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Gaffurius [Gafurius], Franchinus [Lanfranchinus] [Gafori, Franchino]locked

  • Bonnie J. Blackburn

Updated in this version

updated and revised

(b Lodi, 14 Jan 1451; d Milan, 24 June 1522). Italian theorist, composer, and choirmaster. At home in both speculative and practical music, he was the first theorist to have a substantial number of his writings published, and his influence can be traced for more than a century, both in Italy and abroad.

1. Life.

Much of our knowledge stems from the contemporary biography by Pantaleone Malegolo, printed in the De harmonia: Gaffurius was born in Lodi to the soldier Bettino from Almenno in the territory of Bergamo and to Caterina Fissiraga of Lodi. He began theological studies early, at the Benedictine monastery of S. Pietro in Lodi Vecchio (where he was still present in September 1473) and was ordained priest in late 1473 or 1474. His first instructor in music was Johannes Bonadies (or Godendach); Malegolo implies that this was in Lodi, where he briefly returned to sing in the cathedral on Ascension Day, 18 May 1474. In late 1473 or in 1474, he went to Mantua with his father and spent two more years in diligent research in music; here too he could have been in contact with Bonadies. He then moved to Verona, where he taught publicly and wrote his Musice institutionis collocutiones and Flos musice (both lost) and continued his research.

Gaffurius was called to Genoa by Doge Prospero Adorno in 1477, and after having taught there for a year followed Adorno into exile in Naples (November 1478); there he devoted himself to speculative music, carrying on discussions with Johannes Tinctoris, Guglielmo Guarneri, Bernhard Ycart, and others (according to Giovanthomaso Cimello, he directed music at SS Annunziata). His Theoricum opus was published in Naples on 8 October 1480. Plague, and the Turkish invasion of Puglia, caused him to return to Lodi at the invitation of the bishop, Carlo Pallavicino, in whose castle at Monticelli d’Ongina in the territory of Cremona he spent three years (1480–83) teaching and preparing his Practica musice. He accepted a post at Bergamo as choirmaster of S. Maria Maggiore (from 19 May 1483), but stayed only briefly because of the War of Ferrara. Invited to Milan, he became choirmaster at the cathedral on 22 January 1484, where he taught and composed, and published revisions of his Theorica musicae (1492) and Practica musice (1496).

Several later events in Gaffurius’s life are not mentioned by Malegolo: after arriving in Milan he was made rector of the parish church of San Marcellino, where according to his wills of 1510 and 1512 he wished to be buried; he had the altar rededicated to San Bassiano (patron saint of Lodi) in 1488 (Daolmi, 2017). In 1490 he went to Mantua to persuade the architect Luca Fancelli (Paperius) to work on the cupola of Milan Cathedral. Probably in 1492 Gaffurius was named professor of music at the Milanese branch of the university of Pavia, founded by Ludovico Sforza; he attempted unsuccessfully to augment his rather low salary through various requests to the duke for benefices. When the French captured Milan in 1500, Gaffurius remained at his post, now styling himself ‘Regius Musicus’. In 1504 he visited thermal baths, and in 1506–7 he spent two periods in Varese organizing the chapel in S. Maria al Monte. In 1509 he published an oration by Jacopo Antiquario welcoming Louis XII to Milan after his victory over Venice. In 1511 he began giving a number of his books to the Incoronata, Lodi.

Near the end of Gaffurius’s life, his scholarly exchanges with Giovanni Spataro, dating from 1493, broke out into a bitter pamphlet war from which neither emerged with much honour. The last salvo was fired by Gaffurius’s friend Bartolomeo Filippineo, bolstered with the poetic satires of a group of the theorist’s admirers: Bartho. Philippinei Gaphuriani nominis assertoris in Io. Vaginarium Bononien: Apologia (Turin, August 1521). In these exchanges Spataro is sarcastically called ‘Vaginarius’ (sheath-maker). Gaffurius died of a fever on 24 June 1522; the medical certificate overestimated his age by ten years.

It is highly unlikely that the ‘Portrait of a Musician’ in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, ascribed to Leonardo da Vinci, is of Gaffurius, though the two were surely acquainted. The portrait is that of a young man, not in clerical robe; Gaffurius, a priest, did not come to Milan until he was 33. (On images of Gaffurius and other proposals for the sitter, see Daolmi, 2017.)

