Ariosti, vol. 3

Ariosti's The Stockholm Sonatas Vol. III

Finally, with the release of the final vol. 3, Bis 1675, in Dec. 08, my Ariosti recording project is complete. N.B. I do think the Alto Cantata with obligato viola d'amore in the Library at UCLA is also by Ariosti, so maybe I should say this series of is an almost, nearly, complete recording of the works associated with Ariosti for viola d'amore.

Bis 1675 Attilio Ariosti The Stockholm Sonatas III: Recueil de Pieces pour la Viola dAmour, part 2 and the Canata Pur al fin gentil viola, with Emma Kirkby.


You can hear samples of this repertoire on the Bis/Naxos listening service:

Starting October 2016, you can buy CDs directly from 

Here is the Aug. 2016 revised text of the final volume of Ariosti's Stockholm Sonatas:

In this final volume of my series, I explore the possibility that Ariosti strung his viola d’amore as a soprano range instrument. (This possibility, by the way, is looking like the correct one to me, a good eight years later, thanks to the Gottweig manuscript, which is all soprano range tunings with a high c'' or d'' string.) You will hear a top string of c'' or d'', depending on the work. Mostly I am happy with this soprano tessitura solution: Sonata 15, for example, is unplayable without the top c'' string. On the other hand, Sonata 18 and Sonata 20 benefit from an alto range tuning on the instrument, although they can be managed in my soprano range set up. In these cases I had to choose between the ideal solution and the practical one. There is a limit to the number of changes a player and his instrument can master/endure during the four-day period of a recording session. For this final album there were eight works, and seven different tunings.

I have had to conclude that the fascination of the viola d’amore for Ariosti was the opportunity it offered him to invent the instrument from scratch each time he wrote a new piece, always to finding new possibilities every time he created a work. This restless quality is mirrored in the history of the viola d’amore. Whether it was Bach in the St John Passion, where the d’amore accompanies the contemplation of the meaning of the scourging of Christ, or Janáček in Katya Kabanova, where the d’amore represents Katya’s soul, it is the instruments mysteriousness, its lack of fixed specifications that gives the composer the creative opportunity he needs to make a special point. This quality even makes itself felt outside of classical music. There are two novels in which the viola d’amore plays a special part: Doktor Faustus and La Passion selon Urhan. Especially surprising to me, a number of Hollywood productions, both TV and film, over the last 40 years, including everything from the Twilight Zone to the Simpsons, include the instrument on their sound tracks. There is even a modern Pop Art print, by Arman (Fernandez Armand) called Viola d’amore:



Attilio Ariosti, born in Bologna on 5th November 1666, died in London in 1729. If he is remembered at all today, it is as a player of the viola d’amore.

His contemporaries might have thought it a pity that his memory should hang by such a slender thread. According to them, Ariosti could sing, play the organ and the cello – and most certainly also the violin – and write drama as well as music. His harmonic boldness was much admired; in 1737 Rameau quoted a passage from Ariosti’s opera Coriolano as an outstanding example of enharmonic composition. An English music critic, James Ralph, was comparing Handel, Bononcini and Ariosti when he wrote in The Touch-Stone: ‘H--ll would furnish us with Airs expressive of the Rage of Tyrants, the Passions of Heroes and the Distresses of Lovers in the Heroick Stile. B--ni sooth us with sighing Shepaerds, bleating Flocks, chirping Birds, and purling Streams in the Pastoral: And A--o give us good Dungions Scenes, Marches for a Battel, and Minuets for a Ball, in the Miserere.’ (By ‘Miserere’ Ralph is thought to mean serious style, rather than a religious piece as such.)

Ariosti performed on the viola d’amore in his first known appearance in England, on 12th July 1716. It was advertised in the contemporary press: ‘To which [i.e. Handel’s Amadigi] will be added a New Symphony, Compos’d by the Famous Signor Atilio Ariosti, in which he performs upon a New Instrument call’d Viola D’Amour.’


Ariosti’s solos for the viola d’amore on this CD survive in a single source, the Recueil de Pièces pour la Viol d’Amour, 15 solos altogether. Adding the Lessons for the Viol d’Amour, there are 21 surviving solos, sonatas in all but name,  it was the largest single set of baroque works for the viola d’amore until the Göttweig Hs 4806 was discovered. That the fifteen solos of the Recueil survive at all is thanks to a young Swedish music student, Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758), who copied them in the late 1710s during his visits to London. It is in gratitude to Roman, and also to the Swedish library, which preserved his manuscript, that I have chosen to call all of Ariosti’s solos for viola d’amore the Stockholm Sonatas.


