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Corelli's op.5 sonatas: 'Violino e violone o cimbalo'?

Nowadays we question the relevance of the essays of C. P. E. Bach and Quantz to music other than that written for the galant Berlin court.(1) However, C. P. E. Bach's recommendation for continuo accompaniment--a keyboard instrument and cello (`one which is free of criticism')(2)--is still often applied, regardless of circumstance, to nearly 150 years of music. But performers attempting to follow the specific instrumentation of Corelli's op. 5 sonatas--Violino e violone o cimbalo (violin and violone or harpsichord)--meet with a problem. Assuming that we are to follow the composer's instruction regarding his choice of a single accompanying instrument, which should it be? Many of the highly imitative bass lines in the op. 5 sonatas seem to require an instrument capable, like the violin, of both sustaining and being agile; yet without harpsichord realization, figures which are not already given in either of the parts are left unheard. Furthermore, the problem is not limited to Corelli's op. 5 sonatas: a glance at Sartori's Bibliografia of Italian instrumental music published before 1700 shows this instrumentation to be typical in certain types of music.(3)

There was, however, an instrument capable of sustained and agile playing, and of filling out harmonies. Although it is not necessary to look far from Corelli's Rome to see it being used in this way, it is normally overlooked by writers making the assumption that it was a single-line bass instrument.(4) But the validity of this assumption is brought into question by none other than J. S. Bach. His suites for this instrument-the cello--show it to be a self-accompanying chordal instrument capable both of cleverly hinting at, and of realizing fully, the complex harmonies and polyphonic textures of his music. Furthermore, Bach did not write his unaccompanied works for cello (or violin) in a vacuum. A school of unaccompanied writing for this `single-line bass instrument' had sprung up in Northern Italy during the last two decades of the 17th century.

Initially it was the tantalizing threads of evidence scattered through the late 18th and 19th centuries which led me, together with violinist John Holloway, to re-examine Corelli's title-page in preparation for performances (as an Early Music Network tour in 1993) and, more recently, a recording of the op.5 sonatas. Most 18th- and 19th-century methods for the cello insist on the importance of understanding harmony. Towards the end of the 18th century they increasingly require the cellist not only to be able to read a figured bass, but to be able to realize it on the cello. There are many accounts of cellists realizing figured bass: for, Robert Lindley (1776-1855) accompanied opera recitative in London with chords and arpeggios in a tremendously florid style (underpinned by his friend, the bassist Dragonetti);(5) and Wasilevsky witnessed a lone cellist accompanying recitative with chords in Italy in 1873.(6) This evidence prompted the question: did it describe a practice which emerged only during the second half of the 18th century, or might it point back towards a tradition of realizing figured bass on the cello, which could be relevant to the performance of Corelli's op. 5 sonatas? This article briefly re-examines what Corelli meant by violone and attempts to establish how it might have been used to accompany the sonatas.

The violone

The term violone (`big-viola') was used throughout the 17th century to describe various types of bass instruments which usually accompanied the violino (`small-viola'). The arrival of one particular type, the violoncello (`little big-viola') is most convincingly explained by Stephen Bonta.(7) Around 1660 string makers began winding silver onto gut in order to increase the string's mass. Before this, the bass member of the violin family was an instrument caught between two stools. In order to get a reasonable sound in the lower register, the strings had to be either long or very thick. But these factors made it impossible for bass instrument players to imitate the florid style being developed by violinists. A player had to choose either an instrument with a short string length capable of the violin's agility, or one with strings long enough to be able to play notes below F' with an acceptable sound.(8) The appearance of the violoncello in Bologna (perhaps one of the earliest centres of wound string making) sometime around 1660 coincided with this technological leap in string manufacture.(9) Wound lower strings allowed the instrument's body to be small enough to imitate the violin and therefore accompany it more appropriately.

The tuning and, to some extent, the size of Corelli's violone can reasonably be determined from the bass part itself. Both the tessitura, which ascends to b[flat] but does not require a B[flat]',(10) and the level of agility required even in the higher register, suggest a smaller instrument, tuned C-G-d-a, rather than a large-pattern bass violin.(11) It is unlikely that an instrument built for quantity of sound rather than agility would have been Corelli's first choice. Illus.1 shows the violin and cello from Corelli's frontispiece. It may be that the engraver lavished more attention on the cherubs than their instruments; nevertheless, the relationship between the two instruments suggests, if anything, a cello of a slightly smaller size than is standard today.(12)


Few doubt that Corelli intended the cello as an accompanying instrument in the op. 5 sonatas.(13) Muffat testifies to the widespread use of the smaller instrument: `To play the bass well, it is best to use a small French bass (to the Italians, violoncino)'.(14) In Corelli's Rome the term violone continued to be used to describe an 8' instrument well into the 18th century, although by this time most other European musicians used it only to denote a 16' instrument. Scribes at Cardinal Ottoboni's court used the term violone for 8' instruments (alongside contrabass for 16' instruments) until the third decade of the 17th century, while in nearby Bologna, 16' instruments were already being called violone (alongside violoncello for 8' instruments).(15) Before 1722, for example, Ottoboni's account books describe Domenico Croce as a violone player. When a new scribe took over in that year, Croce appears again as a player of the violoncello.(16) It seems more likely to be a change of nomenclature than of the actual instrument.