2. Writings.

Gaffurius began to transcribe theoretical treatises while a student; manuscripts and books he owned can be identified by his inscriptions, with place and date of copying or purchase (Pantarotto, 2017, pp.59–71). On 16 September 1473 in the monastery in Lodi he finished copying Marchetto of Padua’s Lucidarium. The manuscript (now in I-TRE) also contains the Pomerium and Franco of Cologne’s Ars cantus mensurabilis. His Extractus parvus musicae of about 1474 consists largely of extracts from Marchetto and Ugolino of Orvieto, but also shows that he had read Johannes de Muris, the Ars nova attributed to Philippe de Vitry, Philippus de Caserta’s Tractatus de diversis figuris, several anonymous treatises, and an unknown treatise by Du Fay (Gallo, 1966). At the same time, he was compiling a Tractatus brevis cantus plani, and was probably undertaking practical instruction in composition with his teacher Johannes Bonadies. Thus he seems to have decided early on the path his career would take. The inscription on the frontispiece of the Angelicum ac divinum opus musice records the way he wished to be remembered: ‘Franchinus Gafurius of Lodi meticulously composed three volumes on music: theory, practice, and the harmony of musical instruments’. He is shown as a professor, pronouncing ‘Harmonia est discordia concors’.

The habit of gathering extracts and quotations from a multiplicity of sources and weaving them together with commentaries (learnt from Boethius) continued to characterize Gaffurius’s writings up to the time of the printed version of the Practica musice (1496). Thus his Theoricum opus of 1480, a pioneering effort to supplement Boethius by gathering every witness to Greek and Latin theory he could find (without knowing Greek), suffers from contradictions and duplications; nevertheless it, or rather the improved version, the Theorica of 1492, had a far-reaching influence. It has been estimated (by Kreyszig; see Theorica musicae) that some 70% of the 1480 book was based on Boethius, whose De musica had not yet appeared in print. When Gaffurius moved to Milan in 1484 he enjoyed the company of leading Milanese humanists, and by the 1490s it had become clear to him that Greek sources still existed and that he would need to have them translated; the fruits of this effort, however, are not particularly evident in his last treatise, De harmonia, completed in 1500, but not published until 1518 (a number of illuminated manuscript versions testify to his search for a patron; see Pantarotto, 2017). Here he thoroughly investigated Greek genera and tunings (he was the first to give a complete exposition of Ptolemy’s syntonic diatonic, which would gain importance later in the century); the last chapters are devoted to the harmonies of the universe and the harmonious relations of the human mind and body (the ‘musical instruments’ of his title). His theoretical works demonstrate throughout his urge to combine theory with practice: Greek harmonic science, for example, is presented side by side with Guidonian hexachords. He did not get everything right: the confusion of the Greek octave species and Western modality was not clarified until well into the 16th century.

The manuscript sources of the treatises that eventually formed the four books of the Practica musice (that for book 3, on counterpoint, does not survive) reveal that Gaffurius was heavily indebted to Tinctoris: language and examples are often almost verbatim transcriptions (for comparisons of the versions see Vittorelli, 2014, pp.49–98). By the 1490s, however, he had found his own voice, and not only the subject matter but the more elegant Latin diction show how he had matured. There is now a discussion of Ambrosian chant, as befitted his new post in the diocese of Milan. Book 2, on notation, includes sections on poetic feet as related to musical rhythm and a survey of notation, beginning with Greek rhythmic symbols. The book on counterpoint is quite brief, laying stress on rules; unlike Tinctoris’s treatise it addresses the composer more than the singer. Book 4, on proportions, seems intended to outdo Tinctoris, with proportions as abstruse as 19:4, helpfully illustrated in polyphonic musical examples (Tinctoris’s were monophonic). In his Epistula secunda Gaffurius boasts that in Naples Tinctoris gave him his own treatise on proportions to correct.

Realizing that his Latin was difficult for many, including nuns, Gaffurius undertook an Italian compendium in the Angelicum of 1508. No concession is made in the topics, however, since the first treatise is a complete treatment of mathematical proportions as applied to intervals, tetrachords, and genera, and there is only one musical example in the whole work.