(Update Aug. 2016: As I have said on the revised pages for vol. 1 and 2, there is now a third source for a few of these movments, the Göttweig HS 4806. And I want to admit that I am also now in doubt how much of this Roman copied corpus is actually music the Ariosti composed, and how much might be arrangements of music Ariosti copied in while he was in Vienna. Yes, I suppose it is possible he had written the music already by the time he was in Vienna, and somebody copied his music into Gottweig. But my guess is we should be looking at composers from Vienna for some of this Stockholm stuff. People like Gottfried Finger.)

What has kept the present repertoire from being widely appreciated is first and foremost the uncommon difficulties that confront the would-be player of these viola d’amore solos.

I described these hurdles in detail in the notes to Stockholm Sonatas, Vol. 1; to recapitulate, the scarcity of violas d’amore in general, and the lack of information – especially in regards to how Ariosti’s instrument in particular might be tuned, and how the scordatura music notation might be read and understood – has kept some unique musical inventions in obscurity.

The previous vol. 2 in our Stockholm Sonatas series was played from the points of view that Ariosti used his viola d’amore as an alto range instrument, and that, like Corelli, he would have considered his score an outline, a point of departure for further elaboration on the part of the performer.

If it were possible that the Roman manuscript is set out in order of composition; the works on this third CD would be the last ones that Ariosti composed. It would make sense to me if they were; these final sonatas are shorter than the previous ones, less repetitive, more concise. It seems to me that by the time this collection was made and copied, Ariosti’s personal style had crystallized. In certain cases the movements are so economical in means that they are unusually short by the standards of the time, for example the Rondeau to Sonata 19. Moments of silence, unusual in music of the high baroque, once again abound on this disc, sometimes for comic effect, as in the Presto of Sonata 16. Other times the music halts, as if posing a question, and then resumes, as if reconsidering an earlier point.


Update Aug. 2016: And now Göttweig is here, it seems possible to me that the Recueil was more Ariosti's viola d'amore library,  and only possibly his compositions. I think now that he copied what he liked when he could. He might well have written some of the music, maybe he composed even most of it, I see no way to know for certain. But maybe in a world before music became intellectual property, it didn't matter to him the way we think it does, today. He didn't set the pieces up into Suites, or sonatas, because he didn't need to have them ready in that way. Furthermore, the kinds of alterations he made, the divisions he added, the cadences he repeated, and the dominant pedals he extended, these compositional techniques might still be models of freedom to the text, for all of us performers to add to our skill set.

Once again I have added ornaments when I saw opportunity for them. In the binary form movements I elaborated on the repeats. I based my approach on Pisendel’s graces for the viola d’amore sonatas of Pezold, and Roman and Dubourg’s graces for the violin sonatas of Corelli; they were my models, both in terms of degree of elaboration and in purpose. In the Sarabande of Sonata 20 we have taken this elaboration one step further; following models of keyboard transcriptions of Corelli’s violin sonatas, we have elaborated both melody and bass in this movement. This gentle dance has a conversation-like texture, the solo making a statement and the bass imitating it a bar later. This is a departure from the common texture in the high baroque, most often polarized between melody instrument and harmonic bass, which usually share no motivic material at all. We have endeavoured to heighten this proto-classical moment in Ariosti’s music. See also the Rondeau from the Sonata in Eb. And see this version of a slow movement from an a minor sonata, no. 19: This is one of my students, I wish I had thought of these graces.

Ariosti′s cantata, Pur al fin, gentil viola, is preserved in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt, in a manuscript that also contains cantatas of Handel, Telemann, Conti and Caldara. The rose in this poem is the same splendid standoffish flower/mistress as in Ariosti’s La Rosa, the first cantata in the 1724 subscription set which included his Lessons for the Viol d’Amour. In La Rosa, the rose is accompanied by two shrill violins. In Pur al fin, (So, at last, kind Viola) the sweet violet is accompanied by the dulcet viola d’amore.