Cello or harpsichord

As we have already seen, Corelli's title-page was not unique in specifying violone o cimbalo for the accompaniment. Most Italian 17th-century sonatas da camera, including Corelli's sonatas opp.2 and 4, for Due Violini, e Violone o Cembalo made the same recommendation. F. T. Arnold and others have argued that `o' really meant `e'.(17) Corelli, however, in a letter to Count Laderchi of 1679, suggests the possibility (in an earlier sonata for violin and lute) of a single violone accompaniment, `... which will have a very good effect.'(18) Tharald Borgir, furthermore, concludes that Arnold's argument `is certainly not valid for the 17th century because the option of using either a spinet or a violone is firmly rooted in the practice of that time'.(19) There are two sources in particular that may shed light on the question of accompaniment towards the end of the 17th century: G. M. Bononcini's Arie, op.4, for violino e violone o spinetta (Bologna, 1671) and Tomaso Pegolotti's Trattenimenti armonici da camera for violino solo, e violoncello (Modena, 1698). In his preface Bononcini clearly states his preference for the violone as the accompaniment instrument, since, being `more appropriate' it `has a better effect.'(20) Pegolotti mentions no `continuo' instrument at all, even as an alternative to the cello. Instead he suggests the option of the cellist's adding extra notes `if the texture is found too sparse'.(21) Pegolotti was an amateur, hoping that his poor understanding would be excused and that his works would benefit from the performer's knowledge of harmony. Bononcini, on the other hand, was a highly respected professional who cannot be ignored as an arbiter of taste in the matter.(22) Pegolotti was not alone in publishing works simply for violin and cello. The collection of Sonate a Violino e Violoncello di vari autori (c. 1694) includes sonatas by Corelli, Torelli, and, among others, the cellist Jacchini. More importantly, the Trattenimenti provide an example of a 17th-century composer specifically requesting an improvised chordal accompaniment, not from a keyboard player but from a cellist. Pegolotti offers an alternative version of his 12th Trattenimento with double stops in the violin part, by way of an example to the performer, to be followed in the other 11. The result is a texture similar to the many movements with chordal violin parts found in Corelli's op. 5 sonatas. It is highly likely that violinists such as Corelli, capable of writing complex counterpoint for their instrument, would also have added chords or double stops in performance. Violin ornamentation consisting of free lateral embellishment of both tune and harmony,(23) diminished the need for notes to be added to the bass, since more of the harmony was supplied by the violin's excursions (see John Holloway's article above in this issue). The need for richer textures and fuller harmony, along with virtuoso display, may well have been an influencing factor in the growth of violin ornamentation. The famous `Corelli ornament' shown in ex.1 typifies a style of ornamentation in which any part of the chord can be touched on by the solo part: it is literally a cadence. As we shall see, however, it was not only the top line which was subject to embellishment.

[Example 1 OMITTED]

As well as specific requests from composers for accompaniment by cello only, there are frequent accounts of musicians who are known to have been accompanied, whether for reasons of economy, practicality, or preference, by a single cello. Burney, for example, cites a case in which Veracini (1690-1768), on his return from Dresden, was accompanied in a sonata only by the cellist Lanzetti (c. 1710-c.1780) at the Festa della Croce in Lucca in 1722 or 1723.(24) Tartini (1692-1770) travelled widely accompanied by the cellist Vandini (1690-1771).(25) To modern musicians, the addition of a local, unknown harpsichordist to their number on arrival in town seems a dangerous option. Tartini's preferred accompaniment is suggested in a letter dated 24 February 1750 to Francesco Algarotti at the Berlin court. Of his Piccole Sonate, Tartini wrote: `These little sonatas of mine ... are provided with a bass for the sake of tradition. I play them without the bassetto, and that is my true intention.'(26) Bassetto, or bassetto di viola (`little base viola'--a more logical way of expressing the term `little big-viola') was a common term for the cello in Tartini's day. This letter, which mentions no keyboard instrument, implies that a single cello accompaniment was, at the very least, one of Tartini's preferred options. Some of Tartini's sonatas contain added notes in the bass part, such as in ex.2, from the Grave andante second movement of the Sonata op.2 no.3 in B[flat]. This example gives a tenor voice moving in compound 3rds and 6ths with the violin. The added notes make good sense to a cellist, but little to a harpsichordist already making a full realization. Seen in the light of Tartini's performing customs, an occasional cue such as this could well represent an improvising cellist's aide memoire for the best realization. Together with the figures, these cues provide more than enough information to accompany the sonata. The cellist Boccherini (1743-1805) also toured with a violinist, Nardini's pupil Filippo Manfredi, between 1766 and about 1769. (What ingenious accompaniments such an imaginative composer must have improvised!) Boccherini's sonatas for violoncello e basso were undoubtedly written for his own use. These virtuoso and often highly decorative works need little in the way of added accompaniment other than the given bass. The basso part contains occasional double stops which tend to lie conveniently for the cello and, like Tartini's added bass notes, make little sense to a keyboard player.(27) More importantly, Boccherini's priority seems to have been to preserve the texture of two string instruments (see ex.3).

