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Music for viola d'amore

[I] "Spiel der Klangfarben - Musik für Viola d'amore und Kontrabass" (Play of the Tone Colors - Music for viola d'amore and double bass)
Marianna Rônez, violina, b; Eric Hansen, double bassc

rec: [n.d.], Bamberg, Studio Cavalli-Records
Cavalli Records - CCD 285 (© 2008) (60'35")

[II] "Amor vincit omnia - Neu Method-Messige Viol d'Amour Stüke, Anton Huberty (ca. 1722-1791)"
Helena Dearing, sopranod; Marianne Rônez, viola d'amoreb; Gerhart Darmstadt, celloe; Egon Klepper, harpsichordf, fortepianog

rec: Feb 2006, Bamberg, Studio Cavalli-Records
Cavalli Records - CCD 279 (© 2009) (60'57")

[I] Bartolomeo CAMPAGNOLI (1751-1827): L'illusion de la Viole d'amoura [3]; Jan KRUMLOVSKY (1719-1763): Parthia pour la Viola d'amour solo avec Violoncellobc; Louis-Toussaint MILANDRE (18th C): Allemandebc [1]; Duobc [1]; Minuettobc [1]; Carl STAMITZ (1746-1801): Adagio in Gbc; Sonata in Dbc
[II] Anton HUBERTY (c1722-1791) [2]: Amoroso (91)bg; Aria Andantino: Non ha ragione inrato (after Johann Adolf Hasse) (36)bdg; Aria Andantino con sordini: Una povera ragazza (after Niccolò Piccinni) (35)bdef; Chanson: L'on dit partout que j'aime (6)bd; Chanson Amoroso: Vermeille rose (66)bd; La Caile (73)b; Largo (90)bg; Les Coucous (71)bef; Marche (1)bef; Minuetto (68)bef; Minuetto (93)bg; Musette (84)b; Pastorella: La Pastorella al prato (after Baaldassare Galuppi) (31)bd; Pasttoraleb; Seul (11)b; Seul: La Chasse (38)b; Sonatta in A (5)b

(Sources: [1] Louis-Toussaint Milandre, Methode facile pour la Viole d'amour, c1771; [2] Anton Huberty, Neu Method-Messige Viol d'Amour Stüke, 1790; [3] Bartolomeo Campagnoli, Metodo di Violino, 17972, 1824 )

The viola d'amore is one of those instruments which are not often too be heard at the concert platform. And the number of recordings with the viola d'amore is also pretty small. The instrument flowered only for about one and a half century, from the mid-17th century to the end of the 18th century.

Gustav Schilling, in his Encyclopädie der gesamten musikalischen Wissenschaften oder Universallexikon der Tonkunst (1835-38) stated that "nowadays, when everything is a spectacle and makes a racket, it has almost been completely forgotten. To be sure, it is also somewhat difficult to handle, and on it such trill tours de force cannot be executed as on many other string instruments, and such as are necessary today when the virtuoso wants to extort a bravo from the crowd". It is the change in aesthetics, and the intimate character of the viola d'amore which made it redundant in the 19th century.

Even today, in the era of historical performance practice, it hasn't been restored to its former glory. Only a handful of compositions for or with the viola d'amore are known. Among them are pieces by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and some solo concertos by Vivaldi. It also appears in vocal works, among them the St John Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach. Recently the complete works for viola d'amore by Attilio Ariosi have been recorded. These two discs present some music for the viola d'amore, both solo and in ensemble.

The first disc's subtitle is a little misleading as the pieces which are performed are not specifically written for viola d'amore and double bass, as a kind of duets. It is rather that the composers have added a bass, which can be played on various instruments. The use of a double bass is perfectly legitimate, though, even in the Parthia in D by Jan Krumlovsky, which indicates a cello to play the bass part.

Jan Krumlovsky was a player of the violin and the viola d'amore from Bohemia. He worked in the court chapel in Dresden for a while, but after that he became music director of his home town of Tabor. The thematic catalogue of Breitkopf mentions 15 compositions for the viola d'amore which were published between 1767 and 1787, but only the piece recorded here has survived. It is a work in four movements, which begins with a marche and ends with a polonaise, with in between an expressive adagio and a menuet.

Carl Stamitz is the best-known composer, who belonged to the 'Mannheim School'. He travelled through Europe and was active as a player of the viola. He also wrote music for the viola d'amore, and his two pieces are virtuosic, and explore the various features of the instrument, like pizzicati in the left hand and the flageolet tones. The Adagio in G could have been an alternative for the third movement of the Sonata in D.

Louis-Toussaint Milandre is one of the players of the viola d'amore who published a treatise, Méthode facile pour la Viole d'amour (c1771, Paris). While the viola d'amore could consist of 5, 6 or 7 strings, his treatise is based on the 6-string viola d'amore. In his treatise he included several pieces which he had composed himself as well as arrangements of works by other composers.

Bartolomeo Campagnoli also published a method, but for the violin. In it he included a sonata which is called L'illusion de la Viole d'amour which aims at imitating the viola d'amore. He achieves this though the use of scordatura and by requiring the violin to be muted. A piece like this is an indication of the decline of the 'real' viola d'amore.

The second disc centres around another player of the viola d'amore who published a treatise on his instrument: Anton Huberty. He might have been of Flemish origin, but worked in Paris as a music publisher since 1756. In 1777 he moved to Vienna, where he again founded a music printing enterprise. That didn't last long, and after a while he started working as music engraver for another publishing house.

In his method he has included - like Milandre - both compositions of his own as arrangements of pieces by others. They are of various scorings: pieces for viola d'amore solo or with bass, and also pieces for viola d'amore and voice, with and without bass. For the realisation of the bass either harpsichord or fortepiano is used.

The vocal items are all arrangements of pieces by other composers. Huberty himself doesn't give any indication of the original composers, but some could be identified. 'Non ha ragione inrato' is from the opera Didone abbandonata by Johann Adolf Hasse, 'Una povera ragazza' from La buona figliuola by Niccolò Piccinni, and 'La Pastorella al prato' from Il filosofo di campagna by Baldassare Galuppi.

The other compositions are written by Huberty himself. Some of them are character pieces, and here the various features of the viola d'amore are used. In La Chasse, for instance, the flageolet tones are used to imitate the hunting horns. To this category also count Pasttorale and Musette. A kind of character piece is also the first movement (moderato) of the Sonatta in A, in which Huberty gives a kind of 'stage directions' for a small pastoral play, and again the hunting horn is imitated.

These two discs give a very interesting picture of the viola d'amore and the various repertoire written for it. Musically the first disc is probably most rewarding. All participants give good performances. Marianne Rônez is an expert of the viola d'amore, and she also wrote the comprehensive liner notes. Part of them are identical in both booklets. They contain some detailed technical information about the instrument, the various forms and tunings as well as the playing technique. That is mainly interesting for those who have a more than average knowledge of string instruments, and those who haven't can simply skip those passages.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Marianne Rônez

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