Variations by Gabriele Leone


My mandolin history research is focused mainly on prints before 1850.  (See earlier blog post about my reasons.) I have collected a huge list of mandolin prints and many of these are now at my disposal. Only about a dozen or so items remain to be pursued. One outstanding item was a volume kept in the Music Library of the University of California, Santa Barbara (Call number Music Library, Cage MT608.L4.M4).

I became first aware of this volume in 2017 whilst listing all the known copies of Gabriele Leone’s prints and found out some volume by Leone was listed in their catalogue. However, both due to the state of the volume and for personal reasons I wasn’t able to continue the investigation until 2018. Unfortunately, due to the state of the volume it couldn’t be referenced in full. However, the staff at the library were able to help me a lot. I now have identified the contents of the volume and have been able to access some interesting contents.

Items in the library

All items in the volume are of the same format (35,5 cm x 25,5 cm) and the engraving plates are also all of the same size (26 cm x 19,5 cm). These are pretty much the standard sizes of the Paris prints the 1760s.

The first part of the convolute-like print volume is the well-known Methode by Leone. This volume dates to 1768 and it’s the well-known and most spread version (Montatui). (NB: these dates are based on advertisements which were made and can be dated exactly.) Several facsimile editions exist and it can even be found on IMSLP nowadays (currently available in two versions, from the libraries in Karlruhe and München, both the same edition as the item in Santa Barbara).

A next big item is a bundle of sonatas by Leone which was published in 1767. This edition is well-known as there are a lot of modern editions drawn from it. It is interesting because there was only one other preserved copy (in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris). I don’t think I will need to go into too much detail about these two prints as they are known and can be retrieved in modern or facsimile versions.

The third big part of the volume is the item which drew my attention most.  It is a volume of Barbella sonatas edited by Leone. It matches advertisements made in the Annonces, affiches et avis divers (Paris) and Affiches de Lyon and in the Mercure de France in 1768. (This corresponds to the date in the dedication.) As there is a surviving copy of a London print of violin duets edited by Leone I previously presumed this volume might be the same. However, it seems that the music is different and that the duets were indeed meant as violin duets and the sonatas are a different set for violin and bass.

The sonata I have been able to look at seems to be for violin but can be played on mandolin (could have been adapted by Leone to fit the mandolin better). The title page and advertisements are a bit unclear in this respect but they seem to suggest that the sonatas are also suitable for mandolin. I’ll reproduce the title page here:

A Violon Et Basse
Del Sig.r

Avec un Sujet Varié En XXIV Manieres
Utile pour les amateurs de la Mandoline
Composés et Dedié
A Monsieur le Comte de Neipperg
Chambellan Conseiller d’Etat intime actuel de leurs Maj.tes
Imp:les Et Roy:les Apostque Et Leurs Ministre Plenipotentiaire
Aux differentes Cours et Cercles de l’Empire

Maitre de Musique de S.A.S. Monseigneur Le
Duc de Chartres Prince du Sang.

Prix 9lt

A PARIS Gravés par Vendôme rue S.Honoré vis a vis S.t Honoré
Chez L’editeur Et aux adresses ordinaire


There is also a dedication page which is interesting for more than one reason:

Eccelentissimo Signore

La Virtude, il Valor, lo Zelo, il Sangue sono assai possenti
prerogative, che nell’ E. V. si ritrovano, ma quella di esser
famoso dilletante, et Prottetore della Musica mi fece in Napoli
meritare il di Lei valevole Patrocinio Mi lusingo pereio non
voglia sdegnare che quest’Operetta port’ in fronte l’Eccelso
Nome dell’ E. V. e gradirne lo scherzo di pennate che ò
inserito alla fine, come picciol ricordo dell’Eterna memoria, che
sempre, e da per tutto conserva colui che si dice

Dell’ Eccellenza Vóstra ed Servo
Gabriele Leone.

Parigi li 11. di Agosto 1768.

It is certainly a surprise to have this dedication, because it is the first French source which confirms the first name of Leone. Theories about the first name of Leone have been favouring Gabriele for years, as opposed to the first name of “Pietro” offered without explanations in the Minkoff reprints of mandolin methods. Some British sources do contain the first name of Gabriele (such as the London print of Barbella violin duets) so it was already an established hypotheses that the French and British Leone were the same and his first name hence Gabriele. At least we can now lay to rest the discussion about Leone’s first name and conclude with certainty that the person printing in Paris and London is one and the same.