[Examples 2-3 OMITTED]

The cello as accompanying instrument

Thomas Hill's much-quoted letter of 1657 to his brother Abraham may also have a bearing on the hypothesis that the cello was used as a chordal accompaniment instrument. Of the instrumentalists he encountered in Italy, he writes: `The organ and the violin they are masters of, but the bass-viol they have not at all in use, and to supply its place they have the bass violin with four strings, and use it as we do the bass viol.'(28) Hill is not only observing an organological difference. In England during the 17th century the bass viol was being `used' in a very specific way--the `lyra-way'--in which the instrument's chordal possibilities were used to create polyphonic textures. The period 1601-82 saw its heyday, during which there were 18 published sources and more than 50 surviving manuscripts of music for the lyra viol.(29) The viol was used in this way in various contexts--as a self-accompanying instrument, for accompanying voices and other instruments, and in ensemble. Hill's last phrase, referring to the similarity of use, seems tautological, as he has already made the point that one instrument replaced the other. Seen in the light of English practices, however, it implies that he was witness to a comparable Italian use of the cello as a chordal accompaniment instrument, in keeping with our hypothesis.(30)

Theoretical evidence occurs often in retrospect, perhaps by its nature: evidence for the realization of figured bass on the cello is no exception. The first method to deal comprehensively with basse d'accompagnement was Baumgartner's (c.1775).(31) However, a reference in the earliest method for cello suggests, albeit by default, that it was already being practised: Corrette's method (1741) concludes with a comment on the accompaniment of recitative: `... it is not a question of embellishing or doubling and tripling the bass lines: on the contrary, it is necessary to play the notes just as they are written and have an attentive ear for the harmony.'(32) C. P. E. Bach also confirms that the accompaniment of recitative by cello alone was practised. `The emptiness of a performance without this accompanying instrument [the harpsichord] is, unfortunately, made apparent to us far too often.'(33) Bach also hints at the accompaniment of sonatas by instruments other than the harpsichord. `Some soloists take only a viola or even a violin for accompaniment. This can be condoned only in cases of necessity, where good keyboardists are not available, even though it creates many discrepancies. If the bass is well constructed, the solo becomes a duet; if it is not, how dull it sounds without harmony.'(34)

Seventeenth-century musicians were fascinated by the possibility of writing polyphonic music for a single instrument. Although whole works for unaccompanied instruments were not common until later in the century, there are frequent occurrences in other pieces. One strikingly self-conscious demonstration of this is to be found in pieces such as Biagio Marini's Pass'e mezza, where the opposite effect is achieved--of two instruments imitating one. This fascination can be seen carried into the 18th century in music such as J. S. Bach's works for unaccompanied violin, cello and even flute. The simplest way of suggesting two voices on one instrument is by alternating tessitura, as in ex.4a, from the Ricercar no.2 by Domenico Gabrielli (1651-1690). Bach typically suggests different voices using tessitura and figuration together (see ex.4b); he also supplies harmony simply by adding chords and double stops (see ex.4c).

[Example 4 OMITTED]

It is clear from the title-page of the op. 5 sonatas, and from his 1679 letter, that one of the accompaniment options intended by Corelli was provided by a single string bass instrument. The question remains as to whether he would have been content with performances of his op. 5 sonatas with a cellist playing only the given notes of the bass line. Although two-part textures were fairly common (for example in the keyboard music of the time) it is perhaps easier to begin by imagining a performance in this way of three-part works such as Corelli's opp.2 or 4 sonatas. Although it is not necessary to claim Corelli's opp.2, 4 and 5 sonatas as the forerunners of Mozart and Beethoven's string trios and duos, it is worth pointing out that subsequent generations of composers did not find the genre to be sparse. They got around the textural problem in two ways: by using lateral harmony (C. P. E. Bach's `well constructed bass', Alberti bass and middle parts), and by adding chords and double stops. Most chords, having three notes, should be covered by the given parts; only for 7th chords might it be considered necessary to find another note from somewhere. Bach's trio sonatas for organ, whether intended for performance or not, are an example of a three-part texture accepted today as satisfactory and having no need of further accompaniment. In some movements of Corelli's op. 5 sonatas a three-part texture also prevails, with the solo violin carrying two voices. Table 1 demonstrates the extent to which additional bass notes would be necessary in a performance of the op. 5 sonatas without harpsichord. Movements with a strongly contrapuntal element, either between the top and bottom parts (e.g. op. 5 no.7, first movement), or where the violin carries two voices of a three-part fugue (e.g. op. 5 no.1, second movement) would require very few additional notes. In others, one of the given parts already describes the harmony in a lateral manner--such as op. 5 no.1, second movement, in the violin, and op. 5 no.2, fourth movement, in the bass. Any additions remain, of course, a matter of individual taste. But, as table 1 shows, many movements already contain enough harmonization to give a convincing performance. By the same criteria the Follia Variations, op. 5 no.12 (which make a very exciting concert piece for violin and cello duo), require added notes in fewer than half the variations.
Table 1 Harmonic completeness in sonatas 1--11 of Corelli's op. 5

                           Movement no.

