Medieval Verse: The Ballata

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November 21, 2014 by phicks2012

ctree2According to

The ballata (plural: ballate) is an Italian poetic and musical form in use from the late 13th to the 15th century. It has the musical structure AbbaA, with the first and last stanzas having the same texts. It is thus most similar to the French musical ‘forme fixe’ virelai (and not the ballade as the name might otherwise suggest). The first and last “A” is called a ripresa, the “b” lines are piedi(feet), while the fourth line is called a “volta”. Longer ballate may be found in the form AbbaAbbaA, etc. Unlike the virelai, the two “b” lines usually have exactly the same music and only in later ballate pick up the (formerly distinctly French) first and second (open and close) endings. The term comes from the verb ballare, to dance, and the form certainly began as dance music.
The ballata was one of the most prominent secular musical forms during the trecento, the period often known as the Italian ars nova. Ballate are sung at the end of each day of Boccaccio’sDecameron (only one musical setting of these poems, by Lorenzo da Firenze, survives). Early ballate, such as those found in the Rossi Codex are monophonic. Later, ballate are found for two or three voices. The most notable composer of ballate is Francesco Landini, who composed in the second half of the 14th century. Other composers of ballata include Andrea da Firenze, a contemporary of Francesco Landini, as well as Bartolino da Padova, Johannes Ciconia, Prepositus Brixiensis[1] and Zacara da Teramo. In the 15th century both Arnold de Lantins and Guillaume Dufay wrote ballate; they were among the last to do so.

The following example of a Ballata was found at, but the rhyme scheme and meter do not entirely conform to those mentioned in the Wikipedia article.

Ballata 5
Guido Cavalcanti (1255-1300)
Light do I see within my Lady’s eyes
And loving spirits in its plenisphere
Which bear in strange delight on my heart’s care
Till Joy’s awakened from that sepulchre.
That which befalls me in my Lady’s presence
Bars explanation intellectual.
I seem to see a lady wonderful
Spring forth between her lips, one whom no sense
Can fully tell the mind of, and one whence
Another, in beauty, springeth marvelous,
From whom a star goes forth and speaketh thus:
“Now my salvation is gone forth from thee.”
There where this Lady’s loveliness appeareth,
Is heard a voice which goes before her ways
And seems to sing her name with such sweet praise
That my mouth fears to speak what name she beareth,
And my heart trembles for the grace she weareth,
While far in my soul’s deep the sighs astir
Speak thus: “Look well! For if thou look on her,
Then shalt thou see her virtue risen in heaven.”
This verse seems to change meter and rhyme scheme constantly. However, according to Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia at this is not the case. According to that source: A Ballata is a poetic and musical form. This brief lyric consists of an initial stanza with a unique meter and rhyme scheme, called the ripressa or ritornello (refrain), followed by one or more stanzas with a common meter and rhyme scheme. These stanzas are divided into two parts: a fronte and a sirima; the sirima concludes with one or more verses that borrow meter and rhyme from the ripresa. The ripresa establishes the theme of the composition.

I therefore used this description and the earlier example to craft my own attempt at a Ballata, which is shown below and intended for publication in my local monthly SCA Newsletter “The Equinox”:

Ballata No.1: Crown Tournament

Hasten! Pay heed! The brazen trumpets call
The armored forth with bursts of strident sound!
With lifted sword and polished shield they stride
From bannered shade to claim a golden Crown!

With Lady’s flowing favor boldly worn,
And sunlit helm, and shining silvered greave
They come to vie, and in their souls believe
That soon a Crown their pate may well adorn;
That Royal banners by retainers borne
Will follow after when they journey forth,
And voices will be raised to praise their worth,
As unto them eternal fealty’s sworn.

For they are valiant warriors, battle-skilled,
And tested long in war and tournament
Against both foe and friend, to ne’er relent
Until the final foe is downed or killed.
And when the battle cry at last is stilled
Then only one shall stand in victory
To rise as Heir in truth and harmony
With Lady fair, their destiny fulfilled.

[21 October, 2014]

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