Francesco degli Organi, Francesco il Cieco, or Francesco da Firenze, called by later generations Francesco Landini or Landino (c. 1325 or 1335 – September 2, 1397) was an Italian composer, organist, singer, poet and instrument maker. Born in Florence, he was one of the most famous and revered composers of the second half of the 14th century, and by far the most famous composer in Italy. Blind from childhood, Landini became devoted to music early in life, and mastered many instruments, including the lute, as well as the art of singing, writing poetry, and composition. He was employed as organist at the Florentine monastery of Santa Trinità in 1361, and at the church of San Lorenzo from 1365 onward.
Landini was the foremost exponent of the Italian Trecento style, sometimes also called the “Italian ars nova”. His output was almost exclusively secular. While there are records that he composed sacred music, none of it has survived. What have survived are eighty-nine ballate for two voices, forty-two ballate for three voices, and another nine which exist in both two and three-voice versions. In addition to the ballate, a smaller number of madrigals have survived. Landini is assumed to have written his own texts for many of his works. His output, preserved most completely in the Squarcialupi Codex, represents almost a quarter of all surviving 14th century Italian music.
All songs from this programme are contrafacta: this technique means the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music. This technique, which is very old and was largely applied to many well-known tunes starting from the XII century, can operate in either direction: to provide pious words for a secular song, or profane words to fit a religious song. In this case, of course, we adopted the first choice. The texts are taken from two important manuscripts dating back to the end of XIV/beginning of XV century: Riccardiano 2871 and Magliabechiano XXXVIII 130, which are preserved in the Riccardiana Library and in the National Central Library in Florence, respectively. The themes of the songs are, besides the praise and glorification of the Virgin Mary, the mourning upon the death of Jesus and the presence of death in man’s life. We can assume that these songs, together with other devotional music, were sung by the Compagnie dei Laudesi, pious confraternities founded in Florence in the XIII century. They were made of lay people who shared the same form of spirituality and dedicated mostly to the veneration of Mary.
The concert is divided into four sections. The first three have the same structure: instrumental piece, first Landini’s song, Gregorian chant, second Landini’s song. The two closing pieces are a Gregorian Communio and a traditional Florentine lauda (a devotional song) which is performed here both in an unmensural and in a mensural, rhythmic version. The Proper is Gregorian and focuses on the figure of San Zanobi, first bishop of Florence and the founder of the Florentine diocese. The music is taken from some manuscripts to be found in the Archive of Santa Maria del Fiore and Santa Felicita, a beautiful church near Ponte Vecchio. The performing of some instrumental music outside the church before the Mass or the liturgy is witnessed as a normal occurrence in Florence at that time. We have chosen three saltarelli (very fast and lively dances) from a Florentine codex that is now preserved in London (London British Library Add. 29987). The codex contains some of the most beautiful and famous instrumental music of the whole Middle Ages.