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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 5 (1999) No. 1

Solo Compositions for Violin and Viola da Gamba with Basso Continuo from the Collection of Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorn at Kromeríz. Edited by Charles E. Brewer. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 82. Madison: A-R Editions, 1997. [xviii, 142 pp. ISBN 0-89579-386-5. $52.80]

Reviewed by Peter Wollny*

1. The Manuscript Collection

2. The Contents of this Edition

3. Editorial Style


1. The Manuscript Collection

1.1 The vast manuscript collection housed at the episcopal palace at Kromeríz constitutes the most important repository documenting the rich musical culture that flourished throughout the seventeenth century in Vienna and the Habsburg territories. The collection was assembled mainly during the three decades of the episcopate of Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorn (1664–1695). The prince-bishop himself had close contacts to musicians in Vienna and elsewhere, and, as is evident from numerous letters, took a great personal interest in the systematic gathering of this music repertory. Masters like Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Antonio Poglietti, Johann Caspar Kerll, and many others used to send their choicest compositions to Kromeríz. The almost complete loss of other collections gathered in central Europe at the time—most notably those at Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague—has enhanced the repertory's central importance even further.

1.2 The significance of the Liechtenstein-Castelcorn collection was first recognized early in the twentieth century, when a great number of its sources were scored in Vienna in connection with the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich series; among the most prominent early users was Paul Nettl, who based his seminal study on seventeenth-century Viennese dance compositions, and the accompanying DTÖ volume largely on Kromeríz sources.(note 1) In 1928, Antonín Breitenbacher published a most valuable—but, at least in Western libraries, only rarely accessible—catalogue of the Kromeríz holdings.(note 2) Better known, but less detailed and complete, is Craig A. Otto's catalogue compiled on the basis of microfilms at Syracuse University.(note 3) A new comprehensive thematic catalogue, recently prepared by Jirí Sehnal and J. Pesková, awaits publication.

2. The Contents of this Edition

2.1 While for a long time scholars and performers from the Western hemisphere had to rely mostly on the incomplete microfilm collection at Syracuse, during the past decade the originals at Kromeríz have become more easily accessible. And while most of the compositions of Biber and—to a lesser degree—of Schmelzer have been made available in modern editions, there are still many treasures to be discovered in the collection. Charles E. Brewer's recent edition of "solo compositions for violin and viola da gamba with basso continuo" thus forms a valuable and most welcome first step in exploring this unknown terrain. His volume comprises all the hitherto unpublished solo works found in the collection (altogether 26 pieces), leaving out the more or less well-known sonatas by Schmelzer, Biber, and Georg Muffat. Although this is a sensible decision, I personally would have been tempted to include Muffat's splendid solo sonata, both for its eminent musical qualities and because it has not yet been published in a critical edition. I also would have added the sonatinas by Ignazio Albertini, which once were part of the Kromeríz collection but are now lost; a unique manuscript copy of these works has survived, however, in an anthology housed at the Minoritenkonvent in Vienna and might legitimately have served as a substitute for the missing Kromeríz original. On the other hand, I would have left out the fragmentary anonymous aria (no. 26), as in its present form it cannot be played and its significance for scholars is, it seems to me, negligible.

2.2 As is always the case with this type of mixed-bag anthology, the stylistic profile and musical quality of the edited music tends to be somewhat uneven. The two compositions by Antonio Bertali (nos. 1–2) are fine examples of Viennese violin music around 1650 and constitute rewarding pieces for any violinist interested in this repertoire. Less satisfying are the compositions by the Danzig virtuoso Heinrich Döbel (nos. 3–10). The Kromeríz manuscript of these sonatas and dances was possibly written by the composer himself and may have come to its present location during Döbel's grand tour, which he undertook between 1676 and 1679. Perhaps because of their extended sequences these works look a bit dry and pedantic, though they document of course the high standard of Döbel's violin technique. Surprisingly virtuosic—yet at the same time rather poor in melodic appeal—is the extended anonymous Ciacona in D major (no. 11). The core of the anthology is made up by a series of five sonatas, nos. 12–17, transmitted in a single source; these pieces display a great number of beautifully crafted, refined ideas, and will challenge the player both musically and technically. As Brewer suggests, these five works show many parallels to the famous Sonatae unarum fidium (1664) by Schmelzer; there is a strong possibility—which, I think, could be raised—that these compositions represent something like a second volume of violin sonatas, which Schmelzer decided not to publish but rather to make available only to his patron at Kromeríz. These compositions add new facets to our perception of Schmelzer as a highly versatile composer and violinist. They also display a number of ideas that Biber took up in quite similar fashion for his solo sonatas of 1681, such as the playing of two parts by one violin, or the changing of the violin scordatura within a piece. There are two further interesting examples of scordatura writing (nos. 17 and 18b, both anonymous), and the anthology is concluded by a number of single-movement dances, again anonymous.

3. Editorial Style

3.1 In conclusion, some remarks on the editorial principles are in order. It is well known that producing satisfactory editions of seventeenth-century music is a difficult task. Authoritative sources are rare; autographs are almost non-existent. Most manuscripts are uncomfortably distant from their originals, and the latter we can only hypothesize. Thus, the transmitted musical text is frequently corrupted, and the handling of accidentals presents numerous problems. It may seem surprising to the non-specialist that these problems are found even in the sources of the "domestic" Austrian, Bohemian, and Moravian repertoires preserved in the Kromeríz collection. Brewer wisely decided to "translate" what he somewhat euphemistically calls "a set of established unwritten conventions of notation that create, from a contemporary perspective, inconsistencies in beaming, application of accidentals, and so forth" (p. 139). I think, however, that Brewer still put too much trust in the transmitted texts, which is evident in his adding editorial accidentals only very sparingly. Performers probably will wish to opt forfurther emendations.

3.2 Editorial intervention, or at least some commentary, would also have been appropriate in the two Gigues of the anonymous Sonatina in D Minor (no. 18b), an extraordinarily difficult rendering of a viola da gamba piece (no. 18a) arranged for scordatura violin. Apart from its astonishingly virtuosic demands caused by the continuous use of multiple stops, the Gigues contain a number ofunplayable chords, which may partly reflect scribal errors or problems in intavolating the intended notes into scordatura notation.

3.3 These are minor points, however. Altogether, this volume represents a valuable and most welcome addition to the published repertoire, and it is hoped that more are to follow.


*Peter Wollny (wollny@rz.uni-leipzig.de) is a research fellow at the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, coordinating editor for the Neue Bach Ausgabe, and a lecturer at the University of Leipzig. Return to beginning


1. "Die Wiener Tanzkomposition in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts," Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 8 (1921), 45–176; and Wiener Tanzmusik in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts, DTÖ 56 (1921). Return to text

2. Hudební archiv kolegiátního kostela sv. Morice v Kromerízi (Olomouc, 1928). Return to text

3. Seventeenth-Century Music from Kromeríz Czechoslovakia: A Catalogue of the Liechtenstein Music Collection on Microfilm at Syracuse University (Syracuse: Syracuse University, 1979) Return to text


Further emendations: readers should consider the following:

No. 1, m. 46, last note: natural.

No. 3, mm. 9 and 14, fifth note: natural.

No. 3, mm. 118–120: g-sharp throughout.

No. 5, mm. 11, 12, and 14: f-natural throughout.

No. 17, mm. 77–114: the natural to the note f' (sounding as g') is missing in several instances. Return to text

Unplayable chords:

Gigue 1: m. 8, 4th beat; m. 18, 2nd and 3rd beat.

Gigue 2: m. 4, 5th beat.

Return to text

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ISSN: 1089-747X

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