3. Compositions.

It seems unlikely that Gaffurius devoted much time to composition before he became choirmaster at Milan, although he reportedly composed in Genoa. His only surviving secular works (in I-PAc 1158; see Saggio, 2017) must have been written in the 1470s, and they are not even competent. Clearly, he gained experience in the following decade, perhaps under the influence of the skilled composer Tinctoris. Once established in Milan Cathedral, where he reformed the choir, Gaffurius was responsible for enlarging the polyphonic repertory. Four large choirbooks remain from his tenure (I-Md Libroni 1–4), partly in his hand (Lib.1 is signed and dated 23 June 1490). Some of the works probably stem from the Sforza court under Galeazzo Maria, for example the so-called motetti missales and others in which a particular ‘Milanese style’ has been detected, especially motets of Loyset Compère and Gaspar van Weerbeke. Gaffurius too absorbed this style. Although we have no record of a visit to Milan in the 1470s (but in July 1474 the ducal court passed through Lodi), Gaffurius mentioned in the Angelicum that many years earlier he had spoken with Josquin and Weerbeke, and in his Tractatus practicabilium proportionum of about 1482 he referred to the latter’s ‘motetti ducales’.

A substantial number of works in the choirbooks are by Gaffurius: at least 18 masses, 11 Magnificat settings, and 51 motets and hymns; for the identifications we depend partially on old inventories and imperfectly preserved indexes to the manuscripts, and all the works in Lib.4 are fragmentary because of fire damage. His masses, while perfectly serviceable, have a sameness about them; imitation appears sporadically, and duos are used infrequently. While 11 follow the standard Roman Ordinary, six lack the Kyrie and Agnus Dei, in accordance with the Ambrosian rite (where the Kyrie is only an appendage to the Gloria), and one has a Kyrie but no Agnus. Too little is known about the use of these choirbooks to explain the seeming anomaly; even the motetti missales include substitute motets for Roman items (the court did not follow the Ambrosian rite). Four of Gaffurius’s masses are labelled ‘brevis’, and some are very short indeed (the Gloria of the Missa primi toni brevis has only 48 breves, the Credo 69); text-setting is mostly syllabic and omission of phrases is common not only in these but in all his masses. Two masses are troped: Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus of Missa ‘Omnipotens genitor’ and Sanctus of Missa ‘Montana’. Only one mass is certainly based on a cantus prius factus, the Missa ‘De tous biens pleine’, but even here the use of the model seems largely confined to a head-motif treated with considerable freedom, as in many of Gaffurius’s other masses (and the motetti missales by Compère and Weerbeke). Despite his keen interest in proportions, only the untitled mass in Lib.2 makes extended use of them. If the motetti missales had their origin in the ducal court in the 1470s, they were still being sung in the cathedral in the following decades; Gaffurius’s Missa quarti toni Sancte Caterine is partly in this tradition, attaching motets in place of the introit before and ‘Deo gratias’ after the five sections of the Ordinary, and the cycle of motets beginning with Salve mater salvatoris is wholly within it (no designations appear over the pieces, but the index records ‘cum tota missa’); three of his masses in Lib.4 also have motets attached.

Gaffurius is at his best in the motets. Most of these are found in the earliest of the codices, Lib.1. These short pieces have much more variety in texture than the masses, mixing block chords, brief duos (rarely paired), lilting triple-metre passages and quasi-chordal writing much in the same way that the texts are put together: many of these are addressed to the Virgin and comprise fragments from sequences and hymns and verses from the Song of Songs. Imitation is used sparingly. The text is delivered expeditiously; phrases often begin with semibreves, especially in metrical texts. Settings of liturgical texts, even Marian antiphons, are rare.