Sonata        1               2                  3

I         B needed     vn harm/2-pt vn        vn harm
II        B needed     vn harm/2-pt vn        vn harm
III       B needed     vn harm/2-pt vn        2-pt imit (+B needed)
IV        B needed     vn harm/2-pt vn        vn harm
V         B needed     vn harm/2-pt vn/WB     B needed
VI        B needed     vn harm/2-pt vn        vn harm

VII       2-pt imit    B needed/vn harm       B needed
VIII      2-pt imit    2-pt imit              WB
IX        2-pt imit    vn harm                B needed
X         B needed     some B needed          some B needed
XI        WB/some B    2-pt imit              B needed

               Movement no.

Sonata        4            5

I         B needed      vn harm/2-pt vn
II        WB            vn harm/2-pt vn
III       vn harm       vn harm
IV        B needed/WB   2-pt imit
V         2-pt imit     vn harm
VI        B needed      vn harm/2-pt vn

VII       2-pt imit     -
VIII      vn harm       -
IX        WB            -
X         2-pt imit     some B needed
XI        2-pt imit     vn harm

Key  B needed     Additional bass notes required to provide
     vn harm      Violin part describes harmony: no (or very
                  few) additional bass notes required.
     WB           Walking bass: bass part describes harmony:
                  no (or very few) additional bass notes required.
     2-pt imit    Violin and bass describe harmony together in
                  imitation: additional bass notes seldom required.
     2-pt vn      Violin carries two voices: additional bass notes
                  seldom required.

The evidence suggests that cellists may have improvised accompaniments in the Baroque era, but what form did these improvisations take? A harpsichord accompaniment consists of up to ten notes, each of which, by comparison with the violin, is relatively quiet; a cello accompaniment, on the other hand, could consist of up to four relatively loud notes. The cello is able to sustain and develop the sound like the violin; the harpsichord is only able to create the illusion of a sustained sound.(36) These differences might be likened to those between a pointillist painting and a line drawing. Despite obvious differences, they can reproduce the same image. The cello, with its greater limitations but bolder texture, must necessarily be cautious in its choice of notes; it is, for example, a matter of taste and the subject of some debate whether harpsichordists should or should not double the treble' part. The cello, however, must avoid doubling the top part if the texture is not to become unbalanced, with doubled 3rds and no 5th, for instance.(37) Most treatises recommend, when realizing a figured bass at sight on any instrument, keeping an eye on the solo voice. With the cello, it is then simply a case of seeing which part of the chord it has taken and supplying the missing notes. Ex.5, an example of a sequence of 7ths, from Corelli's op. 5 no. 4, fourth movement Adagio, shows one way of adding notes to the bass part. Not only are all the missing figures supplied but, as was considered important to various 17th- and 18th-century musicians, the unanimous texture of two similar instruments is preserved.

[Example 5 OMITTED]

The possibilities for accompaniment on the cello alone are considerable. They fall into two categories: the lateral description of harmonies by the addition of arpeggios and passing notes or figuration; and the simple addition of chords and double-stopping. In practice, of course, most chords played on bowed string instruments are spread, effectively making them lateral as well. The obvious problem with the second category is the tendency for the texture to become, to modern ears at least, bottom heavy (an interval of a 3rd in the bass, for example, separated from the treble by a 10th). We have already seen examples of this kind of texture in the music of Tartini and Boccherini. They also exist in the literature of lyra viol accompaniment, for example in the passage from a madrigal by Ganassi given in ex.6.(38)

[Example 6 OMITTED]

