The Renaissance Musician: Speculations on the Performing Style of Marsilio Ficino by Angela Voss

Temenos Journal, vol. 11, 31-52.

The Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) is chiefly remembered for being the first translator of the complete works of Plato into Latin, and thus standing at the forefront of the Humanist revival of classical learning known as the Renaissance. He founded the Platonic Academy in Florence, and dedicated his life to the reconciliation of Platonism with Christianity.

But not only was he a philosopher and theologian’ he was also a practising astrologer, magician and musician, and invented a form of astrological music therapy which shows a depth of understanding of the human psyche unique for his time. His ‘natural magic’ is an integral, imaginative approach to harmonising one’s inner self, using all manner of substances, plants, foods, colours in the right quantities and proportions to suit each individual. But most important of all was listening to the right sort of music’ Ficino himself must have been an outstanding performer, for Lorenzo de’ Medici called him the ‘second Orpheus’. He improvised on his ‘Orphic lyre’ in varying modes and moods, connected with the different planetary energies, and this influenced the state of mind of his clients.

I shall be considering possible examples of the sort of music he have performed later. First, it is important to understand the Renaissance attitude towards the performer and his role in the new humanist vision of the nature and purpose of all Art – for it is an approach quite new to the average 20th century concert-goer, although his actual experience may be the same as his 15th century counterpart. But we have lost a spiritual awareness in favour of a psychological one.

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