Barbarino lute book

Krakow, Biblioteka Jagiellonska, MS Mus. 40032

This lute manuscript from the late sixteenth century is one of the larger collections to survive from the period. Although we still cannot be certain, it appears to have been compiled by a castrato lutenist named Barbarino during the approximate period 1580-1611, probably in Naples. For this reason we have tentatively named it the Barbarino Lute Book, although in many other places it is cited simply by its call number PL-Kj MS Mus. 40032. Another intriguing factor concerning this manuscript is that it is one of the truckloads of manuscripts that were once in the custody of the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin and that went missing for over forty years until coming to light in Poland in the 1980s. This means that the contents of this highly significant manuscript are all but absent from studies of lute music of the last sixty years. 

Barbarino Lute Book cover

Front cover

Barbarino Lute Book, p. 256

page 256

Barbarino Lute Book, p. 257

page 257

It would seem that this manuscript was an anthology of solo music compiled by a castrato lutenist singer comparable with those employed in Italian courts in the late sixteenth century and epitomised symbolically by Caravaggio in the 1590s. Lutenist singers such as the likely owner-compiler of this collection formed an important group of musicians in Italian musical life during the sixteenth century even if today they are conspicuously absent from general histories of Renaissance music. It is clear to us, however, that the development of monody at the end of the sixteenth century and the birth of monody are directly connected to the activities of such musicians. 

Originally of 400 pages, the manuscript now in Krakow contains 350 pieces mainly of Neapolitan, Spanish, Italian origin, plus some pieces from an apparently international repertoire. 

Caravaggio Lute Player

Caravaggio, The lute player (c.1595)

The manuscript provides few clues to its own history and provenance other than what may be hypothesised on the basis of the music it contains, and the composers that can be identified. One of the most tantalising further clues is an inscription on page 406 that seems to be a record of payment to a castrato named Barbarino. The inscription appears to be in the hand of the same scribe who copied all the music into the manuscript over a long period of time. The inscription was subsequently obliterated by the same writer, supposedly so that it could not be read by anyone else. Moreover, the page has been rebound into the book at a later time, and some words are cut off from the right hand edge. From what we have been able to reconstruct, the inscription reads as follows: 

Il nome sia di dio a li 22 di febraio 1611 /

Io [xxxxxxx] barbarino castrato a servir il Sre Alfonso Bri..../

Et piu o ricevuto dal Sre alfonso Giuli diciotto / 

di moneta a conto del mio salario che fu il vero

Thus, it appears that the castrato Barbarino, whose Christian name has been thoroughly erased, was paid 18 giuli by a patron or employer named Alfonso. 

It is not known whether the manuscript was taken to Germany by its original compiler or by a later owner. There is a further inscription made by a librarian in Germany in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries —on the basis of the handwriting— that also is not entirely legible. We are not entirely sure of our reading, but it appears to indicate that the writer thought it to be keyboard tablature, and that at that time only retained 169 of it original 200 folios.

In dieses Büch sein hundert und Neun und sechzig pläter [=Blätter?]/ Darunder sein zwey die seint eingehängt und mit Klavier [Klavire/Klavirs ?]  tabulatur. / Den i tag May [an(no)?] XX gelihen

Pages 406 (left) and 405 (right) with their respective inscriptions

Barbarino Lute Book, p. 406
Barbarino Lute Book, p. 405
Barbarino Lute Book inscription in Italian
Barbarino Lute Book, German inscription

John Griffiths and Dinko Fabris have been collaborating on the study of this manuscript since the 1990s and are preparing an on-line edition for the Corpus des Luthistes project at the CESR in Tours.

During this time the project has expanded to include a study of Italian lutenist songwriters of the renaissance, and the practice of singing to the lute. Some of the publications emanating from this project are listed below.


Of the three editions here, the first is an edition of 22 of pieces from the Barbarino lute book, particularly those with Spanish associations (published as a supplement to Hispanica Lyra, the journal of the Sociedad de la Vihuela and available online). The second is an anthology of sixteenth-century lute music from Naples, some from the Barbarino lute book and the first publication of Neapolitan lute music since the 16th century. The third is a facsimile edition with extensive introduction to the book of songs with lute accompaniment compiled by lutenist singer Cosimo Bottegari in the second half of the sixteenth century

J. Griffiths (ed.) Obras del manuscrito ‘Barbarino’ (Nápoles[?] c. 1580-1610) Manuscrito Ms Mus 40032 de la Biblioteca Jagiellonska de Cracovia (olim Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbibliothek). Obras para laúd o vihuela de 6 o 7 órdenes. Separata Musical Nº 4 of Hispanica Lyra. Madrid: Sociedad de la Vihuela, 2006. 

J. Griffiths and D. Fabris (eds). Neapolitan Lute Music: Fabrizio Dentice, Giulio Severino, Giovanni Antonio Severino, Francesco Cardone. Recent Researches in Music of the Renaissance 140. Madison: A-R Editions, 2004. [xxvi + 181pp]

D. Fabris and J. Griffiths (eds). Cosimo Bottegari: Il libro di canto e liuto / The Song and Lute Book. Biblioteca Musica Bononiensis, Sezione IV, Nº 98. Bologna: Arnaldo Forni Editore, 2006.


These articles are all related to lutenist singers of the renaissance, musicians we think to be in some way or other analogous to the compiler of the Barbarino lute book

J. Griffiths, “Singer Songwriters, the Lute, and the Stile nuovo”. Passaggio in Italia: Music of the Grand Tour in 17th-century Italy. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. 53-64. 

J. Griffiths. “Cantantes, cantautores y canciones en la prehistoria de la ópera”. Allegro cum laude: Estudios musicológicos en homenaje a Emilio Casares, ed. María Nagore and Victor Sánchez Sánchez. Madrid: Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 2014. 85–92.

J. Griffiths. “The Music of Castrato Lutenists at the Time of Caravaggio”, La Musica al tempo di Caravaggio, ed. Stefania Macioce and Enrico De Pascale. Rome: Gangemi, 2012. 87-103.

J. Griffiths, “Heteroclito Giancarli and his Composizione musicali of 1602”. French Renaissance Music and Beyond. Studies in Memory of Frank Dobbins, ed. Marie-Alexis Colin. Epitome Musical. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018. 293-315. ISBN 978-2-503-57960-3.