Early Music in Florence during the Pandemic: A Conversation with Fabio Lombardo, from L’Homme Armé

By Mauricio Roman


Fabio Lombardo

For most people, the name of Florence evokes great painting, sculpture and architecture. Early music enthusiasts also know that the city was also the birthplace of opera. Yet, few people know that it has a popular early music festival, Floremus, which will take place this year from August 27 to the September 12.

We interviewed Fabio Lombardo, organizer of the festival and artistic director of the musical group L’Homme Armé. Founded in 1982 in Florence, L’Homme Armé presents and produces a mostly vocal repertoire from the 1300 to the 1600s, with a focus on works composed in Florence, without excluding great works from that period. Recently, the group has reflected on commonalities between early and contemporary music, seeking analogies in the practical execution of antique and new repertoires.

The name “L’homme armé” (French for “the armed man”) makes reference to a Burgundian school secular song from the Late Middle Ages. It was the most popular tune used for musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass: over 40 separate compositions entitled Missa L’homme armé survive from this period. “L’homme armé” is especially well remembered today because it was so widely used by Renaissance composers as a cantus firmus for the Latin Mass. Many composers of the Renaissance set at least one mass on this melody; the two settings by Josquin des Prez are among the best known (Wikipedia).

In our conversation, we exchanged perspectives on how they confronted the pandemic — a period during which they were able to organize a series of online conversations, put together a music festival with a live audience, record a short film, produce a CD with an antique repertoire which had never been recorded, and organize this year’s festival.

In the best of Florentine traditions, in which banking families such as the Medici were important patrons of the arts including music, nowadays their largest supporters are also banks.

How did the first year of the pandemic affect you?

When the pandemic began in March 2020, we were finishing the calendar for the Floremus festival which was to start in September. However, in March, everything was closed.  At the end of April, we began programming online conversations around different projects we had done previously.

These conversations took place between the end of April and June 2020.

At the end of June, we were about to cancel the Floremus festival. But we got some signals from our supporters (mostly banks) that we could organize it. We decided to give it a shot and were able to carry out our festival from the 6 to the 13 Sept 2020, with a smaller footprint and reduced programming.

Unfortunately, we had to cancel non-Italian groups.

In addition to the festival, we were able to program concerts from September up until October 2020.

What happened in October 2020?

On the 24th of October, a day I cannot forget, the government decree came out mandating the closing of every cultural activity.

Our last concert was Missa in Illho Tempore by Claudio Monteverdi.

As the prime minister spoke to the nation — we were the first segment to close – I cried. Corona was coming back and we did not know how long this would last.

In Seattle we were closed during that entire time. What did you do after the October closure in Italy?

In December 2020, we decided to produce a small video about this experience, as we realized that the ability to sing and perform in September and October had been a small parenthesis, a cloud, a dream.

In this video, the protagonists of the concerts in these Fall presentations shared their emotions during these moments; they shared their experience of making music again. Called In Quel Tempo (During that time), the video shows interviews with the audience and presenters to elicit their reactions and thoughts.

The video is in our Youtube channel. We prepared a version with English subtitles, available here.

As the closure prolonged, what else did you do?

In Nov-Dec we started to record a work by Francesco Corteccia, the Passion according to St Matthew, which we had planned to present live in March 2021, along with other concerts. This was all cancelled.

We had no reassurance that we would present it, and also had financial uncertainty.

We decided to crowdfund the production of this work, which had never been produced before, and this gave us a positive result, and thus we were able to record in March and finish production by the end of May 2021.

We find the crowdfunding route very interesting. Did you find that you had the same supporters, or new ones?

A group of people supported the ensemble regardless, but crowdfunding allowed us to reach a new group of supporters who were interested in the project itself, since it was the first time that this work was produced.

Do you find that people are getting fatigued about their online experience?

During the pandemic, we have not done any online concerts. We decided not to do them, so I do not know how the audience feels. When we did 12-15 conversations between April-June 2020, the number of participants changed every time — we invited singers, musicians, and musicologists and the audience number changed every time.

In Italy, for example, the first closures took place from Feb to June 2020 yet we observed that different places closed at different times; the audience state of mind may be different in different regions.

As people get vaccinated, and start to go out, the interest in online music decreases, and people crave going to their first concert. How do you respond to that need?

