Achille Falcone and Sebastián Raval

Achille Falcone and Sebastián Raval

Musical dispute which took place in 1600 between Falcone and the Spanish composer Sebastián Raval, then director of the royal chapel at Palermo. Falcone’s growing fame aroused the envy of Raval, who, meeting him in the spring of 1600 at Palermo, provoked him to wager a gold ring on his success in a competition of compositional skill. Falcone gave nine problems to Tommaso Giglio who sent them via Antonio Il Verso to Raval. He proposed that they should improvisefugues in canon, and ricercares in chromatic and diatonic styles and in a mixture of both, with fixed rules for the observance of the subjects and for various mensural signs and proportions. Falcone also requested that they should first hold a theoretical debate on all the compositions. But in fact, the competition was limited to the improvisation of a five-part canon, the subject for each competitor being set by the other. The Dominican Father Nicolò Toscano gave judgment on 18 April 1600 that Raval’s canon at the unison showed no sign of skill or invention and that he had not defended his work with convincing theoretical argument. Falcone’s composition, on the other hand, showed great skill both in the entry of the voices and in the fact that the work could be sung in eight different ways, while the commentary included with it was founded on the best authorities.

Furious at this defeat, Raval challenged Falcone to improvise compositions before the Spanish Viceroy, Bernardino di Cardines, Duke of Maqueda (Raval’s patron). Falcone accepted, but on condition that problems previously set should be answered first, and that they should debate the theoretical and practical aspects of the music at length. Raval, supported by some local musicians and by the Spaniards at the Palermo court, refused, saying that knowledge of such things was not necessary to a good composer. So the return contest at the royal palace was limited to the improvised composition of a canonic motet for seven voices and madrigals for three and six voices respectively, on fugal subjects, which were to be used in all voices, chosen by the supporters of the contestants: Toscano for Falcone, and the celebrated lutenist Mario Cangelosa for Raval. The compositions were immediately sung before the viceroy. But Raval, with the complicity of the Spaniards at court, intercepted his rival’s compositions before they reached the judges, and falsified them. Falcone’s protests and accusations and a statement written by Toscano on 26 July 1600 were in vain. Raval promptly published an Apologia, in which he printed a falsified version of Falcone’s works, together with his own compositions on the same subjects, rewritten ‘with much time and study’ (see Raval, sebastián, ex.1). Falcone was forbidden to take part in any such competition in Sicily and proposed to renew the contest with Raval in Rome. But in Cosenza on 1 August, as he was preparing for the journey, he fell severely ill with fever, and died in November.

Palermo, Italy & Rome, Italy
Alli signori musici di Roma: madrigali a cinque voci … con alcune opere fatte all’improviso a competenza con Sebastiano Ravalle … con una narratione come veramente il fatto seguisse (RISM, 1603¹¹)
Antonio Falcone
1600