Ariosti vol. 1

Ariosti's Stockholm Sonatas, vol. I, Bis 1535

Attilio Ariosti's Stockholm Sonatas, Vol. I Vol. I A Collection of Lessons for the Viol d'Amour and one Sonata from the Recueil Bis 1535. Released June 13, 2006. The complete solos for the viola d'amore by Attilio Ariosti. Vol. II was released June 2007. Vol. III was recorded in August 2007 including Emma Kirkby singing the Cantata Pur al fin, is now released as well.

For more information about Bis, and for a list of distributors, see  Local release is up to the distributor for whatever country you are in. For example, Canadian release was on and was Aug. 1, 2006. Too much trouble? To skip all the middlemen, download directly, track by track: Found Here, also on itunes.

Lucas Harris plays continuo on all of the Stockholm Sonata CDs.

Joelle Morton plays basso in vol. 1, and can be heard in Toronto in her Scaramella Series.

The following is a version of the CD notes with the musical examples I couldn't put in the CD booklet.

In 1724 Attilio Ariosti sold, by subscription, an engraved volume of his compositions titled Cantates and a Collection of Lessons for the Viol d'Amore, dedicated to King George I. In his address "to the Reader" he wrote:

To the reader:

"For you alone, subscribers and dilettantes of music and of the violin, the following tunings are to prepare you for the practice of the viola d'amore, according to the method developed by me which you have wished to know about...since it is necessary to get some practice before putting your hands on that one ( the viola d'amore), I have set them clearly on the violin, which will help you find your way with confidence...You will then understand that it was a necessity (and not a whim) to introduce you to this knowledge by way of, and practice on, the violin, without which you wouldn't be able to succeed without considerable trouble."

In short, the "Lessons" are Ariosti's effort to repackage his old viola d'amore music as violin music to reach a wider market. Ariosti knew there were few violas d'amore in England in the 1720's, so he could not expect his subscribers to buy his viola d'amore solos unless he adapted them for the far more common 4 stringed instruments. He concludes his remarks with the claim that playing these "Lessons" would prepare a violin player to play a viola d'amore, "without much trouble".

The subscription list of the Cantatas and a Collection of Lessons for the Viol d'Amour fills 12 pages. Although there was debate at the time as to whether all the subscribers actually paid up, nevertheless it is possible that the Cantatas and Lessons may have been the largest sale of sheet music by subscription in the 18th Century, perhaps earning as much as 10 times as similar sales by Handel and Bononcini.

Ariosti's solos for the viola d'amore survive in two sources, the Collection of Lessons, and the Recueil de Pieces pour la Viol d'Amour. There are 21 solos in all, sonatas in all but name, and together they are the largest single set of baroque works for the viola d'amore.

The Lessons appear in both sources, so we have them in both real and "scordatura" notation, of which more in a moment. Of all baroque composers only Graupner wrote more music for the viola d'amore, repertoire that remains even more unknown than that of Ariosti, due to an even more complicated tuning and notation system. And Graupner wrote no solo sonatas, only concertos, ouvertures, and cantatas in which the viola d'amore solos.

During his lifetime Ariosti's solos may have circulated in manuscript copies, and that the fifteen solos of the Recueil, some of which have been published under the title the Stockholm Sonatas, survive at all, is thanks to a young Swedish music student, Johan Roman, who copied them in the late 1710's during his visits to London.

The Lessons differ from the solos in the Recueil in that they have relatively fewer multiple stops, and their range fits within the narrower span of four strings. In this performance I did not hesitate to restore the 5th and 6th strings into cadential chords, as there are many points in the Lessons where the cadence, as it appears in the 1724 engraved score, seemed odd. One example is bar 6 of Lesson 1, in which the melody leaps up to the 5th degree of the scale, whereas a perfect cadence by step down to the 1st degree of the scale is smoother melodically and much more conventional. I honored all suggested 'Petite Reprises' - with ornamentations - and added one of my own, to the Menuet of Lesson II.

To accommodate the limitations of the 4 stringed violin Ariosti had to pick and choose among his repertoire for the movements that make up the final number in the set, Lesson VI. Sonatas 6 and 7 are my attempts to reconstruct possible earlier versions of two works as they might have been before the Lessons were assembled. I have taken the sequence of the movements from a short catalog of incipits on page 60 of Roman's manuscript, and called the resulting works Sonatas, to distinguish them from the original Lesson, although all of the works really are sonatas. The result is a welcome addition to this recording, for the four extra movements, drawn from the Recueil de Pieces pour la Viol d'Amour, gives the listener the chance to hear the full 6 stringed range of the viola d'amore, with the low register heard to especially comic effect at the conclusion of the Giga in Sonata 7.

Much of the music written for the viola d'amore in the 18th century was notated in what we call scordatura. This term is applied to works in which bowed stringed instruments are tuned other than the familiar fifths tuning. "Scordatura", meaning mis-tuning, was first used in the 19th Century. 18th century manuscripts refer to this practice as 'Accordatura'. This re-tuning discomforts many modern string players, and is partly responsible for the neglect of this repertoire, but it was all in a day's work for the baroque musician. (The equivalent technique for fretted instruments is called tablature. Take accordatura and tablature together and a large number of baroque musical works are involved; retuning for special effect was common in the baroque, and remains common today in the folk music world.)