Of the 11 Magnificat settings, ten set even verses using the wording of the Roman rite; only one (no.6 in the edition) sets odd verses in the slightly different wording of the Ambrosian rite.


all 4vv unless otherwise indicated


Franchinus Gafurius: Collected Musical Works, ed. L. Finscher, CMM, x (1955–60) [F i–ii]

F. Gaffurio: Messe I–III, ed. A. Bortone, AMMM, i–iii (1958–60) [G i–iii]

F. Gaffurio: Magnificat, ed. F. Fano, AMMM, iv (1959) [G iv]

F. Gaffurio: Mottetti, ed. L. Migliavacca, AMMM, v (1959) [G v]

Anonimi: Messe, ed. F. Fano, AMMM, vi (1966) [A]

Liber capelle ecclesie maioris: Quarto codice di Gaffurio, AMMM, xvi (1968) [facs. of Librone 4 (olim 2266), which was badly damaged by fire in 1906; attrib. taken from earlier inventories: see Sartori, 1953, and Ward, 1986] [Lib.4]

Milan, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, sezione musicale, Renaissance Music in Facsimile, xiia–c [=librone 1–3, I-Md olim 2269, 2268, 2267] (New York, 1987) [Lib.1–3]


Missa ‘Ave maris stella’, Lib.4, f.1v

Missa brevis eiusdem toni (lacking Ky, Ag), Lib.2, f.110v, G iii, 31–43 (see Leverett, 1994, pp.163–4)

Missa brevis et expedita (lacking Ky, Ag), Lib.2, f.69v, A, 25–37 (see Leverett, 1994, pp.163–4)

Missa brevis octavi toni (lacking Ky, Ag), Lib.2, f.130v, G iii

Missa de carneval, Lib.3, F i; G i

Missa ‘De tous biens pleine’, Lib.2, F ii; G ii (on Hayne van Ghizeghem’s chanson)

Missa ‘Imperatrix gloriosa’, Lib.4, f.14v

Missa ‘La bassadanza’, Lib.4, f.28v

Missa ‘Montana’ (lacking Ky, Ag), Lib.3, G i

Missa ‘O clara luce’, Lib.2, F ii; G iii

Missa ‘Omnipotens genitor’, Lib.2, F ii; G ii

Missa primi toni brevis (lacking Ag), Lib.2, f.43v, F ii; G ii

Missa quarti toni Sancte Caterine, Lib.2, F ii; G iii (with motets in place of introit and Deo gratias)

Missa sexti toni irregularis, Lib.2, f.93v, and 3 (lacking Ky, Ag), f.154v, F i; F ii; G i; G ii

Missa trombetta (lacking Ky, Ag), Lib.2, G ii

Missa (lacking Ky, Ag), 3vv, f.78v, Lib.3, G i

Missa, Lib.2, f.176v, F ii; G iii

Missa, Lib.4, f.41v

Motetti missales

Salve mater salvatoris (2 p. Salve verbi sacra parens; 3 p. Salve decus virginum; 4 p. Tu convallis humilis; 5 p. Tu thronus es Salomonis; 6 p. Salve mater pietatis; 7 p. Imperatrix gloriosa), Lib.1, G v

Magnificat settings

3 Magnificat, 3vv, 8 Magnificat, 4vv, Lib.1, 3, G iv

Motets and hymns

Accepta Christi munera, 5vv, Lib.2, G v

Ambrosi doctor venerande, Lib.4, f.68v

Assumpta est Maria, Lib.4, f.26v (Ingressa)

Audi benigne conditor, 5vv, Lib.1 and 4, G v

Ave mundi spes, Maria, Lib.1, G v

Beata progenies, 3vv, Lib.1, G v

Castra celi, Lib.1, G v

Caeli quondam roraverit, Lib.4, f.13v

Christe cunctorum dominator, Lib.4, f.48v

Christe redemptor … ex Patre, I-MC 871, ed. I. Pope and M. Kanazawa, The Musical Manuscript Montecassino 871 (Oxford, 1978)

Descendi in ortum, Lib.1, G v

Gaude mater luminis, Lib.1, G v

Gaude virgo gloriosa, Lib.1, G v

Gloriose virginis Mariae, 3vv, Lib.1, G v

Gloriose virginis Mariae, 4vv, Lib.4, f.47v (belongs with mass on f.41v)

Hac in die (introit to Missa Sancte Caterine), Lib.2 and 3, F ii, G iii

Hoc gaudium, Lib.1, G v

Hostis Herodes impie, I-MC 871, ed. I. Pope and M. Kanazawa, The Musical Manuscript Montecassino 871 (Oxford, 1978)