During our last festival in 2020, everyone was thanking us, not just for the quality of the music but also for the emotion of being together in the same space listening to the music together. Online concerts don’t give you this experience. We paid a lot of attention to the spaces in which we organized concerts, and in Florence we have the fortune to have many beautiful places in which to do so. The location conveyed the sacredness of the moment of having the audience together with the musicians, an almost mystical moment that can only happen when the two are together sharing the space.

This year’s festival will be dedicated to Josquin des Prez and will take place in Florence from the August 29 to the September 13. It will encompass sacred and profane music, conversations and a laboratory. All are invited.

What challenges did you face in organizing this year’s concert?

We had two types of uncertainty: regulatory and financial. Up until the last minute, we did not have the full budget. We depend on many public institutions for our budget: local and national government.

Francesco Corteccia is a composer we have written about in the past (see this article). His Passion according to St Matthew has parts read in vulgar Italian, and others in Latin. Was this unusual in the early 16th century in Florence?

We follow the hypothesis that during Holy Week, the Gospel was read twice: in Latin during the Liturgy, and in vulgar Italian outside of the Liturgy. Recall that Florence had many confraternities, where this second reading could take place. Under this hypothesis, Corteccia’s Passion According to St. John was also produced a few years ago.

Under this hypothesis, and given the times when these works were produced (1527-1532), do you think there was any influence from the protestant Reformation in the choice of using the vernacular language?

With respect to the Reformation, the argument is very delicate, because the religiosity of the Florentine people was always very particular. Concretely, let us not forget Girolamo Savonarola.  In fact, the Bible we used was the Marmetine which was put together by a friar who was formed at San Marco, the convent in Florence where Savonarola was prior.

In this hypothesis, in the year 1532, the Passion of Christ was, for the Florentines, an illustrative story, as they could recognize in it many of the events that took place that year. The people of Florence would follow the narration, or racconto, as they searched for how to survive everything that was taking place in Florence.

At that time, the Medici had been thrown out; it was the last Florentine Republic. The troops of the Emperor (Charles V) were surrounding the city, which was almost sacked as Rome had been in 1527. It was a time of pestilence. Then the worst of the Medici, Alessandro il Moro, came to power; he was very violent. There was hunger throughout.

It was then “A Passion for the People”, fittingly read in the vernacular.

Was it by plan or coincidence that you chose to produce Corteccia’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” this year of pandemic?

I have thought about the coincidence that in this strange year, we have also chosen this work. But I cannot claim that this is one of the motives that I chose this program, as the program was chosen beforehand. It was definitely a coincidence, and a good one.



L’homme Armé Masses by Josquin des Prez, produced by The Tallis Scholars

Passion According to St. John by Francesco Corteccia

Passion According to St. Matthew by Francesco Corteccia, produced and recorded by L’Homme Armé


L’homme Armé with Fabio Lombardo

Greek Musical Theory

by Cristina Serra de Torres
(translated by Mauricio Roman)

In this article, which follows from our earlier introduction to Greek Musical Thought, we are going to focus on the musical theory built by the Ancient Greeks, on the formation of the modes, and on how this differs to how Greek modes are referred to from the Middle Ages to the present day. Starting from the Pythagorean proportions, the basic modal unit of the Greek system is the tetrachord, which is a set of four notes, the interval between the first and last being a perfect fourth. To understand the examples that will appear throughout the article, we must take into account that the Greek musical system is exposed in a descending way, from high to low.

It is thought that the melodies were originally limited to the sounds that made up this system, since until the 7th century the lyre was an instrument that had only four strings and that, later, Terpander increased it to 7 strings.

As we have already mentioned, the tetrachord was formed by four successions of notes arranged in a descending 4th Just interval. Of these four notes, the ones at the ends were fixed, and therefore were called ακινετοι (akinetoi) while the intermediate, mobile notes were called κινετοι (kinetoi). The latter varied depending on the genus to which the tetrachord belonged. There were three genres.

  • Diatonic: Built with 2 tones and 1 semitone. This genre was the oldest and dates back to classical times.
  • Chromatic: Consists of 1 semi-ditone (one and a half tone) and 2 semitones. This genus and the next date from Hellenistic times.
  • Enharmonic: Built with 1 ditone (two tones) and 2 quarter tones

In this system, the set of the three lower sounds is called πικνον (piknon); these three sounds are called οχιπικνον (oxipiknon), μεσοπικνον (mesopiknon) and βαρψπικνον (barypiknon).

The systems are formed from these tetrachords and their genera. We should mainly talk about two of them. On the one hand we have the joint Heptachord, which is two tetrachords joined by the same note called σιναφε (synafe), that is, they share one of the two akinetoi notes, and they could be tetrachords of different genres. The upper tetrachord is called σψνενμενον (synenmenon) and the lower tetrachord μεσον (meson).

