometimes incorporating unacknowledged portions of Spataro’s replies. Several letters are pre-dated and some are fictitious.

Although he viewed himself as a great authority on music theory, frequently quoting from older theorists, Del Lago was often shown up by Spataro’s sharper mind. The interests reflected in his letters lay in ancient Greek theory (despite his ignorance of Greek), text–music relations, enigmatic canons, and problems of notation; they drew forth highly interesting responses from his correspondents. His Epistole and several theoretical manuscripts that belonged to him were acquired by Paolo Manuzio; they were inherited by his son Aldo Manuzio the younger and passed to the Vatican Library in 1598.

Del Lago is the author of a motet, Multi sunt vocati, an exercise in imperfection and alteration, partially preserved in one of his letters (SpataroC, no.86) and mentioned in Aaron’s Trattato della natura et cognitione di tutti gli tuoni di canto figurato (1525).


  • Breve introduttione di musica misurata (Venice, 1540/R)
  • Epistole composte in lingua volgare (MS, I-Rvat; late copies in I-Bc B.106, B.107. 1–3; A-Wn S.m.4830)
  • Letters to Spataro in F-Pn Ital.1110, I-Bc Lettere di Spataro, D-B Mus.autogr.theor.1


  • K. Jeppesen: ‘Eine musiktheoretische Korrespondenz des früheren Cinquecento’, AcM, vol.13 (1941), 3–39
  • E.P. Bergquist: The Theoretical Writings of Pietro Aaron (diss., Columbia U., 1964) [includes Del Lago’s letters to and from Aaron]
  • F.A. Gallo: ‘Citazioni di teorici medievali nelle lettere di Giovanni del Lago’, Quadrivium, vol.14 (1973), 171–80
  • D. Harrán: ‘The Theorist Giovanni del Lago: a New View of the Man and his Writings’, MD, vol.27 (1973), 107–51
  • M. Feldman: City Culture and the Madrigal at Venice (Berkeley, 1995), esp. 156–70
  • B.J. Blackburn: ‘Publishing Music Theory in Early Cinquecento Venice and Bologna: Friends and Foes’, Music in Print and Beyond: Hildegard von Bingen to the Beatles, ed. C.A. Monson and R.M. Martin (Rochester, NY, 2013), 39–61
  • B.J. Blackburn: ‘Theorists as Primedonne: Reviewing Music Theory in the Early Cinquecento’, Studi musicali, vol.6 (2015), 263–82
Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale
Acta musicologica
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Musiksammlung
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung
Musica disciplina
B.J. Blackburn, E.E. Lowinsky and C.A. Miller: A Correspondence of Renaissance Musicians (Oxford, 1991)
Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France