Imperatrix gloriosa, Lib.4, f.12v

Imperatrix reginarum, Lib.1, G v

Joseph conturbatus est, Lib.1, G v

Magnum nomen domini, 5vv, Lib.1 and 4, G v

Nativitas tua, Lib.4, f.40v (Ingressa)

O beate Sebastiane, Lib.1, G v

O crux benedicta, Lib.4, f.10v

O Jesu dulcissime, 5vv, Lib.4, f.98v

Omnipotens eterne Deus, Lib.1, G v

O res laeta, Lib.1, G v

Ortus conclusus, Lib.1, G v

O sacrum convivium, 4vv, Lib.1, G v

O sacrum convivium, 5vv, Lib.2 and 4, G v

Pontifex urbis populi, Lib.4, f.38v

Prodiit puer, Lib.1, G v

Promissa mundo gaudia, Lib.1 and 2, G v

Quando venit ergo, Lib.1, G v

Regina caeli, Lib.1, G v

Salve decus genitoris, Lib.1, G v (addressed to Ludovico Sforza)

Salve mater Salvatoris, Lib.1, f.179v, G v

Salve verbi sacra parens, Lib.4, f.23v

Simeon justus, Lib.4, f.1 (Ingressa)

Solemnitas laudabilis, Lib.4, f.82v

Sponsa Dei electa, Lib.1, G v

Stabat mater, Lib.1 and 3, f.185v, G v

Sub tuam protectionem, 3vv, Lib.1, G v

Tota pulchra es, Lib.1, G v

Verbum sapientiae, Lib.1, G v

Vidi speciosam, Lib.4, f.27v (Offertorio)

Virgo constans (Loco Deo gratias in Missa Sancte Caterine), Lib.2 and 3, F ii; G iii

Virgo Dei digna, Lib.1, G v

Virgo prudentissima, Lib.1, G v

Secular works

all in I-PAc 1158 (ed. Saggio, 2017)

Alto standardo, 3vv (ed. Saggio, 2017, pp.98–100)

Ayme fortuna, 3vv (ed. Saggio, 2017, pp.102–3)

Illustrissimo marchexe signor Guielmo, 3vv, addressed to Guglielmo VIII, Marquis of Monferrato (ed. Jeppesen, 1969, pp.311–15; Saggio, 2017, pp.91–2)

Lascera ogni ninfa, 3vv (ed. Saggio, 2017, pp.86–7)

2 textless compositions, 3vv (ed. Saggio, 2017, pp.89, 94–6)

Lost works

unidentified ‘canto’ and ‘concento’ (SpataroC, nos.44, 52, 84–5)

Facciam festa e giullaria (lauda for Christmas, formerly in Lib.4)

Mass for the Purification of the Virgin (formerly in Lib.4)

Missa ‘Illustris princeps’ (mentioned in Apologia)

Missa ‘Le souvenir’ (mentioned in Apologia; sent to singers of Leo X)

Missa ‘L’homme armé’ (mentioned in Apologia and letter 83 of SpataroC)

Nunc eat et veteres (to Tinctoris; mentioned in Tractatus practicabilium proportionum)

unnamed composition using proportions (mentioned in letters 52, 84, 85 of SpataroC)


