The term lent itself especially aptly to the imaginative, seemingly spontaneous creations of the early 16th-century lutenists. Pontus de Tyard (1555, p.114) told of a banquet at Milan
where, among other rare pleasures got together for the satisfaction of these select people, was Francesco di Milan, a man regarded as having attained the ultimate perfection (if such be possible) in fine lute playing. The tables being cleared, he chose one, and, as if trying his tuning, sat down at the end of it to seek out a fantaisie. No sooner had he excited the air with three strokes than conversation which had started up among the guests was silenced; and, having constrained them to face where he sat, he continued with such ravishing skill that little by little, making the strings languish under his fingers with his divine touch, he transported all who were listening into so blandishing a melancholy that … they were left deprived of every sense apart from hearing.
The first Italian publication actually to designate compositions fantasia (rather than recercar) appeared in Milan in 1536, with examples by Dall’Aquila (GMB, 94), Francesco da Milano, Alberto da Ripa (who reappeared at the French court as Albert de Rippe) and the Milanese lutenists Albutio and Borrono. Over 40 pieces by the ‘divine’ Francesco are termed ‘fantasia’ in their primary sources (HPM, iii–iv, 1970). These integrate point-of-imitation technique with often brilliant idiomatic play (inspired by the sound and feel of the lute). They include one explicit example of a parody fantasia, which appears as a companion-piece to an intabulation of its model (Richafort's De mon triste et desplaisir).
The fame of Francesco da Milano's fantasias is shown by imitations such as those of the Spaniard Valderrábano, and by widespread reprints and manuscripts. In the 50 years after his death, lute fantasias were published by Borrono; Francesco da Milano's pupil Fiorentino Perino; the Paduan priest Melchiore de Barberiis, whose Contina (1549) includes a fantasia on Verdelot's Se mai provasti, fantasias calling for different tunings, another which leaves upper parts to be added, another for two lutes at the octave, and four trim, non-imitative fantasias for seven-course guitar; Giulio Abondante, who on one title-page (1548) referred to recercari di fantasia; the Flemish-born Ioanne Matelart, who also provided five of Francesco da Milano's fantasias with second lute parts; Antonio di Becchi; Vincenzo Galilei, whose Fronimo (1568) includes eight fantasias, two being parodies on madrigals of Rore and Striggio; G.C. Barbetta; and Giacomo Gorzanis. Paolo Virchi's Tabolatura (1574) has fantasias for cittern; Besard published fantasias by Lorenzini and Fabrizio Dentice.
At the end of the century there are the lutebooks of G.A. Terzi and Simone Molinaro. Terzi's second book (1599/R) contains fantasias ‘in modo di Canzon Francese’ by himself, Francesco Guami (a transcription of an ensemble canzona), Giovanni Gabrieli, and Gabrieli’s colleague Vincenzo Bellavere; a transcription of a canzona a 4 by Florentio Maschera called Canzon la Vilachiara, over fantasia; and finally a ‘canzona or fantasia’ by Terzi for four lutes. Molinaro's first book (1599/R) includes 15 fantasias by Molinaro himself, 25 by his uncle G.B. Della Gostena (maestro di cappella at Genoa Cathedral), and one sopra ‘Susane un jour’ by Giulio Severino, which freely recomposes Lassus's chanson as a longer instrumental piece. Several of Molinaro's fantasias are on a single subject; diminution and inversion are used. The 12th, a monothematic fantasia whose subject is finally converted to triple time, is remarkable for its complete flatward orbit of the circle of fifths.
Ricercares were prominent in printed Italian keyboard music from 1523 onwards, but fantasias were comparatively rare. Two different types of fantasia are found in Neapolitan prints of 1575–6: three of the fantasie sopra varii canti fermi in Rodio's Libro di ricercate are woven around hymn or antiphon chants, a fourth around the melody La Spagna; the fantasia in Antonio Valente's Intavolatura de cimbalo (ed. C. Jacobs, 1973), on the other hand, is freely composed in two halves, expressive dissonance complementing toccata-like brilliance. A solitary, posthumously published Fantasia allegra (so called after the spirited treatment of its two points) represents the Venetian master of the ricercare, Andrea Gabrieli (ed. P. Pidoux, 1952, pp.3–5), although the improvising of a fantasia (‘sonar di fantasia’) in four-part counterpoint on a subject taken at random from the opening of a mass or motet was one of the tests for prospective organists of S Marco. Giovanni Gabrieli's Fantasia quarti toni might be considered as a written example of such a piece (ed. S. Dalla Libera, 1957).
Frescobaldi's first keyboard publication, his Fantasie a quattro (1608, coinciding with his election to S Pietro), consists of contrapuntal studies as disciplined as any ricercare (ed. P. Pidoux, 1950); indeed, the Ricercari of 1615 are altogether more diverse in construction. There are three sopra un soggetto, followed by three each on two, three and four subjects. The first three exemplify the technique of thematic variation that Frescobaldi was to develop further in his canzonas: sections are based on successive transformations of the subject, which is distorted rhythmically, inflected melodically, reshaped in triple time, fragmented, inverted. In the polythematic fantasias, the different subjects are treated not one by one, but in combination. The 11th, for example, opens with a section in which the four subjects are heard interlocked in various contrapuntal permutations; next comes a section based on new, livelier versions of the four themes; finally, each subject in turn is presented by a different voice as a cantus firmus, while all four subjects play about it. After Frescobaldi the fantasia almost disappeared from Italian keyboard music: Banchieri's Organo suonarino (3/1622) includes two-part fantasias for the instruction of the ‘budding organist’, and by Bernardo Pasquini there is part of a monothematic fantasia in the Frescobaldi tradition (CEKM, v/1, 1964), but these are rare examples.
The term ‘fantasia’ was not applied only to instrumental solos in the mid-16th century. When the ricercares of Musica nova (RISM 154022) were reprinted in France, they were called ‘phantaisies’; in Italy, too, they may have been familiarly referred to as ‘fantasie’, just as one of Padovano's Ricercari (1556) was called ‘fantasia’ by Bottrigari. Such interchangeability of terms is confirmed by other sources; for instance, Antonio Gardane’s Fantasie recercari contrapunti (1551) has no piece actually entitled ‘fantasia’. The first printed partbooks to admit the name are the Fantasie et recerchari a tre (1549) of Giuliano Tiburtino and Willaert. Tiburtino's pieces are labelled with the solmization syllables of their incipits, except for one (which unlike the rest is not based on a single subject) headed ‘fantasia’. Like Giovanni Bassano's Fantasie a tre (1585) they are ‘for singing and playing on instruments of any kind’.
Any study of the fantasia’s development in Italy in the 1550s and 60s needs to take into account four masterly four-part examples by ‘Giaches’, which have been variously attributed to Giaches de Wert (MacClintock, 1966) and Jacques Brunel. One is found in a keyboard intabulation by Antonio de Cabezón (see Pinto, 1994), so the latter attribution is perhaps the more likely. All four fantasias show a tendency to build from a small number of themes, using contrapuntal devices and thematic variation. Sometimes a subject undergoes hexachordal inversion; one fantasia is an extended treatment of a single subject. Bassano, in his 20 fantasias (composed perhaps for Count Bevilacqua's accademia at Verona) generally followed a clear-cut first section with new material, working sometimes with one, sometimes two points at a time; even when inversion is used, or themes recur, lightness of touch remains paramount (seven ed. in HM, xvi, 1958).
The term ‘ricercari’ heads the consort collections of Andrea Gabrieli, Luzzaschi, Francesco Stivori and others, but a few ‘fantasias’ were printed in miscellanies. Ludovico Agostini's Il nuovo echo (1583) has a five-part one ‘in imitation of’ Alessandro Striggio's S'ogni mio ben havete – a rare instance of a parody fantasia for ensemble; Orazio Vecchi's Selva di varia ricreatione (1590) includes a four-part fantasia, a tour de force of composition sopra un soggetto, whose crotchet subject is inverted, augmented into minims, into semibreves, into breves, syncopated into alternate minims and crotchets, converted into triple time, and again augmented; Giovanni Cavaccio's Musica (1597) begins and ends with fantasie (La Bertani, La Gastolda). Banchieri also left ensemble fantasias, chiefly in his Fantasie overo canzoni alla francese (1603). In these 21 pieces a 4 ‘for organ and other musical instruments’ a new clarity of structure is evident; one, styled fantasia in echo, has a central, chordal echo section, followed by a repeat of the triple-time opening section and a duple-time coda. Two more fantasias form an ‘adjunct’ to his Moderna armonia (1612); in one the instruments are disposed ‘a due Chori’.
Fantasias for instrumental ensembles continued occasionally to appear in Italy until the middle of the 17th century. The sacred Concerti of Francesco Milleville (1617) end with a fantasia alla francesca ‘for instruments of every kind’ with organ continuo; in Valerio Bona’s Litanie della Madonna (1619) there is also one. Fantasie were published by Gabriello Puliti (1624) for violin or cornett and continuo; by Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde (1638) for bass instrument and continuo; and by Andrea Falconieri (1650/R) for two violins, bass and continuo.