Johann Kapsberger

Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger (or Giovanni Geronimo Kapsperger) (c1580 - 1651) was a Venetian composer, lutenist, theorbist and guitarist of German descent who spent most of his working life in Rome. He composed both vocal and instrumental music, his main contribution now being seen as his influence on the development of the theorbo (known in Italy as the chitaronne) as a solo instrument. His theorbo collections contain virtuoso toccatas, variations and dances (some for a 19-course instrument) that combine arpeggiated sections, unusual rhythmic groupings, broken-style figuration and slurred passages within an ornamented and highly syncopated context that has many parallels with the keyboard works of Frescobaldi (Coelho, accessed 04/04/2004).

Several of the pieces arranged here can be heard played by Paul O’Dette (on chitarrone) on the CD Baroque Lute Music vol.1 (Harmonia Mundi HCX 3957020)

Bergamasca [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 08

This piece is from is from Libro quarto d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1640). The Bergamasca is a ground bass dance form originally from Bergamo in Northern Italy. [The fingering in bars 9 - 11 needs careful thought for the semiquavers to be played in time.]

Canario [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 05 

This piece from Libro quarto d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1640) is made up of repeated short phrases, each a variation on the theme, that give it an air of perpetual motion. I have given some suggested fingering that I think helps to give an impression of the very resonant nature of music played on the chitaronne. It is fun to play and not difficult. I am indebted to Andreas Nachstam who posted a lute version on the Fronimo website ( in January 2006 from which I have transcribed my arrangement.

Capona [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 06
From Libro quarto d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1640). I transcribed this piece after hearing Rob McKillop playing it in a YouTube video (

Kapsberger [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 06
From Libro quarto d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1640). I heard this lovely short set of variations on a ground played (on a theorbo) on BBC Radio 3. I can’t remember who the player was or why the piece is titled with the composer’s name (perhaps the ostinato bass ‘ground’ is named after him). However I thought straight away that it would sound good on the guitar arrangement and when I came across a MIDI file of the piece (link no longer available) I was able to make this arrangement.

Toccata Arpeggiata  [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 08
Libro primo d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1604). I guess everyone who arranges Kapsberger has had a go at Toccata Arpeggiata, though it’s not straightforward to arrange it for guitar as it does really need the extra strings of the chitarrone. The original tablature shows block chords, the name of the piece inviting the player to create arpeggios. I have seen it arranged in G, with dropped D 6th string but I have put the piece into A and, as far as possible, followed Paul O’Dette’s pattern of arpeggiation, deviating from it only when playability demands. Some of it is straightforward to play, but other passages benefit from inventive fingering - I will perhaps post a fingered version in due course.

Toccata 3 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 07

This toccata is one of eight for the lute in Kapsberger's Libro primo d’intavolatura di Lauto (1611).

Passacaglia 21 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 06
From Libro quarto d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1640)
[Revised version posted 03/01/18]

Ciaccona [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Kapsberger Grade 05
From Libro quarto d’intavolatura di Chitarrone (1640)

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