Girolamo Diruta

From New World Encyclopedia

Girolamo Diruta (c. 1554 – after 1610) was an Italian organist, music theorist, and composer. He was famous as a teacher, and for his treatise on counterpoint. Diruta developed a unique method of keyboard technique, particularly on the organ. His method was adapted and modified by music theorist and pedagogue of the late Baroque era Johann Fux. Diruta's teaching and writing skills demonstrated a strong concern for others, a trait of an unselfish heart of love. In this Renaissance age, Diruta worked in towns, churches, and courts and performed for civic events and religious services. He taught his students about emotionalism in music, but in a moderate and controlled way with no extremes in rhythm or tonal color. To Diruta, the pathway to success was in creating a musical bridge of cooperation between the Church and the rising secular class.


Little is known of his biography. He was born in Deruta, near Perugia, Italy. He is known to have been ordained as a Franciscan friar in 1574, and to have gone to Venice in 1580, where he met Claudio Merulo, Gioseffo Zarlino, and Costanzo Porta—who was also a Franciscan friar, and that he probably studied music with each of them. Merulo mentioned Diruta in a letter of recommendation, probably from the 1580s, as one of his finest students. In 1593 he became the organist at the cathedral in Chioggia, and in 1609 he was the organist at the cathedral in Gubbio. Nothing is known of him after 1610, when he dedicated the second part of his treatise Il transilvano to Leonora Orsini of the house of Sforza, niece of Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany, a Borgia.


Diruta's major work is a treatise in two parts on organ playing, counterpoint, and composition, entitled Il transilvano (The Transylvanian); it is in the form of a dialog with Istvan de Josíka, a diplomat from Transylvania whom Diruta met during one of Josíka's missions to Italy. It is one of the first practical discussions of organ technique which differentiates organ technique from keyboard technique on another musical instrument. While his fingerings are no longer taught, he shows the fingering for a C major scale which never includes the thumb, and crosses the middle finger over the ring finger. His work is one of the earliest attempts to establish consistency in keyboard fingering.


Girolamo Diruta anticipates Johann Fux contrapuntally, in describing the different "species" of counterpoint: note against note, two notes against one, suspensions, four notes against one, etc. Unlike Fux, Diruta defines a less-rigorous kind of counterpoint that was adequate for improvisation. For example, it neither requires contrary motion nor prohibits successive perfect consonances. It describes contemporary keyboard practice well, as can be observed from the contemporary toccatas and fantasias of composers such as Merulo.

Diruta included many of his own compositions in Il transilvano, and they are mostly didactic in nature, showing different kinds of figuration, and presenting different kinds of performance problems. They are among the earliest examples of the etude, a composition demonstrating technical virtuosity.

References and further reading

  • Reese, Gustave. Music in the Renaissance. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
  • Sadie, Stanley. ed. "Girolamo Diruta” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 vol. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Selfridge-Field, Eleanor. Venetian Instrumental Music, from Gabrieli to Vivaldi. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-486-28151-5


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