Examples of a texture with 3rds in the bass also exist in the works of Corelli's Roman contemporary Alessandro Stradella (1644-82). Stradella's instrumental works include 12 Sinfonie for violin and bass (generally designated a violino solo), nine for two violins and bass (usually marked a 2 violini e basso) and two for violin, a solo bass instrument and basso continuo.(39) In nearly all these works the bass part imitates the violin part. The exceptions are the basso continuo part of the latter two works, and one of the Sinfonie a violino solo, which is a set of variations on a ground. Of these works, five of the 12 Sinfonie a violino solo and five of the 9 Sinfonie a 2 violini e basso contain added notes in the bass part which suggest a cello accompaniment. Also, one of the two Sinfonie for violin, solo bass and basso continuo contains double-stopping suitable for the cello in the solo bass part. Sometimes these are single added notes, as in ex.7a;(40) elsewhere, as in ex.7b, added notes allow the bass line to suggest the entry of a second voice.(41) It is possible that the lute (which Stradella had specified as the concertino bass in his concerto grosso) may have been intended. But passages such as ex.7c seem to show two sustaining instruments imitating each other, with no need of further support. Furthermore, McCrickard writes in the foreword to her edition of these works: `Although no movement is designated a dance, the rhythms from dances of the period permeate the movements.'(42) Borgir's assertion that 17th-century da camera works were accompanied by either spinet or violone,(43) together with the presence of the added notes, would suggest that one performance option for the accompaniment was a single cello. The second part of the two sinfonie for violin, solo bass and basso continuo is described as violoncello in a table of contents by a later hand. The nature of the part, which contains fast and leaping running passages and frequently imitates the violin, together with its three-octave range from C, suggests that it was written for a cello. Most of the 12 Sinfonie a violino solo bass parts, as well as containing imitation of the violin and double stops, have some figures. Many of these can be realized by a cellist. By comparison the basso continuo parts of the two sinfonie for violin, solo bass and basso continuo are thoroughly figured. While Stradella obviously had three instruments in mind for the two sinfonie for violin, solo bass and basso continuo, he apparently only thought of two for the 22 Sinfonie a violino solo and three for the nine Sinfonie a 2 violini e basso. Significantly, there are two short sections with long note values in the D minor sinfonia for violin, solo bass and basso continuo, where one of the parts is silent, leaving a texture of either two string instruments or a (sustaining) keyboard instrument. Stradella's instrumental works do not bear too close a comparison with Corelli's, although it is tempting to point out that, in common with Corelli's op. 5 sonatas, one of Stradella's 12 Sinfonie a violino solo is a set of variations on a ground. Unlike Corelli's op. 5 sonatas, they were never published together as a set, and survive only in scattered manuscript sources. They do, however, represent a body of works roughly contemporary with Corelli's op. 5 which may well have been performed by a violinist and a cellist.

[Example 7 OMITTED]

The realization of figured bass on the cello

One of the dilemmas faced by a cellist attempting to realize a figured bass is that the two given parts sometimes come so close together that any added notes will be higher than the solo part. Owing to the disparate character of the instruments, this presents less of a problem for the harpsichord than for the cello. Another instrument which is called upon to realize figured bass is the lute. Corelli's part-allocation Due Violini, e Violone, o Arcileut col basso per l'Organo in the opp.1 and 3 sonatas occurs frequently during the 17th century.(44) It demonstrates that, like the harpsichord and cello, the lute and cello were thought capable in certain circumstances of providing comparable alternatives. In this case, as in Purcell's Sonata's in Four Parts (2697), the third part is a solo bass line which both imitates the violin parts and provides a decorated version of the chordal accompaniment, the basso continuo. The lute was allowed two roles: it was not only thought of as a chordal accompaniment instrument, but also as a melodic bass instrument. When both are thought of in this way--as bass instruments which may add chords when necessary--the pairing of lute and cello as alternatives is one which becomes more obvious.(45)

The techniques available to lutenists may suggest solutions to problems facing cellists attempting to realize a figured bass. For example, in order to increase the number of possible added notes and gain more resonance, lutenists (whose top strings are not significantly higher than that of the cello) may transpose the bass down an octave. This is used when the bass rises above a pitch where it becomes impractical to add notes, especially when the lute is the sole accompaniment instrument.(46) This technique can equally be applied to the cello: ex.8 shows one way in which this 9-8 suspension in Corelli's op. 5 no.3, third movement, can be realized fully on the cello with the use of octave transposition. Lutenists, furthermore, are not unduly concerned about voice leading, again especially if providing the sole accompaniment, and will resolve a dissonance in the wrong octave if greater resonance is the result. The problems involved for a cellist in realizing a Corelli bass line seem less insurmountable in this light. The lutenist's `Rule of the octave' may also be of use to a cellist. When accompanying at sight without figures (as was expected of all continuo players, including cellists)(47) a root-position chord was used to harmonize each degree of the scale except the third and seventh (and some give the sixth), which were harmonized as first inversions.(48)

[Example 8 OMITTED]

Mattheson describes an instrument which may have provided a solution to the problem of harmonizing on the cello. `The prominent cello, the bassa viola and viola da spalla, are comparatively small bass-fiddles, with five and possibly six strings on which one can perform all sorts of fast passages, variations and embellishments with less work than on larger instruments.'(49) The five-string cello, to which Mattheson may be referring, with its extra top string, would certainly have more notes available for accompanying. Similarly, the four-string cello tuned F-c-g-d' or G-d-a-e', although lacking three or four steps in the bass, would have more accompaniment options where bass lines ascend above c'.