  • Theoricum opus musice discipline (Naples, 1480; ded. Cardinal Giovanni Arcimboldo); repr. with introduction by F.A. Gallo (Lucca, 1996)
  • Theorica musicae (Milan, 1492/R; ded. Ludovico Sforza); Eng. trans. by W. K. Kreyszig (New Haven, CT, 1993)
  • Tractato vulgare del canto figurato (Milan, 1492) [pubd under the name of a pupil, Francesco Caza; condensed It. trans. of Practica musice, book 2]; Ger. trans. by J. Wolf (Berlin, 1922)
  • Practica musice (Milan, 1496/R; ded. Ludovico Sforza); Eng. trans. by C.A. Miller, MSD, xx (1969); Eng. trans. by I. Young (Madison, WI, 1969); Italian trans. in Vittorelli, 2014; later versions of 1497, 1502, 1508, 1512 (comparisons in Vittorelli, 2014, pp.99–112)
  • Angelicum ac divinum opus musice (Milan, 1508/R; ded. Simone Crotti) [It., mostly based on Practica musice] (see Forasacco, 2017)
  • De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum opus (Milan, 1518/R; ded. Jean Grolier; earlier versions in MS: 1500 ded. Bonifacio Simonetta; rev. 1514); Eng. trans. by Miller, MSD, xxxiii (1977); 5 earlier MS copies (Pantarotto, 2017, nos.8, 9, 21, and 39 and n.10)
  • Apologia … adversus Joannem Spatarium et complices musicos bononienses (Turin, 1520), ed. and trans. P.J. Kaufman: The Apologia of Franchino Gafurio: a Critical Edition and Translation (MM thesis, Lousiana State U., 2007),
  • Epistula prima in solutiones obiectorum Io. Vaginarii Bononien. (Milan, 1521)
  • Epistula secunda apologetica (Milan, 1521)
  • Extractus parvus musicae, c1474, I-PAc 1158 (ded. Filippo Tresseni), ed. F.A. Gallo (Bologna, 1969)
  • Tractatus brevis cantus plani, c1474, PAc 1158 (ded. Paolo de’ Greci)
  • Flos musice, c1475–6 (ded. Ludovico Gonzaga III, Marquis of Mantua), lost
  • Musice institutionis collocutiones, c1475–6 (ded. Carlo Pallavicino, Bishop of Lodi), lost
  • Theoriae musice tractatus, c1479, GB-Lbl Hirsch IV.1441 (early version of Theoricum opus; ded. Antonio de Guevara, Count of Potenza)
  • Musices practicabilis libellum, 1480, US-CA Houghton Mus 142 (ded. Guido Antonio Arcimboldo; became book 2 of Practica musice)
  • Tractatus practicabilium proportionum, c1482, I-Bc A69 (ded. Corradolo Stanga; became book 4 of Practica musice)
  • Micrologus vulgaris cantus plani, c1482, Bc A90 (ded. Paolo de’ Greci)
  • Liber primus musices practicabilis, 1487, BGc Σ.4.37, a miscellany copied by the Carmelite Alessandro Assolari, including what became book 1 of Practica musice
  • Glossemata quaedam super nonnullas partes theoricae Johannis de Muris, 1499, Ma H.165 inf.
  • to Ludovico Sforza, 22 April 1495, requesting a benefice (ed. Caretta, Cremascoli and Salamina, 99)
  • to Marco Sanudo, 14 Dec 1496, accompanying a copy of the Practica (ed. Caretta, Cremascoli. and Salamina, 95)
  • to Giovanni Antonio Flaminio, 24 March 1517, criticizing Pietro Aaron’s Libri tres de institutione harmonica (ed. in Bergquist, appx B, with Flaminio’s answer; see Blackburn, 2013, pp.37–40)
  • to the deputies of the Incoronata in Lodi, 22 Aug 1520, recommending a cleric (ed. in Caretta, Cremascoli, and Salamina, 127–8)
  • to the deputies of the Incoronata in Lodi, 4 Oct 1520, thanking them for hiring the cleric (ed. in Caretta, Cremascoli, and Salamina, 128)


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  • C.Sartori: ‘La musica nel duomo dalle origini a Franchino Gaffurio’, Storia di Milano, vol.9 (Milan, 1961), 723–48
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  • C.A. Miller: ‘Francesco Zambeccari and a Musical Friend’, RN, vol.25 (1972), 426–31
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  • C.V. Palisca: Humanism in Italian Renaissance Musical Thought (New Haven, CT, 1985), esp. 191–232
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Rivista musicale italiana
London, British Library
Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale
Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai
Musica disciplina
Collectanea historiae musicae (1953-66)
Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana
Acta musicologica
Milan, Capitolo Metropolitano, Biblioteca e Archivio
Rivista internazionale di musica sacra
Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, sezione Musicale
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Cambridge (MA), Harvard University, Harvard College Library
Renaissance News
Tremezzo, Count Gian Ludovico Sola-Cabiati, private collection
Musical Quarterly
B.J. Blackburn, E.E. Lowinsky and C.A. Miller: A Correspondence of Renaissance Musicians (Oxford, 1991)
Milan, Conservatorio di Musica Giuseppe Verdi, Biblioteca