The second point of interest regarding this dedication is the hint that Leone received some kind of patronage from his dedicatee and this might have even been when in Naples. It should therefor be a worthwhile research point to see whether the count of Neipperg was in Naples around this time and if any Italian sources can bear this out. It might mean we can finally also get a further grasp on the Italian origin of Gabriele Leone.

The Barbella sonatas are not the main object of this blog post. I plan to visit the library and study them further and in detail. Due to the condition of the volume, the location of preservation and some personal circumstances this might yet take some while. From what I have seen the sonatas are likely for violin. They might have been adapted to fit mandolin though. What I have seen is suitable to be played on mandolin and that is rare in unarranged violin sonatas. At the moment I have not found a match for other preserved violin sonatas by Barbella. (It would be great to compare the Leone edition to other sources so we can see if he altered them or not.) Some blog post can be expected later with details about the Barbella sonatas once the research about them has concluded.

The main item of this blog post is of course the set of variations by Leone himself as announced on the title page of the Barbella sonatas. This set of variations was also found in the volume at Santa Barbara. Actually there are two copies of them: there is also a copy at the end of the Methode. As the set of variations is a detachable set of 8 pages it makes commercial sense to also sell the variations separately or as an annex to other volumes than the Barbella sonatas.

La Pierre de Touche

The variation set announced in the title page is a separate volume of its own account of 8 pages, with blank pages on page 1 & 8. No title page or dedication is offered. But in the current context it is of course clear that this is offered by the title and dedication of the Barbella set. It’s also not uncommon to find that later editions of music use a different title page or exchange the dedication with a catalogue of music by the printer. It may be that the blank pages were also kept blank as an opportunity to later on still print on them (title page or catalogue) but that seems unlikely. Most likely the pages were simply kept blank so musicians could have music on adjacent pages as much as possible.

Indeed, the variations themselves declare to be in three parts (“en trois parties”). The theme of the variations is called La Pierre de Touche. So far I have not found a match for this in the contemporary Paris music scene. It is most likely taken from either an opera or well-known song or traditional. The three parts of the variations seem to be to distinct the pagination:

p. 1: blank
p. 2-3 (adjacent): Theme + variations I-IX
p. 4-5 (adjacent): Theme + variations X-XVI
p. 6-7 (adjacent): Theme + variations XVII-XXIV
p. 8: blank

The fact that the theme is repeated on each part is most likely due to the accompaniment which is only provided on the theme (but can be played with all variations). There is a part in bass clef without figuration. Very interesting though is that this part includes the plectrum signs of Leone’s method. Though a full continuo is possible it seems these plectrum signs could suggest to play the accompaniment on mandolin. (Sources for lower tuned mandolins such as the mandolone are usually later than 1768, so I would rule these out for now.) We already have some other proof which suggests a bass part in sonatas is not (always) played by a cello, harpsichord or similar on the expected pitch. (Cfr. see the Verdone brother’s edition of Barbella triosonatas where they explicitly tell to play the bass on an alto.) Though we should not jump to conclusions and now play all mandolin sonatas with a second mandolin, it seems certainly possible for this case. The range doesn’t go below the g so it won’t even require too much transposing in octaves.

The mandolin part is quite detailed in annotations – it includes fingering, plectrum signs and occasionally dynamic signs. Stated at the beginning of the score the plectrum signs should be taken from Leone’s Methode. (“Suivant les regles de la Methode de L’Autheur”) This also corroborates further that Leone was the composer of the variation sequence.

The theme and variations have a very simple structure. All are in a 4/4 metre (written as “C” throughout all theme and variations at the start of each). All are in C major, with a small jump to G major in the second part. There are no variations with harmonic changes, so all remains well in C major and G major. The structure is as follows:

C 1/4+1 full bar+3/4:||:1/4+1 full bar + 3/4||

Mostly there are also segno signs which seem to suggest to play bars 1-2 again after playing bars 3-4. This makes sense as it would return to C major. It is also a  sonata form in miniature if played like this. So even though the segno signs seem to be ommitted sometimes, I take this as an engraver’s error and would suggest to play all variations the same:

Bars 1-2 with repeat, bars 3-4, bars 1-2.

