Zucconi’s Variations, a quest by several mandolin scholars
A few erudite researchers before me already pointed out that François de Zucconi at one time early in the 19th century published a set of variations for mandolin and guitar. (As usual the mandolin part also has the violin listed as alternative, this will be discussed in a bit more detail later on.) I’m aware at least of:
- Robert Janssens, Geschiedenis van de mandoline, Antwerpen, 1982, p. 114
- Paul Sparks, The Early Mandolin (Early Music Series 9), Oxford, 1989, p. 102
Robert Janssens already mentions a date, no doubt going back to one of the musicological lexicons (Gerber, Eitner) that mention Zucconi’s output including the mandolin/violin and guitar variations:
- Gerber (Neues Historisches-biografisches Lexicon der Tonkunstler, v. 4, 1814, p. 651) already lists the date of the print as 1801.
- Eitner lists the Wiener Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as having a copy and also lists the date as 1801 (Biographisch-bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon, 1904, v. 10, p. 364). (NB: I’m not sure whether the Gesellschaft stil has that copy, no previous researcher visiting this institute has turned up with a copy, though I haven’t looked myself.)
Paul Sparks seems to have had a different source as he only has an approximate date of ca. 1810. Before I found the exact date of 1801 mentioned in the lexicons and Janssens, I already suspected this to be slightly too recent. Eder changed the name of his company so it was already dated with certainty before 1811. It also seems that Zucconi published first at Eder and later on switched to Cappi. That also leads to the conclusion that the variations would date closer to the turn of the century.
After some further research I have found corroboration from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. The third year of this famous magazine, from 1801, lists on p. 675 “de Zucconi, 6 Variations pour la Guitarre et Violon ou Mandoline. 8 Gr.”.
Zucconi’s print hence predates the other mandolin(/violin) and guitar prints from Leipzig and Vienna (like those from Bortolazzi, von Call and Aichelbourg).
None of the other scholars seems to have found a preserved item, but a few years ago I saw one listed in the Stadtbibliothek Lübeck. I am indebted to the library staff for their help, especially Arndt Schnoor. I’m also very grateful for the library’s permission to publish this item.
The composer is relatively unknown. Even though he is listed in some musicological lexicon, there are no biographical details to be found in the usual places. The only data I have are the prints he left us, all printed in Vienna:
- VI Variations for mandolin(/violin) and guitar (Eder)
- Variazioni con capriccio per la chitarra (Cappi)
- op. 7 12 pet. pièces faciles pour la Guitarre seule (Cappi)
- op. 11 Fantasie for guitar (Cappi)
- op. 12, 6 Allemandes for two guitars (Cappi)
- op. 13, 6 Canzonette italiane with guitar (Cappi)
- op. 14, 6 Gesänge with guitar or keyboard (Cappi)
All of these seem to have been printed from 1801 until 1805. We can easily deduce that Zucconi was one of the champions of the guitar in Vienna around the turn of the century.
The print contains a theme, six variations and finishes off with a Piu mosso. Most movements are written with dal segno signs to compress the music a bit (as printing is still expensive all space saved is welcome). The keys used are limited. C major is used in all cases except for variation 4 (“minore” in C minor). The metrum is almost always 2/4, except for variation 6 and the first part of the Piu mosso (3/4).
Though the music has interesting parts for both musicians, the guitar is more often used for accompaniment and the mandolin(/violin) plays the melody most often. The mandolin(/violin) is favoured in the theme and variations 2, 4 and 6 and in the first part of the Piu mosso. The guitar features heavily in variation 1 and the second part of the Piu mosso. An interchange between both instruments happens in variations 3 and 5.
The music is slightly more creative in terms of composition than a lot of the variations sequences for mandolin(/violin) and guitar. Undoubtedly the volume is meant only as entertainment music. Even though it can’t compete with some of the output of the better known composers, Zucconi’s sequence deserves a place on the stage. Comparing with von Call, Bortolazzi and Aichelbourg is difficult, as the style of writing is different. But to my mind, his take on the genre of variations is interesting and the way he sometimes intertwines the mandolin(/violin) and guitar is well done.
The music is not very idiomatic for mandolin. But we’re also missing any idiomatic writing for the violin. The lack of higher positions, sustained notes and typical violin accompaniment figures shows us more about the intended instrument than the lack of typical mandolin figures. Most likely the violin is only mentioned for commercial purposes. Another contemporary example which shows this clearly is Bortolazzi’s op. 8 from 1804. This volume lists the violin on the title page, but the cloak is thrown off in the partbook, which only mentions the mandolin.
The fact that the print is dedicated to a teacher shows that music printing has now become mature. No longer do all musicians need a huge patronage in order to publish music (though it still occurred, of course). Without checking each mandolin-related print in detail, I believe this is one of the earliest mandolin-related prints without dedication to a patron.
With the kind permission of the Stadtbibliothek Lübeck (for which I’m very grateful) I’ve created an urtext and modern edition. The urtext edition remains true to the original, even to the point of having the same bars and notes per staff. However, because of the difference in paper size I couldn’t put the same amount of staves on a page. I also had to resort to using a landscape layout to keep the note size readable enough. I have corrected a few things (mainly some missing accidentals), which are listed on the last page, but usually also clearly marked in the score.
The modern edition has a normal modern layout and makes it a lot easier to read the music. The original compressed the music by using dal segno signs in a slightly awkward way which might confuse today’s musicians. My rendition puts the most likely interpretation on paper. Besides a score the modern edition also comprises of two parts, mandolin(/violin) and guitar.
I sincerely hope that this music will get played and enjoyed. As usual you can download the editions for free. (If you enjoy the music, you can chose to show your appreciation and contribute to my research via the donation button – but it’s not compulsory at all.)