Anonymous, Sonata di mandolino

My next post is focusing on a small preserved fragment of mandolin music. It is entitled “Sonata di mandolino” and has two movements.

The manuscript is a folded leaf, written in ink, of 23 x 30 cm. It is preserved in the State University of New York at Buffalo, Music Library with shelf mark Treasure Room M02 Aa so LIB – MUS017.

The source is also digitized and can be found online at:


Unfortunately there are few clues to date the manuscript or try and pinpoint its provenance on a map. The library itself states it is from the 18th century – though this is correct it is a bit of a wide time span.

We can only guess by looking at the style of the music and that points towards something probably from the mid-18th century. Personally I doubt this was composed before ca 1720 or after ca 1760. Still a wide timespan but at least not as wide as a whole century. 😉
However, please note that this is just an educated guess – no more, no less.

Though the manuscript is clearly having Italian writing on it, this doesn’t always mean it was actually composed in Italy or by an Italian. It is the most logical though as French, English or German sources usually don’t use the name “mandolino” but use variants of the name. It remains to be seen if we might not trace the origins with further investigations but at the moment we’ll have to make due with “probably Italian”.

Manuscript content

The content is what appears to be either an incomplete sonata for mandolin. It is written for “mandolino” and unfigured bass.

1/ Allegro 2/4 in C major (f. 1)

2/ Andante Grave C in D major (f. 2)

No real chords are used but there are some passages of parallel thirds which in my experience are quite common on the Milanese baroque instrument but not on the Neapolitan mandolin (after all, it is easier with an instrument tuned in 4ths).

The range of the instrument does extend to the low g, so if it indeed is for a Milanese baroque mandolin, it must be the six-course one. That would fit nicely with the proposed date of mid-18th century (even though we know that the 4-course type still existed, the 6-course type was becoming predominant).

The music makes use of some techniques often found in late baroque music and the harmony used seems to stick more with the baroque tradition than the early classical. The piece does ask for a continuo as the bass in itself doesn’t fulfill the need of accompaniment, another argument to place this piece in the second quarter of the 18th century.

Though the Allegro is not the most thrilling music, the Andante Grave has some more interesting musical development in it and might be worth trying out.

As we are clearly missing out on the third (of even further) movement(s) – these pieces might never reach the stage where they will be played or published. But for those adventurous enough to try and play from the sources, just follow the link given above and try it out for yourself. You’ll have to find a sufficiently experienced continuo player though. 🙂