Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543) is one of two famous composer-performers for the Renaissance lute. (The other was John Dowland.) He was the first native-born Italian composer to receive international fame. He was called "il divino" by his contemporaries - an adulation which he shared with none other than Michelangelo Buonarotti.

Highlights of his life include:

Francesco is born on August 18th.
around this time he entered the service of Pope Leo X in Rome.
he is working in the town of Piacenza.
he is listed as organist at the Duomo of Milan.
he is back in Rome as the lutenist and violist to Cardinal Ippolito de'Medici
Francesco accompanies the Pope to a meeting with Charles V and Francis I in Nice.
he is listed in the retinue of Cardinal Allessandro Farnese. Later that year his name reappears on the papal account books.
On April 15th Francesco died. His father erected a tombstone at the church of Santa Maria della Scala in Milan.

It is known that he traveled around Europe. One manuscript of published music attributes some of his compositions to Francesco of Paris. He may have been in that city long enough to earn that accolade.

Francesco da Milano had a profound influence on Renaissance lute composition. He was most renowned for his improvising style. This is evident in his compositions of ricercar (pron. rich-er-car) and fantasias. Ricercar literally means "seeking out"and describes the process of melodic variation exhibited in the composition. The fantasia is a more developed form of polyphonic improvisation. These two forms presaged the fugue - a musical form fully developed by J.S. Bach during the Baroque era.

Francesco's published works for lute appear in over forty tablatures printed between 1536 and 1603 in such diverse places as Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the Lowlands.

The following quotation provides a poetic description of his virtuosity on the lute:

"...(Francesco da Milano) continued with such a ravishing skill that little by little making the strings
languish under his fingers in his sublime way, he transported all those who were listening into so pleasurable
a melancholy that ... they remain deprived of all senses save that of hearing as if the spirit,
having abandoned all the seats of the senses had retired to the ears in order to enjoy the more at
its ease so ravishing a harmony..."

(Pontus de Tyard, Solitare secondou prose de la musique (Lyons, 1555),
pp. 113-115, quoted in The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano, pp. 2)


  • The Woods So Wild, Julian Bream Edition, Vol 4, BMG Music, New York, 1993, Disc #0-9026-61587-2.


  • The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543), Vols I and II, ed. by Arther J. Ness, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970, ISBN #674-53955-9.

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