The blurring of distinctions between composer and performer during the 17th and 18th centuries resulted, for example, in Scheibe's famous criticism of Bach for `expressing completely in notes everything one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing'.(51) Bach's contemporary was unable to distinguish between the melodic style of his music, the text of which we now treat with such reverence, and what Scheibe regarded as written-out improvisation, which should remain in the performer's domain.(51) But it was not just the top line that was subject to embellishment. Bass lines were created, whether by composer or performer, by decorating the fundamental bass. Corelli's contemporary, Francesco Gasparini (1668-1727),(52) shows how to decorate the bass in performance so that more of the harmony can be represented by it (ex.9). Corelli's op. 5 sonatas already contain examples, most obviously in the Follia variations, of this type of bass--our first category of lateral harmonization. It is not difficult to see where others may be added by an accompanying cellist in order to represent more of the harmony in a way suited to the instrument. Many performers composed, including the Italian cellists of the last quarter of the 17th century,(53) To judge by the presence of fast passagework and chords in their works, these composer-cellists would have missed few opportunities in performance to demonstrate their knowledge of harmony and skill at accompaniment.

[Example 9 OMITTED]

The simplest form of lateral harmonization is the scale. The prelude of Bach's C major suite for cello opens with a descending scale followed by an arpeggio. This establishes both the key and, roughly, the instrument's range; it also engages the listener's attention. This kind of `preluding' can be used to similar effect, for example, at the opening of the first movement of Corelli's op. 5 no.1, where the movement's aim is simply to establish the tonic and then the dominant of the key. The unaccompanied works of Bach and his Italian predecessors are a rich source of inspiration to the imaginative cellist seeking ways of embellishing a bass line. The preludes to Bach's cello suites in G major and E[flat], for example, are simply harmony expressed in figuration. Not all these `figures' can be pressed into service in a Corelli sonata accompaniment, but there is one example of Corelli using a pedal figuration in the violin part which later appears in Bach's C major cello suite (ex.10). It is difficult in performance for a cellist to resist joining in with such a familiar-seeming figuration, despite the tasto solo marking. This sort of figuration provides an especially appropriate way of harmonizing the slow movements of Corelli's op. 5 sonatas. Ex.11 shows one way of adding figuration, including some octave transposition, to a sequence from Corelli op. 5 no 1, third movement, which lies quite high on the cello. Another example of Bach supplying the inspiration for a realization is in the 19th Follia variation, where the thumb can be used in this descending sequence to add single notes (see ex.12). Not all the figures are actually played, but the missing 5th (at the first beat of bars 10 and 12), still fresh in the mind from the previous beat, is supplied by the ear; likewise, the 2nd in the 6-4-2 chord (third beat of bars 10 and 12) which is played a beat later anyway.

[Example 10,11,12 OMITTED]


The practice of accompanying works such as Corelli's op. 5 sonatas by making a realization of the bass on the cello has been largely overlooked in recent times because of the presumed difficulties involved. I found that, after beginning with extremely full realizations simply because they were possible, progressively fewer notes were needed as the ear became accustomed to the texture. Contrary to being beset with problems of limitation, rehearsals were generally a process of narrowing down the wide range of options available.

Evidence of the use of the cello to accompany sonatas begins to disappear towards the end of the 18th century, as the accompanied piano sonata appeared. At the same time, evidence of another role for the cellist realizing figured bass becomes more common--the accompaniment of recitative. There are explicit instructions for this art in several cello methods from c.1775 to 1830.(54) Furthermore, accounts from opera houses across Europe of recitatives accompanied by chord-playing cellists demonstrate that theory was being put into practice.

During the 18th century an increasing number of composers specified the combination of cello and harpsichord on their title-pages, as recommended by C. P. E. Bach in 1753. Nevertheless, the cello's role as a single accompaniment instrument, together with a vocabulary of possible realizations, had already been firmly established by 1700--the year Corelli's op. 5 sonatas were published. Accompaniment by a single cello can be seen dating back to the late 17th century and persisting until well into the 18th century, practised by such musicians as Bononcini, Veracini, Tartini and Corelli himself. Explicit evidence that these cellists performed chordal accompaniments, admittedly, is less common. Perhaps it was considered too obvious to mention.

The title page of Corelli's Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo op. 5 has presented writers on the subject of accompaniment with the dilemma that, in the contrapuntal movements `both the violin and the violone are indispensable', yet `the performance tradition of the church sonatas demands that a chordal instrument be present as well.(55) By recognizing, as Bach among others did, that the cello itself is a chordal instrument, the dilemma is instantly solved. Today the cello's identity is split between the separate roles of accompaniment instrument and solo instrument, and its history is seen in terms of its struggle to be accepted as a solo instrument. One of the cellist's most interesting roles, however, must surely have been that of improvising accompaniments to provide harmonic support through the addition of chords and embellishments.

(1) For example, F. Neumann, `The dotted note and the so-called French style', Early music, v (1977), pp.310-324.

(2) C. P. E. Bach, Versuch uber die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1753), trans. W. J. Mitchell as Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments (London, 1949), p.173.