This system is completed with another interchangeable tetrachord with the superior one, called the διαζενγμενον (diazengmenon) tetrachord. This union is formed by two disjoint tetrachords, which is why a Disjoint Octachord is formed, which are united by a διαζενγεσισ (dazengisis). In addition, it should be added that the Synenmenon tetrachord had a metabole, which is an altered note and is used to modulate the heptachord system to the octachord.


The system formed by three tetrachords joined by a synafe is called the Small Joint System, and the system formed by three tetrachords, of which the upper two are joined by diazenxis and the lower two by synaphe is called the Small Disjoint System.

The tonal system, called the teleion diatonic system or the Great Perfect System, is formed by adding two tetrachords above and below the octachord joined by synafe. These tetrachords are: Hyperbolaion and Hypaton.

Fragments called harmoniai were extracted from this system. The term, used in classical times, meant “pact, convention and replaced nomos, which meant law.” The term designates music anchored in tradition, but in a musical sense it indicates the arrangement of intervals within a scale.

Although in Plato’s time its meaning was broader since it also referred to the height of the sounds, the color, intensity or the timbre. These harmonies received the name of allusion to the most characteristic Greek Regions. Doric, Phrygia, Lydia, and later Mixolidia will be added to it. Later, others are added by prefixing hipo-.


The systematic classification of harmoniai according to ethical and formal criteria constituted the basis of musical theorization from this time on, but after the classical period other terms appear, such as tonoi or tropoi to refer to harmonies simply as scales of different heights.

As we can see, at no time did we use the term “modes” in this article; Ancient Greeks used the term “harmony”. Cleónides speaks of skemai or aspects of 8th to refer to the realms of 8th within a system.

The confusion with the Gregorian modes and with the modal scales that are used today comes from the Middle Ages. In the 9th century the treatise Alia Musica appears, which identifies the eight Gregorian modes with some schemes that appear with Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, which is a guide for transposition.

ARÍSTIDES QUINTILIANO, (1996), Sobre la música, Madrid: Gredos.
BURKHOLDER, J.P., GROUT, D.J, & PALISCA, C.V., (2015), Historia de la música occidental, Madrid:Alianza Musical.
DALHAUSM, C., (1996), Estética de la música. Berlín: Reichenberger.
FUBINI, E. (2018), Estética de la música. Madrid: Alianza Música.
LANDELS, J.G., (2001), Music in ancient Greece and Rome, Londres: Routledge.
LANG, P.H., (1979), La Música en la civilización occidental. Buenos Aires: Eudeba.
PÉREZ CARTAGENA, F.J. (2002), La “Harmonica” de Aristóxeno de Tarento. Edición crítica con Introducción, Traducciwón Y Comentario., [Tesis de Doctorado, Universidad de Murcia], Repositorio Central de Tesis Doctorales de España.
REDONDO REYES, P., (2002), La Harmónica de Claudio Ptolomeo: edición crítica con introducción, traducción y comentario [Tesis de Doctorado, Universidad de Murcia], Repositorio Central de Tesis Doctorales de España.
REINACH, TH., (1926) La musique Grecque antique, París: Payot.

Cristina Serra de Torres (Andújar, 1995) has a degree in Musicology from the University of Granada and a Master’s degree in Music Patrimony from the International University of Andalucia, and is beginning her PhD studies centered around gypsy flamenco genres in Granada. She is a singer and cellist. At age 3, she began her studies in classical, bolero and flamenco dance. While her research is focused on Flamenco and Blues, she has a background on the analysis, harmony, transcription, edition and interpretation of Early Music. Currently, she lives in Granada, where she teaches singing, musical language, music history and appreciation, does research and produces the Spanish language podcast “Música con mucha Historia”.

Musical Thought in Ancient Greece

By Cristina Serra de Torres
(translated by Mauricio Roman)


To understand the historical evolution of music in the West, we must first look at what happened in ancient civilizations. Ancient Greece was the main culture which not only shaped aesthetics but also the musical system ubiquitous in the West, which was later enriched or modified by the Roman Empire and later by Christendom. The thinking, the theory and the musical organology developed by this civilization influenced, not only Western music, but also that of other Eastern cultures such as the Arab and even those in Asia.

