Arcangelo Corelli (?), Le ‘Sonate da Camera’ di Assisi dal Ms. 177 della Biblioteca del Sacro Convento

Edited by Enrico Gatti, Introduction by Guido Olivieri.
Facsimile with editorial notes in English and Italian, plus a modern edition in a separate volume.
LIM, 2015. 105pp. €35
ISBN 9788870968323

These 12 suites, Sonate da camera à violino e violoncello in the manuscript source, are edited by Enrico Gatti, who has recorded them for Glossa (GCD 921209). Guido Olivieri describes the source, the hand, and the date, after having written more exhaustively about their attribution to Corelli in Arcomelo 2013  (See the acts of this convention in the review of Arcomelo 2013 above). Violinists and cellists will be curious to see these ‘new’, presumably early, compositions by Corelli. So I’ll try to say what they are and aren’t.

The format of the volumes, dictated by the Facsimile, is horizontal. The modern transcription of each sonata occupies a single two-page opening. Some of the sonatas slightly exceed two pages in the manuscript, requiring page turns. Each begins with a Preludio  of from five to 13 bars in duple or triple time, with and without double stops. The second movements are Alemande  [sic] or Balletti, the third are Correnti, Gighe, or Gavotte.

Sonata 12 is a special case, with double-stops throughout, as well as chords on three or four strings. Instead of ‘Balletto’ the manuscript clearly appears to say ‘Bassetto’, which is rather peculiar, and ignored by Gatti. But I might surmise why. This sonata is inverted: the bass-line in the Preludio  is in quavers, under the violin’s almost static, harmonic crotchet double-stops; in the ‘Bassetto’(?) it is the driving melody, over which the violin plays rhythmic and melodic imitations and complete chords of three notes. In the Corrente  bass and violin are rhythmically complementary, the violin, again, playing complete chords throughout. In fact, the ‘melody’ line of the violin in the first eight bars of the Corrente  is eee|e–|e–|e– |eee|e–|(rest)|e, all on the open e” string, under which the lower voices have some limited stepwise movement. Not much of a solo. Since the violin in effect plays a chordal realization of the melodic bass-line throughout all three movements, not only could this be considered a Cello sonata, rather than a Violin sonata, but it is also a contemporary example, attributed to Corelli, of a continuo realization.

This is not the only movement in the set where the cello is accompanied by the violin, and another reason to credit Galli, a cellist, as the scribe (1748). Furthermore, the Lemmario del Lessico della Letteratura Musicale Italiana (1490-1950)  gives only two examples of the expressions fare il bassetto  and suonare il bassetto, in both cases referring to the violin not being the soprano voice, but playing an octave higher than a would-be bass.

The editors believe Corelli could have written this set in the early 1670s as an exercise or test of qualification. Its structural traits are typical of composers of French-inspired suites for guitar active in Bologna at that time.

The facsimile volume is prefaced by Gatti’s observations and critical notes (not only in two languages, but under two separate headings, unfortunately, with enough redundancy to be a bit confusing). These must be read in order to appreciate and be respectfully wary of his revisions. I’ll only mention some cases in which there may be more sophisticated solutions in readings he rejected, and even more reasons for the attribution to Corelli.

In the Preludio  of Sonata II Gatti omits ‘an incongruous 6’ taking the continuo ♭ figure to refer to the 3rd. It is common to find continuo figures written horizontally, and 4 ♭ 6 3 certainly means 4/♮ 6 followed by 3/[5]. There was no need to specify that the 3rd is minor, whereas the lowered ♮6 is cautionary since the next bass note is a g♯. The resulting minor six-four chord is beautiful.

In the Preludio  of Sonata III Gatti reproduces the small quaver b” hovering a 7th above the violin’s c”♯, with the necessary editorial flat. There should be an editorial slur linking them, because this is a vocal-style appoggiatura, falling by a wide diminished-7th leap, exactly like the written-out one in the 5th bar of Sonata X, e”♭ quaver followed by f’♯. In the Balletto  Gatti unfortunately inserted an editorial flat in bar 15 not demanded by the sequence. On the contrary, the three ascending semiquavers start with a semitone three times: e f g|a in the continuo, and in both continuo and violin b’ c” d”|e”. If the violin flattens the first note, it produces an ugly false relation (a tetrachord spanning an augmented 4th).

There are numerous moot points reported in the Critical Notes for Sonata XII. I mention a few of them because the attribution to Corelli and the reliability of the copyist are still open questions, and these are all matters of composition that bear on the quality of the writing, and which I think Gatti may have underestimated:

The Balletto  has many suspensions in double-stops for the violin, which the copyist sometimes miswrote. In bar 15, however, his mistake was not in the notes (which Gatti changed, giving a g” instead of the prepared d”♯) but in reversing their order to make the 3rds descend: upward resolving 3rds are fine in an ‘accompaniment’, the figures 9–8 are still appropriate despite the movement of the bass, they fit the top line in 3rds beautifully, especially as the prepared 9/♯7 has already resolved upward in the previous bar.

In bars 17 and 19 an error by the scribe was not corrected by Gatti, and my guess is that Galli (?) copied the bass-line correctly but resolved the 4th incorrectly, too soon with respect to the bass. It sounds wrong, and the violin resolves anyway on the second beat, where the figure is 3. In 22 both Galli (?) and Gatti forgot to indicate e”♮.

Two things to Corelli’s credit are edited out in the Corrente, because proceeding by analogy is sometimes a trap. 1) Bars 39 and 43 are presumably meant to be identical, but which of the two readings is right? I would rather have a ♯4/2 chord over an a than a 5/♯ chord over a b which is coming anyway in the next bar for the cadence; and how can the cello note between two g#s be other than the a found in bar 43? 2) All of the cadences are echoed, and Gatti makes the echo to the first part in bar 44 conform to bar 40. Here, too (and not in the second part of the dance, where the final bar is a triple stop), the manuscript may be right the second time, or perhaps they are meant to be different. Either way, bar 44 has what in English we call a “Corelli clash”. Italian has no similarly endearing term, but the resolution of 4 to ♯3 under the anticipation of the tonic (here to be played as a d♯”, e” double stop) has quite a long tradition, and in many other cadences in this set the tonic is indeed anticipated. If Corelli adopted rising suspensions from Frescobaldi and the leading-note/ tonic clash from the likes of Luigi Rossi and others, then finding a couple of such experiments in his early work just might be important to notice.

Luckily in this welcome edition we have the Facsimile, which one player can play from, and Gatti’s transcription separately for the other player, not to mention his observations in Italian and English which list almost all of the questionable details to think about critically.

Barbara Sachs