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Galilei, Vincenzio

1. Dates
Born: Firenze, c. 1520
Died: Firenze; buried on 2 July 1591
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 71
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat
Michelangelo Galilei was from a Florentine patrician family. Vincenzio himself married into a Pisan patrician family.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He began his study in music at Florence about 1540. After establishing his reputation as a lutenist, he studied at Venice under Gioseffo Zarlino probably about 1561-1562. There is no mention of a university or of a degree, either of which would have been irrelevant to one of his position and calling.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Primary: Music
Subordinate: Physics
His principal theoretical work, Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna, published at Florence in 1581, attacked the prevailing basis of musical theory. In his Discorso (1589) he employed experimental results to show that the traditional association of numbers with particular musical intervals was capricious. The qualities of intervals had to be determined by the ear. He stated the law that a given musical interval between similar strings is produced either by different lengths proportional to the interval, or by tensions that vary as the squares of the intervals when the length stays constant. This was probably the first mathematical law of physics to have been derived by systemetic experimentation.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Musician, Patronage, Schoolmastering
Before 1561, he had established himself as a lutenist. It is clear that he gave lessons throughout his life--to the patricians in Bardi's circle (the Camerata), then to people of similar class in Pisa between 1562 and 1570, and again in Florence after that. In the latter period he composed a Compendio della theorica della musica.
In 1578 or 79 he visited the court of the Duke of Bavaria, but I found no further information about this trip.
It seems clear that he was the client of Count Giovanni Bardi, who was deeply interested in music, and at whose home a sort of academy, the Camerata, gathered.
8. Patronage
Type: Aristrocrat
His patron, Count Giovanni Bardi, sent Galilei to Venice to study musical harmony under Zarlino, and then to Rome to learn about Greek music from Girolamo Mei, and at some time Bardi also sent him to Messina and Marseille, again in pursuit of musical learning.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Galilei was part of the circle, or academy, the Camerata, that gathered in Bardi's home.
Galilei corresponded with the humanist Girolamo Mei, whom he also visited in Rome, on questions of musical theory. (See C. Palisca, ed., Girolamo Mei, Letters on Ancient and Modern Music, 1960).
Galilei carried on a polemic, which lasted from 1578 until nearly his death, on the rules of harmony.
  1. Claude Palisca, "Vincenzo Galilei", in F. Blume, ed., Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4, (Kassel-Basel, 1955), cols.
  2. 1265-70. ML100 .B67. Music Library.
  3. _____, "Scientific Empiricism in Musical thought", in H.H. Rhys, ed., Seventeeth Century Science and the Arts, (Princeton, 1961), pp.91-137. Q171. R47 S. Drake, "Vincenzio Galilei and Galileo", in Galileo Studies, (Ann Arbor., Mich., 1970), pp.43-62. QB36. G2 D71 _____, "Renaissance Music and Experimental Science," Journal of the History of Ideas, 31 (1970), 483-500.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. F. Fano, "La camerata fiorentina," Istitutioni e monumenti dell'arte musicale italiani, 4, (Milano, 1934).
  2. H. Martin, "La "Camerata" du Comte Bardi et la musique florentine du XVIe siècle," Revue de musicologie, 13 and 14 (1932 and 33). A Favaro, "Ascendenti e collaterali di Galileo Galilei," Archivio storico italiana, ser. 5, 47 (1971).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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