Reviewed by Gregory Barnett*
All the music examples for this review can be downloaded as a single file in PDF format by clicking here .
1.2 In the early history of the cello, cellists, and their repertory, late seventeenth-century Bologna stands apart as the mother lode: during the last quarter of the seventeenth century, in the context of a flourishing musical culture in this northern Italian city, cellist-composers such as Domenico Gabrielli, Giuseppe Jacchini, and Domenico Galli produced some of the earliest compositions written specifically for the solo violoncello. The term "violoncello" had just come into use during the 1660s in Bolognese printed music, wherein it specified a smaller version of the bass violin vis-à-vis the violone.(note 1) Soon "violoncello" became the preferred and enduring term for the bass member of the violin family. The instrument itself benefited from the late seventeenth-century invention of wire-wound strings-probably a Bolognese contribution to string making-which rendered an improved tone on smaller and more easily playable bass violins covering the same low register as larger versions did.(note 2)
1.3 Given this background for the violoncello
of the late seventeenth century, we might not wonder at the appearance
of a set of twelve highly virtuosic cello sonatas by Antonio Bononcini,
thought to have been composed in Bologna around 1693. And yet we should
take special note of these remarkable pieces because they resemble nothing
from the 1690s: despite the blossoming cello literature written by the
Bolognese virtuosos mentioned above, not one from among their published
works approaches the length and virtuosic level of these pieces by Bononcini.
If, as Lindgren believes, these sonatas were composed in the 1690s-while
the composer was in his teens, no less-they will fundamentally alter our
understanding of the cello and its repertory in the late seventeenth century.
2.2 Specific examples from both the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries further demonstrate the extraordinary nature of Bononcini's cello sonatas. Antonio Bononcini's older brother Giovanni was himself a cellist, but he wrote nothing for the cello that compares to the sonatas of Antonio. A few of the slow movements from Giovanni Bononcini's Sinfonie, Op. 3 (1685)-written when Giovanni was himself fifteen-feature obbligato parts for the violoncello. In one case, the final movement (Vivace e spiccato) from the Sinfonia Terza (example 1), the cello plays a continuous running line, reaching b' at one point (m. 15). One of Giuseppe Jacchini's sonatas for violoncello, his Op. 3, Nº10 (1697), furnishes a representative example of a full-fledged cello sonata of the 1690s (example 2, which shows the opening Grave and Presto e Spiritoso). The technical challenge here lies mostly in the passages of broken intervals played over two strings (mm. 11-12) and the rapid and extended sequential progressions (mm. 20-29). Giovanni Bononcini's and Giuseppe Jacchini's examples thus render some idea of cello music of the late Seicento; and yet neither of these examples contains writing for the cello even close to that of Antonio Bononcini.
2.3 Turning to cello pieces of the early
eighteenth century for further comparison, we begin to find similarities,
although Bononcini's pieces continue to stand apart in certain respects.
On the one hand, the formal characteristics of Bononcini's sonatas resemble
more the cello sonatas of Benedetto Marcello and Antonio Vivaldi than
anything from Bologna of the 1680s and 90s: (note
5) common to Bononcini's and the Venetians' sonatas are a strict reliance
on a four-movement plan and the use of binary forms in pieces without
dance titles. On the other hand, Bononcini's sonatas are still longer
and more difficult than those of Vivaldi and Marcello. The Venetian composers,
moreover, did not use da capo form in their cello sonatas as Bononcini
seemed fond of doing.
3.2 Lindgren's case for dating Bononcini's sonatas to the 1690s, however, outweighs other possibilities. His argument rests on another composition by Bononcini, a Laudate pueri from 1693 for voice, continuo, and obbligato cello, in which we find the same virtuosic writing for the violoncello as is found in the undated twelve sonatas. Like the sonatas, the psalm setting survives in manuscript, and Lindgren notes that Bononcini's cello writing probably represents the closest analog that we have to 1690s improvisatory practice on the violoncello, precisely the sort of thing that was not usually written down, much less published.
