The Music of da Vinci’s Workshop Is an Amazing Polyphonic Soundscape

Most of our discussions about the Renaissance have focused on the visual arts and the architecture – but the music of the Italian Renaissance was an explosion of polyphonic soundscapes.

And it’s amazing.

To get a closer listen, we invited the San Francisco Renaissance Voices (a musical ensemble which I have long admired) to come into the Burning Man offices and perform sacred and secular music from the Italian Renaissance, with a particular emphasis on pieces that had a connection to Florence.

And we recorded it, in case you’d like to listen too.

Some of the individual songs are below.  The full playlist is here.

Hope you’re inspired on your way out to the dust!

“Coppia Gentil” – by Cristoforo Malvezzi (1547 – 1599)


Noble couple of highly-favored lovers
For whom not only earth rejoices and makes merry
But, blazing with amorous zeal,
Heaven too sings in joyous celebration.


“Nasce la Gioia Mia” – by Giovan Leonardo Primavera, 1540 – 1585


My joy is born
every time I look at my beautiful sun;
but my life is empty
when I cannot see it,
for the very sight is bliss to me.
O sun, immortal life-giving sun,
never hide yourself again,
for I know that if I cannot see you,
life could not be worse.

“Morte che voi” – by Maddalena Casulana (1544 1590)


Death, whom I call, behold, for I draw near.
Take me and complete thereby all that remains of my sorrow.
You cannot do so?
Since, in you, no longer shall my heart reign
Yes, no, have done!
The restore that which life can no longer destroy

“Missa Nasce la gioia mia Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei” – from a mass by Giovannia Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 – 1594)

“Il bianco e dolce cigno” – by Jacques Arcadelt (1504 – 1568)


The white and sweet swan dies singing,
And I, weeping, reach the end of my life.
Strange and different fate, that he dies disconsolate
And I die a blessed death,
That in dying fills me full of joy and desire.
If in dying were I to feel no other pain,
I would be content to die a thousand deaths a day.


“Stavasi il mio bel sol” – by Maddalena Casulana (1544 – 1590)

He* was my beautiful sun, and under the sun he sat.
And no other beauty could ever be found,
Loosening his blond mane of paradise,
Which reflected the face of my sun,
And in that mirror he saw himself to be beautiful,
And to my sun he appeared as the sun,
And the sun saw himself to be beautiful too.
*Gender is ambiguous; translator chose to use male pronouns.


The singers are:
Lisa May, soprano
Naomi Braun, mezzo-soprano
Katherine McKee, alto
Will Betts & John Mansfield, tenors
John-Elliott Kirk, bass

Photo by Chuck Revell

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs