Arcangelo Corelli (?)
This edition brings to life twelve secular sonatas ascribed to Arcangelo Corelli, found in a manuscript in the library of the Sacro Convento di San Francesco in Assisi (I-Af, shelf mark MS 177). The fruitful cooperation between Enrico Gatti and Guido Olivieri provides a significant new contribution on music attributed to Corelli, with a quality edition and a fine recording (Corelli, The “Assisi” Sonatas, Ensemble [End Page 770] Aurora, dir. Enrico Gatti, Glossa GCD 921209 , CD).
Manuscript 177, copied by two scribes, collects miscellaneous works including, among others, Corelli’s opus 5 and two sonatas by Tomaso Albinoni. The copyist who wrote the majority of the manuscript also transcribed the Sonate da camera à violino e violoncello solo, which are the subject of this edition. Olivieri has extensively studied the manuscript and has established that its watermark connects the source to Bologna. The manuscript also includes a few works added by a second scribe, but the inscription on the spine “Op. V del Corelli. 1748. In Bologna” (p. 16) provides a possible time frame during which the first copyist transcribed the majority of the works. The manuscript was in the use of the Franciscan cellist Joseph Maria Galli (ca. 1720–1781).
The Sonate da camera à violino e violoncello solo were thus copied in Bologna sometime in the first half of the eighteenth century, and the inscription indicates Corelli as the composer. The plausibility of the ascription is a subject for debate. Olivieri maintains the likelihood of Corelli’s attribution, and supports his argument with the information provided in the introduction to this edition and in a recent article (Guido Olivieri, “Le sonate da camera di Assisi: Una nuova fonte corelliana?” in Arcomelo 2013: Studi nel terzo centenario della morte di Arcangelo Corelli, ed. Guido Olivieri and Marc Vanscheeuwijck [Lucca: Libreria musicale italiana, 2015], 31–54). But there have been musicologists in the past, such as Hans Joachim Marx, who considered these sonatas spurious.
In particular, two elements relate these sonatas to the Bolognese milieu of the late seventeenth century: the specific arrangement of the dances places the works in the last quarter of the century, and the use of the term “violoncello” suggests a connection to Bologna. Olivieri also comprehensively lists the analogies in style, structure, compositional formulas, and thematic material with other Corelli works, while also recognizing the differences with his printed output. The Sonate da camera à violino e violoncello solo appears to be an early work, possibly from the early 1670s or his early Roman years (pp. 17–18). But this conclusion seems discordant with the use of the term “violoncello” found in the source. While “violoncello” was increasingly used to refer to an 8-foot bass violin in church or devotional sacred music, “violone” was the preferred term in secular collections before 1685. For example, in Corelli’s Sonate da camera op. 2 (1685), the bass part is for “violone, o cimbalo.” Furthermore, contemporaneous bass parts in sonate da camera for the violin were rarely dedicated to one specific instrument, and were usually labeled with the generic term “basso” or for “violone e/o spinetta.” Nevertheless, the copyist who completed I-Af MS 177 might have changed the terminology or added “violoncello,” thereby following eighteenth-century practice. From the 1690s onward, a violoncello was more widely used both in secular and sacred contexts. In light of all this, I would have expected the editor to inform readers that, despite the label “violoncello,” it is more likely that the continuo bass line was intended to be played on a violone or keyboard instrument.
The use of “à violino e violoncello solo” recalls the chamber genre of violin and cello sonatas that thrived in the 1690s with music by Giuseppe Torelli (opus 4), Barto -lomeo Laurenti (opus 1), Ottavio Attilio Ariosti (opus 1), Tomaso Antonio Vitali (IMOe Mus. E. 246), and Giuseppe Jacchini (opus 1). But the style in the sonatas in I-Af MS 177 rather recalls earlier examples. The presence of figures in the bass line, usually absent in violin and cello music from the 1690s, closely associates these sonatas to earlier secular violin dances with the accompaniment of a bass.
Having established the context of the music with a thoroughly researched introduction, Olivieri underlines the significance of the distinctive musical elements present in the works. Even if Corelli’s authorship is questionable, these sonatas would have been worth publishing for their historical significance. They combine seventeenth-century aspects such as modal key signatures, and local elements such as the use of balletto (connected to Bologna and Modena), with innovative elements such as the presence of preludes. The use of the latter to open dance collections is indeed connected with Corelli, who composed preludes in the majority of sonatas of his opus 2. Possibly conceived as a compositional exercise, these sonatas group two dances after each prelude. The harmonic [End Page 771] structure is simple and movements are concise. But the violin part contains double stops and chords, which were innovative techniques in the 1670s and 1680s.
Indeed, one of the interesting elements of this collection lies in the virtuosity of the violin part. In addition to prolonged double-stops passages, a number of three-or four-note chords and occasional passage-work are also present, traits that are unusual for music composed in the late seventeenth century. The large collection of instrumental music from the same period at the Biblioteca estense e universitaria in Modena also contains some examples of violin music with multiple-stopping and use of an extended register. Giuseppe Colombi from the musical chapel of Duke Francesco II d’Este composed most of these works. Such virtuosity is uncommon in other contemporaneous Italian instrumental music. Violin technique normally consisted of the use of a single left-hand position, no double stopping, and no complex bow strokes. Gregory Barnett makes a fascinating reference to a possible German influence in this Modenese interest in virtuosity. The significant presence of a sonata by German virtuoso Johann Paul von Westhoff in I-MOe Mus. E. 282 in the Este collection could reveal this possible connection (Gregory Barnett, Bolognese Instrumental Music, 1660–1710: Spiritual Comfort, Courtly Delight, and Commercial Triumph [Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008], 150). Undoubtedly, there was a tradition of virtuoso Italian violin playing, but it remained unrecorded before Colombi. Most works were composed so that anyone could play them, hence the technical simplicity in most music. This is particularly true of publications that not only had to address a wide spectrum of buyers, but were also affected by the limitation of movable-type printing. There is surely a link between Colombi’s manuscripts and the sonatas in I-Af MS 177. The latter, however, do not display the same register expansion found in Colombi’s examples. In the secular sonatas in MS 177 the left hand does not often move beyond the first position. Although the Sonate da camera à violino e violoncello solo do not present the same level of challenges found in Colombi’s music, they still go beyond normal violin techniques. While the connections between Corelli and the Modenese court are known, this moderate virtuosity also could be a sign of the young age of the violinist at the moment of composition.
Gatti has succeeded in presenting an informed and comprehensive bilingual publication. Le sonate da camera di Assisi is divided in two folders to ease usability. Both are in oblong format. The main volume contains a discussion of the source and the possible authorship, the critical notes, and the facsimile. The second folder contains the edition itself. Each sonata is copied so that it starts in the verso of the preceding folio and terminates with the recto of the following. This eases readability and provides the viewer with a comprehensive view of each sonata. Consultation between the critical notes and the facsimile is less straightforward, since both are in the same volume.
The edition is a semidiplomatic one in which emendations are limited to modern standardization of accidentals and corrections of the scribes’s mistakes. In particular, the editor notes that the use and placement of figures in the source is confusing and inaccurate. The value of final notes is preserved during the transcription, in particular at ritornellos. Editorial dashed slurs and other signs (in parenthesis) have been added when deemed significant and appropriate. The result is a clear and readable score where some freedom of interpretation is left to the performer. The critical notes are divided in two parts, the first for mistakes and problematic passages found during the transcription or performance suggestions, the second containing all the other notes. There is some degree of overlap, and it might have been more beneficial to have all notes referring to each sonata grouped together. For example, the transcription and performance notes for Sonata III include information about a ♭ in the continuo figure in m. 1 of the preludio referring to the minor third. The critical notes for the same movement in m. 8 specify another mistake in the figures with the ♭ above the second note referring to the third. These two similar pieces of information are placed in two different parts of the notes without a reason to justify the inconvenience.
As in all editions based on manuscripts containing a number of transcription errors, Gatti has had to make a few choices. His decisions seem balanced, and are always [End Page 772] clearly explained. At times he opts for a change, and other times he explains his views in the critical notes, but leaves the musical text as in the original. The presence of musical analogies does not automatically mean standardization, and Gatti occasionally leaves differences between two very similar phrases. For example, in Sonata IV in m. 8 the violin does not have a dotted rhythm, whereas it does in similar thematic material elsewhere in the same preludio. This decision indicates how the editor approached decisions on a case-by-case basis, making a thoughtful choice each time. But there are a couple of instances where differences in parallel passages more strongly suggest scribal oversight, and correction might have been the better option. Such is the case in Sonata VIII, Allemanda. Largo, m. 15, where the bass figure is rather than ♭ 6 as correctly noted in the equivalent in m. 13. Only once does Gatti leave as is what he clearly recognizes as a mistake in the notes (Sonata V, Alemanda, mm. 17–19, bass), and this is odd as he corrects all other certain scribal errors. Gatti’s corrections mainly regard figures and their placement, but also wrong notes, particularly in the bass, the position of dynamic markings, and homogenization of rhythmic patterns in analogous passages.
In sum, Gatti and Olivieri bring to life some fine secular sonatas for violin and bass most likely composed in the 1670s or 1680s in Bologna or nearby. So far, few experts are aware of these sonatas, and this edition surely offers them to a wider public and, in particular, to performers. Gatti’s publication is a valuable addition to any period violinist’s bookshelf. The presence of double stops and chords in a number of them surely makes these sonatas more interesting in the eyes of a performer. From a musicological point of view, the interest lies beyond the possible attribution. These works intertwine different stylistic aspects that make this collection unique. Furthermore, Olivieri’s explanation of Corelli’s likely authorship is certainly convincing, which puts these sonatas on a pedestal.