3.3 The very fact that Bononcini's sonatas survive in manuscript furnishes further evidence in support of Lindgren's proposed date. During the last decades of the seventeenth century, composers of both violin and cello music appear to have worked on two distinct levels. On the first, that of the published repertory, composers produced contrapuntally sound and musically satisfying works that were not especially challenging to the instrumentalist. On the second, these same musicians produced virtuoso showpieces, which were never published-probably because because these more difficult works were intended for performance only by the composer. The clearest demonstration of this phenomenon lies in the oeuvre of the Modenese composer Giuseppe Colombi (1635-93). Colombi's five published collections of sonatas contain no double stops and rarely require the violinist to play above first position. His violin solos in manuscript, by contrast, exceed first position by up to an octave and contain pseudo-fugal expositions, which are effected by intricate double stopping.
3.4 The same dichotomy between printed and manuscript repertories exists on the violoncello. Domenico Gabrielli (1650-90), a Bolognese cellist, never published any cello solos, and his only published music, a collection of trio sonatas, uses an undistinguished bass line throughout. His two manuscript sonatas for violoncello and continuo, however, tell a different story: example 3 shows the beginning of the third movement from one sonata, and example 4 shows the end of the first movement and beginning of the second from the other.(note 7) Both passages contain a good measure of multiple stops, and the Allegro of Ex. 4 further elaborates its extended passage in sixteenth notes with bursts of thirty-second notes (mm. 3-5), precisely the kind of intricate diminutions that might characterize improvised solos. Although Bononcini's cello sonatas demonstrate a technical level beyond Gabrielli's, the two collections of sonatas are more akin to one another than to anything in print during that time.
3.5 As extraordinary as they appear, Bononcini's
twelve cello sonatas most likely date from the 1690s as Lindgren hypothesizes.
Given this probability, the importance of these works cannot be underestimated:
they illustrate both how little we still know of late Seicento
instrumental music and how much of what we may still learn lies in music
that was never published.
4.2 One conclusion that Lindgren draws about these sonatas is that they are church sonatas. Although he may well be correct, I have reservations for two reasons: first, assigning a genre to these pieces is unwarranted since Bononcini himself used only the term sonata (without adding da chiesa)-in fact, only a handful of prints from this period did use the title sonata da chiesa; and second, modern readers might draw misleading conclusions on the basis of calling these pieces church sonatas. Specifically, the some might infer that these were originally intended for performance in a church with continuo accompaniment on the organ. While this may have been the case, the grounds for these conclusions are not firm. Lindgren has made the designation of church sonata on the basis of there being no dance titles in any of the twelve sonatas. To counter such a designation, however, I would cite examples of sonatas da camera whose movements bear no dance titles (note 8) and sonatas that bear both modifiers, those that were deemed acceptable for both church and chamber.(note 9) Generally speaking, modifiers such as da chiesa, da camera, and for that matter, da teatro, indicate a suitability of the music for these specific contexts-they do not refer to immutable genres. To take them as such risks an overly schematized view of this music and its uses.
4.3 In the musical text, Lindgren has added many figures to the continuo line, and these are duly bracketed. Although he does not explain his system for adding figures, the relationship between the two lines of music, continuo and violoncello, served as his guide for adding figures in most cases. Given the perpetual motion writing for the cello, unfortunate page turns are the unavoidable rule. A-R Editions might have chosen a different musical font for these pieces because the notes, however well spaced horizontally, appear flattened within squat little staves; taller staves and larger note heads would have been easier to read.
4.4 These last points, however, constitute a reviewer's nit-picking. I learned a considerable amount from reading Lindgren's preface and from studying this music. His edition of Bononcini's sonatas constitutes a large step forward in our understanding and appreciation of early violoncello music; specialists of Baroque music, cello historians, and performers alike owe Lindgren a debt of gratitude for his work here.
*Gregory Barnett (email@example.com) is a member of the musicology faculty at the University of Iowa. He completed a Ph.D. in musicology at Princeton University in 1997 and is currently completing a book on Italian instrumental music of the late seventeenth century to be published by the University of California Press.
Return to beginning
Notes1. For a thorough study of this issue, see Stephen Bonta, "Terminology for the Bass Violin in Seventeenth-Century Italy," Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 4 (1978), 5-43.
Return to text
2. See Stephen Bonta, "From Violone to Violoncello:
A Question of Strings?" Journal of the American Musical Instrument
Society 3 (1977), 64-99.
3. Claudio Sartori, Bibliografia della musica strumentale
italiana stampata in Italia fino al 1700, 2 volumes. (Firenze: Olschki,
1952-68), 1687a, contains a complete bibliographic listing for Degli Antonii's
ricercars, which are available in modern edition: Gianbattista degli Antonii,
Dodici ricercate per violoncello solo, edited by Lauro Malusi.
