The alfabeto song in print, 1610-ca. 1665: Neopolitan roots, Roman codification, and "Il gusto popolare"

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Gavito, Cory Michael

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The focus of this dissertation is the widespread practice of annotating vocal music with a tablature system known as alfabeto, a shorthand notational method related to basso figurato that uses alphabetical letters and typescript characters to represent hand positions on the fretboard of the five-course Spanish guitar. Cultivated in Italy from the late- sixteenth century until the mid-1600s, alfabeto songs first appeared in print in 1610. The repertory witnessed its most prolific printed dispersal during the 1620s and 30s, where at times it comprised over half of the yearly total output of secular vocal music published in Italy. The resiliency of the repertory even during outbreaks of plague and crippling economic instability attests to the alfabeto song’s economic, musical, and cultural value in Italy during the early seicento. This undoubted popularity has led some scholars to hypothesize that music printers added alfabeto to vocal publications primarily to increase their appeal within the competitive music printing market. This project demonstrates alternatively that vocal music with alfabeto emerges in the seventeenth century as a unique musical tradition that offered composers and performers a viable option in the quest for musical expression. Strong evidence for this position lies in the fact that the songs are imbued with specific musical and poetic typologies that commonly draw from circulating ideologies of pastoral life, authenticity, and the Spanish Kingdom of Naples. The central role that the Mezzogiorno played in the initial diffusion and later standardization of alfabeto songs in Italy is also noted in the chronology of the repertory’s publication as well as the large number of textual and musical concordances that pervade the repertory. This offers a balanced assessment of alfabeto-inscribed vocal music printed in Italy, a phenomenon emphasized in previous scholarship as fundamentally Venetian. The Neapolitan provenance of several key alfabeto song components further adds to a growing consensus in early modern Italian musicology that the Kingdom of Naples was a source of several musical traditions that were later established and standardized in the north/central Italian environs.