(3) C. Sartori, Bibliografia della musica strumentale italiana stampata in Italia fino al 1700 (Florence, 1952). During the 18th century, as the division between da camera and da chiesa became blurred and the basso continuo became the norm, the number of examples declines. Examples include: Francesco Geminiani, op. 1 (1716; first English edition, Solo's for a Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord or Bass Violin, 1719), op. 5 (transcribed for violin, 1746, avec un Violoncelle ou Clavecin); Benedetto Marcello, op. 2 recorder sonatas (1712, con il suo basso continuo per violoncello o xembalo); Johann Adolph Hasse, op. 2 (1740) and op.5 (1744)--both flute/violin and harpsichord/cello.

(4) For example in such standard works as F. T. Arnold, The art of accompaniment from a thorough-bass as practised in the 17th and 18th centuries (London, 1931), p.329 etc.

(5) For an example of Lindley's accompaniment in Don Giovanni see Grove V (1954), `Recitative'.

(6) Cited in E. S. J. Van der Straeten, History of the violoncello (London, 1915), p.372.

(7) S. Bonta, `Corelli's heritage: the early bass violin in Italy', Studi corelliani, iv, ed. P. Petrobelli and F. Staffieri (Florence, 1990), pp.217-31; `Terminology for the bass violin in seventeenth-century Italy', Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, iii (1977); `From violone to violoncello: a question of strings?', Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, iv (1978), pp.64-99.

(8) Hence the many different sizes of instruments surviving, and ways of tuning them. Praetorius (1619) gives two for bass violins: F-c-g-d' and C-G-d-a. Others give B[flat]'-F-c-g (Zacconi, 1592; Cerone, 1613): see Bonta, `Corelli's heritage'. A plausible explanation of the tuning C-G-d-g (as found, for example, in Domenico Gabrielli's Ricercare (1689)) is that it is the result of tuning the bottom three strings up from the B[flat] tuning.

(9) Interestingly, M. Vanscheenwijck (Performance practice review, viii (1995), p.77) makes the point that two out of three instrumentalists employed at San Petronio, Bologna, were playing bass instruments. He suggests that this was because the acoustic of San Petronio favours the treble. It would further explain why Bologna was one of the earliest centres of wound string manufacture.

(10) As do, for example, G. M. Bononcini's op.4 and Domenico Galli's Trattenimento musicale sopra il violoncello a solo (Modena, 1691). 11 By which I mean the type of large-pattern instrument which Stradivarius stopped making during the first decade of the 18th century (such as the `Servais', 1701).

(12) Instruments similar in size to and even smaller than today's standard cello were referred to as `bass violins' in England, e.g. in the late 17th-century Talbot Ms. in the Library of Christ Church, Oxford. See J. Dillworth, `Mr. Baker the Fidell Maker', The Strad, cvi (1995), p.481.

(13) For example, F. Baines, `Der Brummende Violone', Galpin Society journal, xxiii (1970), p.82, concludes that `the violone of Corelli's sonatas is unquestionably a `cello ...' However, L. F. Tagliavini and L. Finscher (in a tavola rotonda), Studi corelliani (1968), p.121, while discussing the possibility of a chordal cello accompaniment, decide that violone must have meant viola da gamba, which would have been more suitable to playing chords. A. Planyavsky, Geschichte des Kontrabasses (Tutzing, 1970), pp.60, 97 etc., generally concludes that violone means a 16' instrument.

(14) Quoted in H. Burnett, `Bowed string instruments of the Baroque basso continuo', Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, vii (1970).

(15) L. Malusi, `Il violone e il suo impiego nei secoli passati', Nuova rivista musicale italiana, xiii (1979), p.605.

(16) S. H. Hansell, `Orchestral practice at the court of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni', Journal of the American Musicological Society, xix (1966), p.400.

(17) Arnold, The art of accompaniment from a thorough-bass, p.329, quotes examples by Vivaldi and Valentini which have `o' in the title but `e' in the part books. It is also sometimes argued that, as players could share parts, it is impossible to tell how many played from each bass part.

(18) `Quando veda che la sonata riesca a violino e leuto favorisca a provarla a violino e violone p. [meaning probably `piccolo'] che spero che abbia a fare un buonissimo effetto ...' Cited in Malusi, `Il violone ...', pp.606-7.

(19) T. Borgir, The performance of the basso continuo in seventeenth century Italian music (PhD diss., U. of California, 1971), p.57.

(20) `Si deve avvertire, che sari miglior efetto il Violone, che la Spinetta, per essere i Bassi piu proprij dell'uno, che dell'altra.'

(21) `... Se grata, e sonora non ti sari l'armonia di si poche Note, tocca agli Acuti del tuo perfetto inelletto [sic] superare il Basso della mia povera cognitione in tal'Arte e cosi accorderai lo sconcertato in tempi giusti, e sospiri uniformi ...'

(22) He was a member of the Este musical household from 1671 and maestro di cappella of Modena Cathedral from 1673. His compositions and treatise were influential and widely circulated.

(23) Described in relation to Corelli's op. 5 sonatas in N. Zaslaw, `Ornaments for Corelli's Violin Sonatas, op.5', Early music, xxiv (1996), pp.95-115.