(Padova: Zanibon, 1976). Curiously, these same pieces survived in manuscript
form (I-MOe, MS.MUS.D.9) as duets with an added violin line.
4. Printed collections from around 1700 that include
one or two cello sonatas are Giuseppe Jacchini, Sonate à Violino
è Violoncello, et à Violoncello solo per camera, Op.
1 (?Bologna: Carlo Buffagnotti, before 1695), Sartori, Bibliografia,
anteriore al 1695; ibid., Sonate per camera, . . . e nel fine due Sonate à Violoncello solo col Basso, Op. 3 (Modena: Rosati, 1697),
Sartori, 1697c; Luigi Taglietti, Suonate da camera à trè
. . . con alcune aggiunte à Violoncello solo, Op. 1 (Bologna:
Silvani, 1697), Sartori, 1697e; Giacomo Cattaneo, Trattenimenti armonici
da camera ... & una Sonata per Violoncello, Op. 1 (Modena: Rosati,
1700), Sartori, 1700g; and Pirro Albergati-Capacelli, Concerti varii
da camera...., Op. 8 (Modena: Rosati, 1702).
5. See Benedetto Marcello, 6 Sonate per violoncello
e basso continuo, István Máriássy and Árpád
Pejtsik, eds. (Budapest: Editio Musica, 1991); and Antonio Vivaldi, 9
Sonate per violoncello e basso continuo, István Máriássy
and Árpád Pejtsik, eds. (Budapest: Editio Musica, 1995).
6. See Nicolò Antonio Porpora, Konzert für
Violoncello, a moll, György Orbán, ed. (Budapest: Editio
Musica, 1984); and Concerto in Sol maggiore, Francesco Degrada,
ed. (Milano: Ricordi, 1970).
7. Both sonatas are found in a single manuscript source,
MS.MUS.F.416, located in the Biblioteca Estense in Modena (I-MOe).
8. Two such examples are Pirro Albergati, Pletro
Armonico Composto di dieci Sonate da Camera à due Violini, e Basso
con Violoncello Obligato, Op. 5 (Bologna: Monti, 1687), Sartori, 1687b;
and Antonio Veracini, Sonate da Camera a due, Violino, e Violone, ò Arcileuto, col Basso per il Cembalo, Op. 3 (Modena: Rosati, 1696),
9. Massimiliano Neri, Sonate e Canzoni a quatro
da sonarsi con diversi Strumenti in Chiesa & in Camera..., Op.
1 (Venezia: Gardano, 1644), Sartori, 1644b; Marco Uccellini, Sonate,
Correnti, et Arie da farsi con diversi Stromenti sì da camera che
da chiesa..., Op. 4 (Venezia: Gardano, 1645), Sartori, 1645f; Giovanni
Legrenzi, Sonate dà chiesa, dà camera, Correnti, Balletto,
Alemane, e Sarabande à tre..., Op. 4 (Venetia: Magni, 1656),
Sartori, 1656d; D. Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi-Mealli, Sonate à Violino solo, per Chiesa e Camera..., Op. 3 (Innsbruck: Wagner, 1660),
Copyright © 1999 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. All rights reserved.
 Copyrights for individual items published in The Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music (JSCM) are held by their authors. Items appearing in JSCM may be saved and stored in electronic or paper form, and may be shared among individuals for purposes of scholarly research or discussion, but may not be republished in any form, electronic or print, without prior, written permission from the author(s), and advance notification of the editors of JSCM.
 Any redistributed form of items published in JSCM must include the following information in a form appropriate to the medium in which the items are to appear:
 Libraries may archive issues of JSCM in electronic or paper form for public access so long as each issue is stored in its entirety, and no access fee is charged. Exceptions to these requirements must be approved in writing by the editors of JSCM, who will act in accordance with the decisions of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music.
 Citations to articles from JSCM should include the URL as found at the beginning of the article and the paragraph number; for example:
Jonathan Glixon, "Far il buon concerto: Music at the Venetian Scuole Piccole in the Seventeenth Century," Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 1 (1995) <http://www.sscm-jscm.org/v1/no1/glixon.html>, par. 2.3.
This document and all portions thereof are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Material contained herein may be copied and/or distributed for research purposes only.