article 79: Genov-ine Article

A while ago I was trying to decide what books I might “de-acquisition” (what a word...) from my over-full library. I happened across Emanuel Winternitz’ “Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art” and was immediately entranced. It stays on the shelf. Winternitz was still in office at the Metropolitan Museum in New York when I was at Juilliard, but had such a reputation as an ogre that I never tried to meet him.

The price sticker on the book took me back to Toronto, summer of 1988, when I was preparing the Canadian Opera’s studio for a performance of my version of Monteverdi’s Ritorno di Ulisse. It proclaimed its origin in the WORLD’S BIGGEST BOOKSTORE, which I vaguely remember visiting. It was a huge warehouse not far from downtown, and according to Wikipedia it may have actually been what it claimed to be at the time. It’s long gone now, of course.

Winternitz put me on the track of the subject Article 75. Here’s another group of intarsias, represented by the lower illustration on E.W.’s plate 51. It’s set there among other Italian examples of that miraculous art (e.g., the Montefeltro studiolo from Gubbio, now at the Met; walk through the bare walls of the original space if you desire a frisson.). The originals of these photographs are found in the 16th-century choir stalls of the cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genova / Genua. I visited the church many years ago, with its spectacular Orvieto-striped facade squeezed into a small piazza, but the choir was closed to visitors.

E.W. chose the harpsichord for his book’s illustration. Note the waved bentside, similar to the spinet in the Vatican shown in Article 75. The range of G-g2 is unusual, especially since the three lowest notes dispense with the usual short octave. They correspond to the old gamut, and the range extends that of the Guidonian Hand only by three notes in the treble. The depiction as a whole looks meticulous, but there is no way of knowing how accurate it really is. There are definitely too few strings for the keyboard.

Below the harpsichord I’ve added (courtesy of Beni Culturali) a lute, a lira da braccio with its bow, a book of plainchant, and a philosopher-monkey sniffing the secret of the rose – a warning against dependence upon the human faculty of reason often found in ecclesiastical locations.

January 22, 2023

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