Girolamo Diruta

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Girolamo Diruta (c. 1554 – after 1610) was an Italian organist, music theorist, and composer. He was famous as a teacher, for his treatise on counterpoint, and for his part in the development of keyboard technique, particularly on the organ. He was born in Deruta, near Perugia.


Little is known of his biography except for some details during his principal period of activity. He is known to have become a Franciscan 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), and he probably studied with each of them. Merulo mentioned Diruta in a letter of recommendation, probably from the 1580s, as one of his finest students. By 1593 he was organist at Chioggia cathedral, and by 1609 he was organist at Gubbio. Nothing is known of him after 1610, when he dedicated his treatise Il transilvano to Sigismund Bathory, prince of Transylvania, and to Leonora Orsini Sforza, niece of Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany.

His nephew Agostino Diruta (c. 1595 – c. 1647) was also a composer, and his pupil.[1]


Diruta's major work is a treatise in two parts on organ playing, counterpoint, and composition, entitled Il Transilvano (The Transylvanian) published for the first time in 1593; 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 other instruments. His fingerings largely follow the usual ones of his times: for example, his fingering for a C major scale never includes the thumb, and crosses the middle finger over the ring finger: his work is one of the earliest attempts in Italy to establish consistency in keyboard fingering.

As a contrapuntist, Diruta anticipates Fux in describing the different "species" of counterpoint: note against note, two notes against one, suspensions, four notes against one, and so forth. Unlike Fux, he 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 canzonas 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. These four toccate are among the earliest examples of the etude.

The Prima parte also includes toccatas by other composers of the time, chosen for their musical and didactic value: Claudio Merulo, Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Gabrieli, Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Antonio Romanini, Paolo Quagliati, Vincenzo Bellavere and Gioseffo Guami. The Seconda parte includes ricercares by Luzzaschi, Gabriele Fattorini and Adriano Banchieri.


  1. ^ See the German Wikipedia entry on Agostino Diruta; dates from Grove 6 as quoted by RISM online.

Further reading[edit]

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

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