Ortesia Caccini’s sonata manuscript

The Libro per la Mandola by Matteo Caccini

For the benefit of those unaware of the Libro manuscript, I will briefly describe it and will give some references for further study. The title page reads “Libro per la Mandola dell Illuss.mo Sig.re Matteo Caccini | A di p.o Agosto 1703“.  The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, under the siglum RES – VMB – MS9. It contains some solo dances for four-course Italian baroque mandolin tuned in fourths (a tuning chart is provided on fol. 16v) in normal notation (treble clef) with occasional chords. Some composers are mentioned by name (Ceccherini and Cappellini). For a more detailed description you can read up on some further details in: James Tyler & Paul Sparks, The Early Mandolin, Early Music Series 9, Oxford, 1989, p. 23-25. A modern edition of the music has been provided by Marga Wilden-Hüsgen (published by Grenzland-Verlag, KM-2086). The manuscript contains tuning charts and music for other instruments as well: one is for psaltery, one for what is presumably violin and which would match with the music in the rest of the manuscript.

The manuscript copy of the Libro

Some mandolin scholars have already found the second manuscript linked to this Libro: the manuscript RES – VMB – MS8 in the same library starts with a copy of the same mandolin pieces and are in the same hand. The rest of this manuscript contains vocal pieces which are in a different and more recent hand.

MS 8 fol. 1r: Minuet = MS 9 fol. 1r: Minuette
MS 8 fol. 1r-1v: Burè = MS 9 fol. 1r: Burè
MS 8 fol. 1v: Minuet = MS 9 fol. 2r: Minuet
MS 8 fol. 1v-2r: Saltarello di Meccoli = MS 9 fol. 2r-2v: Saltarello di Meccoli
MS 8 fol. 2v: Aria di Veneziana = MS 9 fol. 3r: Aria di Veneziana
MS 8 fol. 2v: Aria di Veneziana = MS 9 fol. 1v: Aria di Veneziana
MS 8 fol. 3r: Aria di Veneziana = MS 9 fol. 1v: Aria
MS 8 fol. 3r: Passaggio = MS 9 fol. 3r: Passaggio
MS 8 fol. 3v [untitled] = MS 9 fol. 3v: dal Sigre P.P. Cappellini
MS 8 fol. 4r: dal Sig P.P. Capellini = MS 9 fol. 4r: dal Sigre P. P. Cappellini
MS 8 fol. 4v: Alemanda di P.P.C. = MS 9 fol. 4v: Alemanda di P.P.C.
MS 8 fol. 5r: Alemanda di Niccolo Ceccherini = MS 9 fol. 5r:  Alemanda di Niccolo Ceccherini
MS 8 fol. 5v: Fuga [incomplete] = MS 9 fol. 5v: Fuga di Niccolo Ceccherini
Next pages: 1 page “Cadenza per il Basso Continuo” (fol. 5v), all the rest is vocal music, usually with figured bass – and some blank pages are left at then end of the manuscript.

Questo libro di sonate… by Ortensia Caccini

A third manuscript which has correspondences with the Libro, has so far not caught the eyes of mandolin scholars. The manuscript is also preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (VM7 – 4905). The title of this manuscript is Questo libro di sonate | e della Ortensia | Caccini. The title page contains some further inscriptions and sketches. Most of the manuscript is filled with vocal music, with occasional instrumental parts which are clearly for harpsichord. One piece is either instrument or vocalization, written in alto clef; but most of the music is in soprano clef with figured bass.

The manuscript is digitalized by the library and is accessible online:

Even though most of the manuscript is vocal music, there are a couple of pages in this manuscript which deserve our attention. First and foremost, a tuning chart on fol. 1r, written in treble clef. The tuning of the instrument here is clearly that of the four-course Italian baroque mandolin (which Matteo Caccini calls mandola), tuned in fourths: e’-a’-d”-g”. This page will be looked at in more detail below.

Some music for the instrument of the tuning chart can be found on the following pages, always in treble clef and if there are chords they fit the tuning: fol. 9r, 31v-32r. These pieces are easily identified – and they correspond to the first pieces of the Matteo Caccini Libro:

(Ortensia Caccini) fol. 9r: Minuet = fol. 1r: Minuet (Matteo Caccini)
(Ortensia Caccini) fol. 31v: Bure = fol. 1r: Burè (Matteo Caccini)
(Ortensia Caccini) fol. 32r: Minuett = fol. 2r: Minuet (Matteo Caccini)

In my opinion these pieces for Italian baroque mandolin were added to the manuscript later on. It odd though that the tuning chart gets featured on fol. 1r, this might mean that the manuscript was first conceived to contain mandolin music. However, we see tuning charts for instrument without music for the instrument in some other manuscript. For example, the Matteo Caccini Libro  contains a tuning chart for psaltery without (to our knowledge) music for it.

The pieces of music mentioned above are put in place on what clearly were blank spaces left after writing in the vocal music. Making use of leftover space in an existing manuscript is an often encountered practice.

There are some similarities between the hand who wrote the Matteo Caccini manuscripts – but, though it’s hard to be conclusive, I would say it’s unlikely to be the same copyist. The hand in the Ortensia manuscript seems less experienced and makes some mistakes (using the typical + sign for corrections, happens more than once). I therefore consider the pieces to be copied in from one of the other manuscripts rather than the other way around. However, Ortensia got married in 1704  to Giovanni Vincenzo Del Vernaccia, so it can’t have been copied very long after the creation of Matteo’s Libro – which is dated on its title page as written on the 1st of August 1703.

Of course, as there is no new mandolin music in Ortensia’s manuscript we could be quick to dismiss the manuscript as an interesting source… But the tuning chart on fol. 1r actually does contain something I’ve not seen in other manuscripts. It seems to be more of a scale exercise than a pure tuning chart, and the numbers under the notes seem to be fingering rather than tabulation. That of course could help musicians to understand how the pieces in these three manuscripts should be played.

The Caccini family

The fact that we now have a third manuscript with a provenance in the same household reinforces that the Italian baroque mandolin surely held a prominent place in the Caccini family. This manuscript also further confirms that the Matteo Caccini of the manuscript was indeed a nobleman from Firenze – as we can trace the family genealogy and that of his sister Ortensia (1684-1753). If Ortensia wrote manuscript herself then it’s reasonable to assume the mandolin parts were added around 1703-1704 when she would have been around 20.
Matteo died in 1717, after which the younger brother Francesco (1680-1749) took over the family estate. After the death of Francesco, Ortensia inherited, thereby uniting the family estates of Caccini and Vernaccia for her children. At that time Ortensia was granted a higher status in nobility (an azure ball with three golden lilies was added to the family heraldic weapon – interestingly enough this is called “the round shield of France”, connecting the Caccini/Vernaccia family to France).

It seems that some parts of the family archive have been preserved (Biblioteca Roncioniana, Prato) – so further background information about the family can certainly be obtained. Though it will probably not contain information about the music practice or musical preferences of the family, perhaps these documents can help us grasp how influential the family was. And that in its turn can help us understand the importance of the mandolin in the Firenze noble families and their musical culture.


James Tyler & Paul Sparks, The Early Mandolin, Early Music Series 9, Oxford, 1989.
Catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.
Online digital version of the manuscript by Ortensia: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9064089z
Itialian unified information system for archives:  http://siusa.archivi.beniculturali.it/cgi-bin/pagina.pl?TipoPag=prodfamiglia&Chiave=41955
Online site of the Prato library containing the Caccini archive:
Description of the archive in the Prato library:
State archive of Firenze:
(All online sources were last successfully accessed on the 1st of October, 2013.)