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Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi was a musician from the Duchy of Ferrara, in what is now northern Italy. He was one of the most important composers of keyboard music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. A child prodigy, Frescobaldi studied under Luzzasco Luzzaschi in Ferrara, but was influenced by a large number of composers, including Ascanio Mayone, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, and Claudio Merulo. Girolamo Frescobaldi was appointed organist of St. Peter's Basilica, a focal point of power for the Capella Giulia (a musical organisation), from 21 July 1608 until 1628 and again from 1634 until his death.

Frescobaldi's printed collections contain some of the most influential music of the 17th century. His work influenced Johann Jakob Froberger, Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell, and countless other major composers. Pieces from his celebrated collection of liturgical organ music, Fiori musicali (1635), were used as models of strict counterpoint as late as the 19th century.

Frescobaldi was the first of the great composers of the ancient Franco-Netherlandish-Italian tradition who chose to focus his creative energy on instrumental composition. Frescobaldi brought a wide range of emotion to the relatively unplumbed depths of instrumental music. Keyboard music occupies the most important position in Frescobaldi's extant oeuvre. He published eight collections of it during his lifetime, several were reprinted under his supervision, and more pieces were either published posthumously or transmitted in manuscripts. His collection of instrumental ensemble canzonas, Il Primo Libro delle Canzoni, was published in two editions in Rome in 1628, and substantially revised in the Venice edition of 1634. Of the forty pieces in the collection, ten were replaced and all were revised to various degrees, sixteen of them radically so. This extensive editing attests to Frescobaldi's ongoing interest in the utmost perfection of his pieces and collections.

Frescobaldi's compositional canon began with his 1615 publications. One of the publications issued in 1615 was Ricercari, et canzone. This work returned to the old-fashioned, pure style of ricercar. Fast note values and triple meter were not allowed to detract from the purity of style. A second publication of 1615 was the Toccate e partite which established expressive keyboard style. Frescobaldi did not obey the conventional rules for composing, ensuring no two works have a similar structure. From 1615-28, Frescobaldi's publications connect him with the Congregazione exactly when the group's activities determined the Roman musical trends.

Frescobaldi's next stream of compositions expanded their artistic range beyond the keyboard music that he had focused on previously. Frescobaldi's next four publications after 1627 were composed for instrumental and vocal ensembles in both sacred and secular genres. The collections of thirty sacred works of 1627 and forty ensemble canzonas of 1628 are structural opposites. However, both are written in a more traditional style that makes them appropriate for church use. The Arie musicali, published in 1630, were probably composed earlier while Frescobaldi was in Rome. These two volumes utilize keyboard pairs, the romanesca/ruggiero and the ciaconna/passacaglia, within the vocal mode.

In 1635, Frescobaldi published Fiori musicali. This group of works is his only composition devoted to church music and his last collection containing completely new pieces. The Fiori experiments with many types of genres within the liturgical confines of a mass. Almost all of the genres practiced by Frescobaldi are present within this collection except for the popular style. Frescobaldi cultivated the old form of organ improvisation on a Gregorian chant cantus firmus that is best displayed within the Fiori muscali. The organ alternated with the choir on versets and improvised in a contrapuntal style. Works from Fiori musicali were still used as models of strict counterpoint in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Aside from Fiori musicali, Frescobaldi's two books of toccatas and partitas (1615 and 1627) are his most important collections.[36] His toccatas could be used in masses and liturgical occasions. These toccatas served as preludes to larger pieces, or were pieces of substantial length standing alone. The Secondo libro, written in 1627, stretches the conception of the genres included in the first book of toccatas. More variety is introduced with different rhythmic techniques and four organ pieces. Both books open with a set of twelve toccatas written in a flamboyant improvisatory style and alternating fast-note runs or passaggi with more intimate and meditative parts, called affetti, plus short bursts of contrapuntal imitation.

Virtuosic techniques permeate the music and make some of the pieces challenging even for modern performers—Toccata IX from Secondo libro di toccata bears an inscription by the composer: "Non senza fatiga si giunge al fine", "Not without toil will you get to the end." Such short remarks appear also in works from Fiori musicali; one of these refers to a fifth voice that is to be sung by the performer at key moments during a ricercar, and the key moments are left to the performer to find. Frescobaldi's famous note for this piece is ""Intendami chi puo che m'intend' io"—"Understand me, as long as I can understand myself". The concept is yet another illustration of Frescobaldi's innovative, bold approach to composition.

Although Frescobaldi was influenced by numerous earlier composers such as the Neapolitans Ascanio Mayone and Giovanni Maria Trabaci and the Venetian Claudio Merulo, his music represents much more than a summary of its influences. Aside from his masterful treatment of traditional forms, Frescobaldi is important for his numerous innovations, particularly in the field of tempo: unlike his predecessors, he would include in his pieces sections in contrasting tempi, and some of his publications include a lengthy preface detailing tempo-related aspects of performance. In effect, he made a compromise between the ancient white mensural notation with a rigid tactus and the modern notion of tempo. Although this idea was not new (it was used by, for example, Giulio Caccini), Frescobaldi was among the first to popularize it in keyboard music.

Frescobaldi also made substantial contributions to the art of variation; he may have been one of the first composers to introduce the juxtaposition of the ciaccona and passacaglia into the music repertory, as well as the first to compose a set of variations on an original theme (all earlier examples are variations on folk or popular melodies). Frescobaldi showed an increasing interest in composing intricate works out of unrelated individual pieces during his last years of composing. The last work Frescobaldi composed, Cento partite sopra passacagli, was his most impressive creative work. The Cento displays Frescobaldi's new interest in combining different pieces that were first written independently.

The composer's other works include collections of canzonas, fantasias, capriccios, and other keyboard genres, as well as four prints of vocal music (motets and arias; one book of motets is lost) and one of ensemble canzonas.

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