This is the first in a series of articles in which we will try to explain how the Greek musical system developed. First of all, we must understand Greek civilization as encompassing not only the Greek peninsula but also the Aegean islands, much of Asia Minor, southern Italy, as well as Sicily and the colonies around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea — as seen in the map below.

Areas settled by Ancient Greeks (source: Wikipedia)

We have numerous images of this ancient culture, as well as a few instruments which have been preserved, writings on the objectives and effects of music, theoretical writings on the elements of music and more than forty musical examples in a notation that we can read.


Yet, as we delve into the study of Greek music, the main problem we find is that of sources. Although the texts and data on Greek music that have reached us are very numerous, those that speak of musical practice and interpretation are very scarce, so they prevent us from getting an idea about how that music should sound. On the other hand, most of the treatises and writings on musical theory and thought that we know are after the second century AD, and are more related to mathematical and philosophical speculation than to practice.

The first sources that reach us are mythical. There are in Greek mythology a great variety of stories in which music is the main protagonist. It is difficult to discern what historical truth these stories can contain, but they allow us to glimpse and conclude that for the Greek musical base the contributions of the Egyptian, Syrian, Phoenician and Middle Eastern peoples were very important, as we can see in the use of instruments such as the harp, drums, tambourine, zills and cymbals.

Reconstruction of an Egyptian harp according to “Musica en la era de las pirámides” by Rafael Pérez Arroyo

On the other hand, we have numerous organological remains found in archaeological excavations, as well as reliefs, sculptures, mosaics and paintings that show us the importance of music in these societies as we can see in the following images, about which we will discuss further in future articles. In the first image, we see a lyre associated with the god Apollo, and on the second one we see a man interpreting the aulos, an instrument associated with the god Dionysius.

Quelis — a musical instrument at the British Museum

Image from a Greek vessel showing a woman playing the tambourine and a man playing the aulos (National Archeological Museum in Spain)

Musical Thought

For the Greeks, musical theory and practice were different aspects. In this case, theoretical knowledge was not a means to approach or practice, but an end in itself. As we have already mentioned, there are no known composers prior to the 3rd century BC and the musical examples that have come down to us are very few and almost always incomplete. However, we do know and have a lot of information from the theorists.

Among the main theorists, in the first place we must highlight Pythagoras of Samos (6th century BC), as both he and the Pythagorean school form the basis of Greek musical thought. The basis of Pythagorean thinking boils down to numbers. We know, thanks to Damon and many of his disciples, that Pythagoras carried out a series of experiments with sound objects, discovering the three basic intervals of Greek music theory .

According to legend, one day Pythagoras passed near a forge. Inside, the men were hammering on the anvil and their blows raised different high pitches. Pythagoras quickly discovered that the larger hammer produced a lower note than the smaller one. Then he began to perform experiments. He picked up two hammers, one weighing twice as much as the other, and struck them on the anvil. An octave was produced (equal to a distance of eight tones). Pythagoras thus discovered the mathematical-numerical ordering in music and the succession of the intervals within an octave.

Pythagoras discovered the intervals by measuring chords; depending on how he divided the chord, he got a certain interval:

  • By dividing in half, the resulting string sounds an octave
  • By dividing in three parts, the resulting string sounds a fifth
  • By dividing in four parts, the resulting string sounds a fourth


Engraving from Theorica musicae by Franchino Gaffurio (1492)

These proportions create the series 1: 2: 3: 4, whose sum is 10, and which for the Pythagoreans represented perfection, and was symbolized graphically in the τετρακτύς (tetraktys). This symbol and theory were later used by various theorists or congregations.

Graphical symbol of the Tetraktys

On the other hand we have Damon of Athens, one of Socrates’ teachers. He is considered one of the first theorists who establishes a relationship between music and the character and will of man, which will be called Theory of Ethos. Within this theory, we must also mention Plato and his disciple Aristotle, who will refer to the importance of music within the educational system since it contributes decisively to the ethical formation of the citizen.

In our next article, we will explore the fundamentals of Greek Musical Theory.


Cristina Serra de Torres (Andújar, 1995) has a degree in Musicology from the University of Granada and a Master’s degree in Music Patrimony from the International University of Andalucia, and is beginning her PhD studies centered around gypsy flamenco genres in Granada. She is a singer and cellist. At age 3, she began her studies in classical, bolero and flamenco dance. While her research is focused on Flamenco and Blues, she has a background on the analysis, harmony, transcription, edition and interpretation of Early Music. Currently, she lives in Granada, where she teaches singing, musical language, music history and appreciation, does research and produces the Spanish language podcast “Música con mucha Historia”.