For both fretted and unfretted instruments retuning was the musicians' ways of pushing the limits, expanding the range of instrumental colors and technical possibilities. And when they did retune, composers re-wrote their viola d'amore parts in such a way that players of the violin could play a new instrument of which they had no previous knowledge by using their violin fingering habits. The advantages of this system were that it extended the range of instruments a string player could play, and also the range of colors and idiomatic instrument tricks, chords and passages, that composers had at their disposal, without hiring more musicians.

Fortunately for me Ariosti's 'accordatura' notation survived in his published "Lessons," as well as in his two cantatas with obligato viola d'amore. Every composer/player had his own approach to this notation, and Ariosti's is an especially complicated one, employing every known clef and others he invented besides, not for the usual purpose, but to indicate different positions of the hand, especially to extend the violin fingerings down onto the 5th and 6th strings. However, while the player may know where to place which finger on what string, he does not know what pitch to expect. This disconcerts many modern players. Furthermore, there are many instances where the accordatura is ambiguous, whether because of the system itself, or due to mistakes in the engraving. Overall, the difficulty for the performer is great:

This is the same selection, with the "scordatura" realized, in modern score form:

Please note that in this score, Vln. 1 and Vln 2 are generated by the software. I couldn't get rid of them!

Even though Ariosti's accordatura is tricky (no wonder he asked the reader to trust him!), I transferred its principles, tuning and fingering preferences both, to the remaining 15 Sonatas, which Roman's manuscript preserved for us in normal notation. The resulting edition made by me of all 21 works allows for all 11 different tunings of Ariosti's viola d'amore output, a necessity given the need of using up to 5 tunings in 7 solos into three days of recording sessions. In addition to meeting this practical constraint, however, accordatura allowed me, indeed, required me to reproduce Ariosti's approach to fingering, an important part of his musical character.

Fingering on a bowed stringed instrument is an important means of expression, and 'accordatura' preserves much more information about it than is usual. In most ordinarily notated string music we can only guess what fingering might have been used. It is one of the advantages to his annoying notation that I know a great deal about Ariosti's fingering preferences, and therefore this recording reflects something of his idiosyncratic performance style. While his contemporary viola d'amore players were mostly content with first position, Ariosti ascended the fingerboard to the 4th position, in several tunings used by no one else. In first position, the sound of any bowed stringed instrument is at its most open, free and loud. Higher up the fingerboard the tone is more covered, more colored, perhaps more 'sensitive' emotionally. Moreover, unlike the modern viola d'amore player, Ariosti used an alto form of the instrument, with a top string of a', a fourth lower then the d'' of the modern viola d'amore. Lexicons of the time describe two sizes of viola d'amore, soprano and alto, as well as two types, those with and without sympathetic strings. It is my view that the modern 7-string version of the instrument is in fact a combination of the soprano and alto forms of sympathetically strung d'amores existing in Ariosti's period.

For the first 5 Lessons, I have tuned my 6 stringed violas d'amore in the alto configuration. My view is Ariosti himself would have used his viola d'amore as it is heard in Lessons 1, 3 and 5 on this CD. We know that his viola d'amore was one with both playing and sympathetic strings, from a portrait in the British Museum.

However, in part for practical reasons, and also to represent other important aspects of the d'amore, I play Lessons 2 and 4 on a viola d'amore with wire playing strings and no sympathetic strings at all. While we see from his portrait that Ariosti himself played on an instrument with sympathetic strings, in Northern Germany and in Scandinavia, where Roman's copy preserved this music, the viola d'amore was an instrument with a single set of bowed metal playing strings. In Sonatas 6 and 7, where I set up my 7 stringed instrument the modern way, with a soprano d'' string, I have used Ariosti style high position fingerings the first time through each section, and then used the more conventional first position fingerings on repeat; this can be heard in Sonata 6 particularly.

Besides the challenges already mentioned, an additional problem for the player is finding strings that will respond at the uncommon pitches required by the works. Forcing an a' string up to b', as I do, for example, in Lessons 3 and 5, changes the character of the sound and responsiveness of the instrument. After experimenting, I was forced to conclude that one of the objects of this whole retuning enterprise was to explore the extremes of the possibilities of the instruments and its strings. I had to accept the resulting changes in timbre and playing quality as part of the expressive goal of the composer.

Once I got over these hurdles, I found a composer with inimitable powers of expression. Ariosti is at his best in deeply felt slow movements, like the Cantabile of Lesson 2. These sensitive moments heighten the contrast of the rollicking, witty fast dances, such as the Giga from Lesson 3. (My favorite is the Giga from Sonata 7,which concludes the CD, an exceptional example of musical invention from both the artistic and instrumental points of view; there are many more such moments to come in Volumes 2 and 3. The sense of humor evident in this movement is seldom encountered in music before Haydn. In the example below, have a look at the varying phrase lengths, the unexpected entries, and the interest derived from very simple material.