Western tradition sees the rose as a symbol of passion, desire, beauty, and physical perfection, and, especially on Valentine’s Day, it is presented as a gesture of romance. On the other hand, violets are associated with humility, and faithfulness in love; perhaps they, too, should be given as presents more often. The thorns of the rose are a reminder, maybe, of the less appealing behaviours associated with desire, inconstancy, and domination, and make their appearance in Pur al fin in the appuntato (pointed) first movement, where the players are directed to play the notes pointed, or short, unusual for a slow movement. On the return to the A section, moreover, Ariosti omits this part of the opening ritornello; this is also quite unusual for a da capo aria, but the ommision gives Ariosti the opportunity to dwell more on the virtues of the flower/instrument he is championing, and less on the faults of the opposition. Unusual as well is the word-painting pianissimo in the A section of this movement, at the point where the violet appears in the fresh grass.

This cantata is a small skirmish in the perennial metaphorical contest between the rose and the violet. Mostly poets and composers are resigned to living with the crueller aspects of the rose: ("You cannot live and keep free of briars."  The Ivy Crown, by (William Carlos Williams.)  Mostly composers do not expect the violets to return. Nevertheless, the violet survives, as Ariosti must have hoped, and as long as human curiosity and spirit of invention survives as well, so will the viola d’amore.


Update Aug. 2016. Actually, the viola d'amore has been busy surviving all this time since Ariosti. One of the ways it kept busy, that I was unaware of, was its use in the revival of period music on period instruments. Peter Holman, in Life After Death, reports on three concerts of period music on period instruments, presented by Fetis, in Paris, in 1832 and 1833.These are the first concerts of old music also on old instruments, according to Holman.

I had no idea that the early instrument ideology could be dated as far back as this. Read Holman's book for many more such surprises. On the third of these concerts, Sunday, the 24th March 1833, Fetis presented a concerto for Mandolin, VdA, viola da gamba, lute and harpsichord, by Strobach. Although Fetis gave himself cover by inserting an entry for Strobach in his Biographie Universelle, Fetis forged the Strobach entry and composed the music himself. The music itself is B-BR MS Fetis 7328c fol 197-202v. By the way, just 9 days later, the viola d'amore player for Fetis, Christian Urhan, was playing the viola d'amore again, this time on Tuesday, 2 April, when Urhan played a Fantasie on viola d'amore during a benefit concert Berlioz put on for his crush, Harriet Smithson. Finding that conjuction was supernerd moment for me! Sorry to shout.


So, according to Holman, 1832 Paris was the beginning of over a century of deception in early music, during with the quinton and the viola d'amore took the places that we today might have expected to be filled by the baroque violin and viola. As late as 1940 Henri Casadesus was still touring with his ensemble of Ancient Instruments, quinton, vda, vdg, violone, and harpsichord, playing music he wrote himself. And people were imitating him. Try this version of the Marcello oboe concerto, for example. Viola d'amore pieces like the Borghi Sonata for viola d'amore and contrabass fit into this picture, too, although this sonata does have actual period music by Luigi Borghi in it, lots of different pieces of Luigi, in fact.


This makes a lot of sense to me, that the quinton and the vda filled the baroque strings jobs. After all, from 1833 to 1940, there was no standard pitch, nor were there steel strings, at least not until 1890s. Until the 1870's Vuillaume was still busy cutting off original Strad necks, peg boxes, and bass bars. It was only once steel e strings were nearly universal, about the 1950's?, that modern early music players could successfully market a baroque violin, as being different by having gut strings and a lower tension dute to lower pitch. Up to WW 2 some orchestral players were contractually obliged to use gut e strings, although as I said the steel e's were available since the 1890's.


I have only recently become aware of, is how extensive this kind of quinton vda vdg kind of early music activity was. That already in the 1920's the viola d'amore was playing 1700 performances of the Beggars Opera (arranged, of course for "ancient instruments") totally shocked me are recently as last spring. The Semibrevity blog covers the Beggars opera, the Chaplin Sisters, and some of this activity between 1832 and 1940.


As Peter Holman put it: "Deception played a significant role in the early stages of the early music revival." Pg. 316 in Life After Death. What we maybe don't like to think about is how long the early stages have been going on.


Places to further flesh out Holman's view of the history of early music, that he did not consider, include looking at the activities of instrument makers, like Vuillaume.


In Vuillaume, His Life and Works, by Roger Millant, Vuillaume is credited with making a 7 string gamba, a lirone, a viola da gamba, and a rebec, in addition to the 3011 violins, violas and cellos in his life's catalog.


Auguste Tolbecque, who is remembered for having premiered the Saint-Saëns Cello concerto #1, also played the viola da gamba, and made historical instruments, very well.


Other similar makers include George St George. And also many makers whose names are lost.