(24) Cited in J. W. Hill, F. M. Veracini: life and works (Michigan, 1979), p.29. Veracini's op. 2 sonatas certainly require more support than a single cello, but the earlier works might conceivably be performed like this.

(25) P. Petrobelli, G. Tartini: le fonti biografiche (Venice, 1968), p.60. Vandini had known Vivaldi, who may have composed concertos for him.

(26) `Le piccole sonate mie a violino solo hanno il basso per cerimonia; particolarita che non le scrissi. Io suono senza bassetto e questa e la mia vera intenzione ...' Quoted in Malusi, `Il violone ...', p.607.

(27) The manuscripts of these sonatas suggest they are early works. It is very likely that Boccherini was accompanied by his father, who has been described variously as a cello, violone or double bass player. The cello sonatas are therefore occasionally accompanied by a double bass. However, many of the added notes are more practically executed on the cello than on the double bass. Also, the terms violoncello (/-e) and basso (/-e) were used side by side in the 18th century to denote a difference in function rather than a different instrument.

(28) Quoted in P. Allsop, `The role of the stringed bass as a continuo instrument in Italian seventeenth century instrumental music', Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society, vii (1978), p.32.

(29) New Grove, `Lyra'.

(30) I am grateful to John Holloway for pointing out the implications of Hill's letter for cello accompaniment.

(31) Johann Baptiste Baumgartner, Instructions de musique, theorique et pratique, a l'usage de violoncelle (The Hague, c. 1775).

(32) Michel Corrette, Methode theorique et pratique pour apprendre en peu de tems le violoncelle dans sa perfection (Paris, 1741), p.46: `il n'est pas question de broder ou doubler et tripler les basses: il faut au contraire jouer les notes telles qu'elles sont ecrites et que l'oreille soit attentive a l'harmonie'.

(33) C. P. E. Bach, Essay, p.172.

(34) C. P. E. Bach, Essay, p.173.

(35) C. P. E. Bach (Essay, p.72) was very excited by the arrival of the short-lived Bogenclavier or bowed clavier, which was capable of sustaining.

(36) There are, however, frequent examples, especially in the polyphonic movements (such as the second movements of the first six sonatas), of the lowest note of the violin part doubling the bass.

(37) Quoted in I. Woodfield, The early history of the viol (Cambridge, 1984), p. 180.

(38) See Stradella's instrumental works, ed. E. F. McCrickard (Cologne, 1980).

(39) In one of the Sinfonie a violino solo an extended sequence of 3rds in the bass ascends above c', making them practically accessible to a cellist only with a fifth string.

(40) There are some examples of variant sources giving double stopping options more suitable to a cellist.

(41) Stradella's instrumental works, p.xi.

(42) See n.18 above.

(43) For example, Antonio Veracini, Sonate a tre (Florence, 1692).

(44) Borgir (The performance of the basso continuo.... p.77), for example, suggests that in Roman churches `the bass parts were played by large lutes until about 1660 when the violone starts to appear'. Also, G. M. Bononcini, for example, `... played solos on the Violoncello in which he chose ever to be accompanied by Waber on the lute': quoted in E. Careri, Geminiani (Oxford, 1993), p.20.

(45) See Saint Lambert, e.g., quoted in N. North, Continuo playing, on the lute (London, 1987), p.63.

(46) See Baillot, Levasseur, Catel, and Baudiot, Methode de violoncelle et de basse d'accompagnement (Paris, 1804), e.g. p.39.

(47) Thomas Mace, Musick's Monument (1676), quoted in North, Continuo playing on the lute, p.40.

(48) Johannes Mattheson, Das NeuErofnette Orchestre (Hamburg, 1713), quoted in Burnett, `Bowed string instruments ...'.

(49) J.A. Scheibe (1737), quoted in L. Dreyfus, Bach's continuo group (Cambridge, MA, 1987), p.105. 50 The first page of Bach's G minor solo sonata even looks like an 18th-century violinist's written-out ornamentation, such as some of those to Corelli's op. 5 sonatas.

(51) F. Gasparini, L'armonico pratico al cimbalo (Venice, 1708), quoted in North, Continuo playing on the lute, p.74.

(52) For example, the cellist G. L. Lulier (c. 1650-early 18th century), who lived in Rome and played with Corelli as part of a concertino group and in trio sonatas, also shared composer's credits with him for S Beatrice d'Este, to which Corelli contributed a sinfonia.

(53) The notable exception being Jean-Louis Duport, Essai sur le doigte du violoncelle ... (1806).

(54) Borgir, The performance of the basso continuo.... p.58.

David Watkin is a principal cello for John Eliot Gardiner and Christopher Hogwood, and is a member of the Eroica Quartet and Trio Veracini. He has recorded Vivaldi and Beethoven cello sonatas, and contributed to Performing Beethoven, ed. R. Stowell (CUP).
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Title Annotation:response to Neal Zaslaw, Robert Seletsky and Peter Walls in Early Music, Feb 1996; Arcangelo Corelli
Author:Watkin, David
Publication:Early Music
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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