There is one exception: Var. XV where the second part has a repeat sign (the a la Lolli part, see below). I would suggest this is indeed meant to be repeated more than usual (maybe one time clean and second time with the grace notes?).

The fact that the theme is repeated at the head of each “partie” might also mean you can play the variations as a rondo but I don’t think this is the case. I would expect clearer marks to this extent and I believe it’s simply there for the convenience of the accompanying part.

Fingering: almost all the variations remain well in the first position. The fingering is only indicated when a finger would be deviate from its normal position on the fingerboard.

First position with fingers on different places: Theme, Var. I, II, V, , VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII
4th finger explicit (to avoid open string): Var. XIII
Extended 4th (while remaining in first position): Var. IV
Temporary second position: Var. II, VIII (not indicated), XV, XX (not indicated), XXI (not indicated), Var. XXII, Var. XXIII
Temporary third position: Var. XXII

Likely accents: Var. VI (accents on each quaver?), XVIII, XIX, XXIII
Likely to point to keep basses soft: Var. XI

Plectrum strokes:
Plectrum signs are added where the musician might otherwise be confused or cannot use the default techniques mentioned in the Methode. I won’t enter into a detailed explanation of each variation, the Urtext edition as well as the modern edition have Leone’s indications.

Exceptional techniques:

  • There is one variation which makes use of the technique of more than one note on a string (clearly indicated): Var. XI.
  • One variation marks to use the third finger to pull at the string (“l’on tire la corde avec le 3e doigt pour faire resonner le Sol”): Var. XVI
  • One variation mentions “a la Lolli”. Antonio Lolli was a well-known virtuose on violin who is known to have played in the Concert spirituel in the years before this publication. Likely this variation should in some way reflect Lolli’s manner of playing but it’s unclear from this print or Lolli violin method what is meant exactly. The place itself simply contains normal grace notes. It it the only place where the second part of the variation has repeat marks. I would currently suggest to play this second part of the variation first clean, and then use the grace notes.

And of course the variation sequence uses all kinds of arpeggio’s or arpeggio-like techniques. One variation (XXIV) refers to the Methode to pick an arpeggio to play it (“arpegio ad libitum Suivant le Magazin de la Methode”). This variation only contains three-note chords and is hence very suited to creatively try out  the many types of arpeggios possible.

There are lots of missing accidentals in the print. Mainly the fis is missing in the G major part. However, as they are written explicitly in many places, and this harmony makes most sense it seems this an engraver’s error. The Urtext edition lists all added accidentals with round brackets in the score. Not a real error but not correct according to today’s conventions: sometimes an accidental is not put on a note on a different octave later on in a bar. These were also marked with round brackets. There are also cases of missing natural signs, usually when a grace note had an accidental. Such naturals are also marked with round brackets. There are other problems, usually what you could assume engraving mistakes, such as some missing notes or note groups. (These are easily guessed from the context and added in on the Urtext and modern editions, with clear markings on the Urtext edition.)

A variation sequence is a genre where a musician shows off his level of virtuosity and that certainly is the case here. There is one further item of note: Gabriele Leone played several times at the Concert spirituel in the years leading up to this print. Though we have to find proof it wouldn’t surprise me that this set of variations might have been played at one of these occasions. It makes sense to publish a favoured set of variations not too long after they were a hit at a concert.

In conclusion, the variations seem to hold a wealth of information for historical mandolin performance practice as well as being an interesting example of virtuoso repertory for mandolin from 1768. No doubt both fellow researchers and fellow mandolin players would like to study and play the music. Hence I have judged it a priority to make these available and I have made an Urtext edition as well as a modern edition to cover for different audiences. One of the many advantages of this digital edition and distribution is that I can still update if I would find further editorial errors. So you might need to revisit this page to get the latest version of the edition.

Both of these are available for free from download link below:

If you find my research or these editions worthwhile, please consider donating to support me. It costs a lot of time, money and effort to pursue research and/or create editions. Also take a minute to think about what you would have paid if you would have had to order an article from a magazine about this topic and/or a regular published edition of music. You can find a donate button in the sidebar (except for the home page) or in the footer of pages on this website.

Update: as the library has received requests to access the item, they have asked me to publish the scans I received. See newer blog post to download these.