Galilei V and M Zimmerman Tactus TC520004

Michelangelo Galilei (1575 – 1631)
Vincenzo Galilei (circa 1520 – 1591)
Musiche per liuto
Christian Zimmermann (lute)
rec. 2021, Vogtsburg im Kaiserstuhl; Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Tactus TC520004 [59]

This single CD, lasting less than an hour, offers an anthology of solo lute music by the father (Vincenzo, c.1520 – 1591) and brother (Michelangelo, 1575 – 1631) of Galileo Galilei, the scientist (1564 – 1642).

German lutenist Christian Zimmermann plays 16 shortish (they each last fewer than three minutes) pieces by Vincenzo; and 15 – each even shorter – by Michelangelo Galilei. It was Vincenzo (also a player of the harpsichord and gamba, as well as a theoretician) who taught music to both his sons. This CD seems to aim to provide an overview of this music in several of the familiar Renaissance forms: the corrente, fantasia, galliard, ricercar and toccata etc.

Christian Zimmermann was born in 1954 in Germany. After studying the guitar, he decided to specialise exclusively in lute music. He has developed into a versatile performer having played in ensembles, as a soloist and in opera and even oratorio. His style is perhaps best described as authoritative, not over-demonstrative, but gently persuasive – as can be heard throughout this CD. It’s one more likely to appeal to aficionados of solo lute music and of the way in which the form developed in the late Renaissance than the general listener.

The potential pitfall here is that the CD’s producers could have provided a ‘demonstration’ or sampler of music that is representative of this genre in the half century either side of 1600 in Central Italy. And it’s true that Zimmermann’s playing is focused, precise, clinically intense at times, even. But it rarely lacks expressivity, let alone expression. So the music forms a satisfying experience as a whole.

In such pieces as the Corrente in G minor [tr.3], for instance, the lutenist accentuates the sense of inevitability in the brief excursion through multiple tonalities which go a long way towards providing freshness and variety. The same can be said of timbre: Zimmermann knows when to attenuate and when to accentuate the presence of emotion. It’s never superfluous, rhetorical or overblown.

Indeed, such pieces as the F minor Corrente [tr.5] make their impression as much for their restraint – amply respected by Zimmermann – as by any kind of spurious novelty. Some music actually brings us up short, such as Vincenzo’s Ricercare sesto [tr.23]; this seems intent on experimenting with its own beginning, almost as if the lute were still being tuned. It’s not. The tangled runs and multiple tricks of the Contrapunto primo di B.M. [tr.31] make for elevated excitement. Zimmermann handles such studied concentration most deftly.

In fact, the disposition of works across the CD’s 32 tracks somehow makes the music more immediate; and so attracts us to it. Given what might be expected to be a relatively restricted palette, one is left wondering what will come next and how it will add to, complement or just sit comfortably with what has just been heard. Here Zimmermann’s obvious delight in the genre helps. He never tries either to squeeze more out of the stylistic range of late Renaissance solo lute music than it holds; nor to arrogate to it the subtlety or depth of a Bachelor, Dowland, Gesualdo or Holborne. Although Vincenzo’s pieces do have a satisfactory sense of completeness. Probably to most ears mores than those of his son. No compositions of Michelangelo’s brother survive, by the way.

Indeed, it’s Zimmermann’s decision then his ability to approach the music so well within its context (time, place and style) that are one of this CD’s strengths. For there is little here of great profundity or innovation. No sparks or heart-tearing thunderbolts. Unpretentious music which has a clearly-defined scope, history, tradition and appeal. Even two or three listens are unlikely to have you whistling any of these pieces on your way to the shops. Yet this very understanding of what father and son Galilei were trying to achieve and how well they did it makes for a particularly satisfying experience because Zimmerman’s playing is accomplished: sombre without being dour; yet inviting without being excitable.

As for differences between father, Vincenzo, and son, Michelangelo, whose works actually appear in the reverse order, Vincenzo’s speak with greater tristesse and are less florid and extrovert than those of Michelangelo. More thoughtful. And in the end they make a greater impression on the careful listener.

The acoustics of the two halves of the CD are those of somewhere in the towns of Vogtsburg in the Kaiserstuhl region in Baden-Württemberg, and Freiburg im Breisgau; exact details are not provided. Each is forward, closely-miked and lacks distracting reverberation. That’s just what’s needed to draw the listener in to the essence of gentle, intimate and enticing string music like this. We never miss a sound, nor feel anything other than involved; even the stereo image is appropriate and convincing, though – perhaps necessarily – there is a slight lack of depth front to back, which slightly diminishes our sense of performer in his surroundings.

The booklet in Italian and (not always well-translated or properly proofed) English (although quotations remain in Italian) is not so full as it might be. It does not really provide background, context or details other than of the two instruments which were used for this recording. These are copies by Matthias Wagner, who appears to be based in Vogtsburg. The three pages of text jump around some of the compositions and contain somewhat hit-and-miss allusions to the three members in these two generations of the Galilei family. Given the somewhat recherché nature of the repertoire and its comparatively scarce representation in the catalogue of available recordings – not to mention the involvement of arguably the greatest scientist of the Renaissance – some more scene-setting and more thorough discussion of what to expect and how to approach the music would have been welcome.

So, yes, there are shortcomings to this release. Anyone attracted to, knowledgable or curious about this repertoire or who otherwise enjoys it should investigate this CD.

Mark Sealey

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music

Michelangelo Galilei
Corrente (I, G minor)
Corrente (G Major)
Corrente (II, G minor)
Corrente (B-flat Major)
Corrente (F minor)
Volta (F minor)
Volta (E-flat Major)
Toccata (D minor)
Corrente (A minor)
Volta (C Major)
Toccata (C minor)
Saltarello (C minor)
Saltarello (F minor)
Volta (G Major)
Volta (C Major)

Vincenzo Galilei
Passamezzo (C-minor)
Passamezzo (F-minor)
Fantasia ottava
Ricercare terzo
Gagliarda Moravia
Ricercare sesto
Gagliarda La caccia
Cantilene a due voci intavolata nel Liuto
Contrapunto quarto
Contrapunto quinto
Ricercare del primo tuono per naturale
Gagliarda Euterpe
Gagliarda Calliope
Contrapunto primo di B.M.
Contrapunto secondo del medesimi