Historical mandolin sources at Yale University library (3/4): Six Duos by Pietro Denis (1764)


In the course of my research into mandolin prints prior to 1850, I have tried to find some of the volumes thought lost. High on my list was the volume Six Duos Pour Deux Mandolines by Pietro Denis printed in Paris in 1764. It’s the first print in Paris to list the mandolin first on its title page. I have been able to find a copy in the music library of Yale University (M293 D395 D9++ Folio).

Mandolin duets

The genre of duets was one of the most popular in the Paris prints from 1760-1780. It may even be considered that some of the mandolin solo sonatas with bass were played with a viola or a second mandolin (see research by Didier Le Roux, and some pointers in the Leone Variations print (see blog post) and Barbella print by Verdone, and many other clues).

The volume by Denis is one of the earliest mandolin prints from Paris. Very few volumes predate Denis’ bundle. The first one is the duets bundle of Leone, but this one rather mentions the mandolin as an alternative to the violin at its title page. Denis is much bolder in his advertisement towards the mandolin (even though Leone’s duets might have been meant for mandolin). There is another volume of duets by Giacomo Merchi from ca. 1758, which predates both, but only later on re-marketed itself as mandolin duets. This volume was likely originally meant as mandolin duets, published as violin duets, and when the mandolin became popular in Paris, re marketed towards the mandolin.

The fact that it’s a unique item for its time, predating the popularity of mandolin duets and the numerous prints which were to follow, merits the attention of any mandolin scholar or player.

Pietro Denis

Pietro Denis (Pierre Denis) was active in Paris from at least 1760 until at least 1775, and most of that time he advertised as mandolin teacher and his mandolin prints. He even published a mandolin method in three parts (1768, 1769 & 1773). This method (or at least volume 1) was criticized by Leone and Denis altered some parts of his method in volume 2 (after Leone’s own method and its criticism was published). Denis’ music for mandolin contains both instrumental pieces as well as a huge collection of vocal pieces, mostly based on contemporary arias from the Comédie Italienne.

He also printed a few theoretical treatises, such as translations to French from volumes by Tartini and Fux. These translations and his attempt at a guide to musical composition come at the end of his output, and seem to indicate that he started to try to earn a living in other musical areas than the mandolin. That might well be prompted by a decline of interest in the mandolin. Some of his volumes got reprinted in the 1780s but it is unclear if Denis was still involved.

His output shows at the one end some musical education and understanding of musical composition and mandolin techniques. At the other end however, it’s also clear that this experience was limited and somewhat flawed (see contemporary and later criticism towards his translations, mandolin method etc). It has been suggested Denis background might be from the provinces and/or a lower class which might explain some of his limitations. Though this is no more than a likely hypothesis (still to be proven for sure), opposite this view the fact remains that Pietro Denis is one of the most important teachers and publishers for the mandolin in Paris in the 1760s and 1770s.

Prints by Pietro Denis

  • 1764: Six Duos
  • 1765: Six Sonates
  • 1767: likely contributed as editor and/or publisher to Dingli, Sei Sonate (1767 version)
  • 1768: Méthode volume I
  • 1769: Méthode volume II, Recueil volume I (vocal), likely editor and/or publisher to Dingli, Sei Sonate (1769 version – might be a simple reprint of 1767 but only 1769 version survived)
  • 1770: Recueil volumes II, III, IV (vocal)
  • 1771: Tartini, Traité des Agremens de Musique
  • 1773: Méthode volume III, Recueil volume V (vocal), Les IV Saisons volmue I (vocal), Fux (Gradus ad Parnassum)
  • 1774: Les IV Saisons volume II (vocal)
  • 1782: Reprint of Tartini, Traité
  • 1788: Reprint of Fux, Gradus

NB: Someone with the same last name (Denis) (re)printed some volumes in the 1740s in Paris, but these are not by Pietro Denis. One is still often wrongly attributes towards Pietro Denis, and can cause some confusion (Nouvelle methode pour apprende en peu de tems la musique et l’art de chanter).

Of this prolific output of prints, most are preserved. The missing items are marked with strikethrough. Dingli’s 1767 version of the Sei Sonate seems not to have survived, but it may well be the same set as printed in 1769. The 4th set of vocal tunes with mandolin accompaniment also seems to have been lost, as well as the first of the IV Saisons Européennes (there are no clues whether the 3rd and 4th volumes ever were printed). So far, the Six Duos, his first volume of music for mandolin, were also thought lost.

The Six Duos by Denis

The volume is preserved in the music library of Yale University (M293 D395 D9++ Folio) and consists of a title and dedication page, and 14 pages of music which consists of six sonatas of three movements in various keys and metrums. The title and dedication pages are worth considering in detail, so let’s first take a look at these:

Title page Pietro Denis, Six Duos

Qu’on peut exécuté avec le Violon
ou par dessus de Viole
Et les deux derniers sur la Vielle et Musette.

Ministre Plenipotentiaire de sa Majesté Sicilienne,
Aupres des Etats Géneraux.

Et mis au jour par M. Echaud,
Maître de Mandoline.

Gravé par Ceron.

Prix 6lt.

Chez l’Auteur, rue de Richelieu, au coin de la rue Faidau,
chez le M.de Vin.
Et aux adresses de Musiques.

An interesting point is the fact that Echaud is mentioned, someone known from other sources but from whom no musical output survives. That he contributed (even if only as editor) is an interesting point. Apparently Denis wasn’t as accomplished yet to venture into printing on his own, as he would do later on. It’s of course also possible he included a teacher as a courtesy, but somewhat unlikely. It is quite possible that Denis wasn’t yet able to publish on his own and needed some further help (either financially, in organizing the print or musical).

The address of Denis mentioned as a potential sales point, the Rue de Richelieu, is only encountered in this print. Later on Denis’ volumes list the Rue Montmartre (porte cochere en face de rue Notre-Dame de Victoire), and also the Rue Poissoiniere (à la porte cochere en face de la croix de fer). All of these address are right in the city center and not too distant from each other. This point taken together with the many dedicatees show Pietro Denis knew how to maintain a standard of living and had connections in many circles (though not always the highest – if compared to for example Leone). In case of the dedication of the Six Duos he seems to have been in the circle of influence of a diplomat of some importance:

Dedication page, Pietro Denis, Six Duos

A Son Excéllence
Monseigneur le Comte Catanti
Ministre Plenipotentiaire de sa Majesté Siciliene
Auprès des Etats Généraux des Provinces Unies.


La connoissance, que vous avés d’un Instrument, qui vous a quelques-fois
délassé dans le cours de vos importantes et glorieuses occupations, et les bontés infinies,
dont vous m’avés comblé pendant mon séjour à Naples, sont mes titres pour oser
offrir un petit Ouvrage à Votre Excéllence. Puisse t-elle trouver dans ces
Duos, que j’ai retiré quelque fruit des Leçons et des Examples des grands Maîtres
d’Italie; et daigne-t-elle en agréer l’offre comme un témoignage public, quoique foible;
de mon immortelle reconnoissance, et du profond respect, avec lequel j’ai l’honneur d’être


De Votre Excéllence

Le très humble et très
obeissant Serviteur


Though not a very detailed dedication and not as florid in language as some contemporary dedications, it is an interesting one. It seems to suggest some contact between Denis and his dedicatee. More importantly, this seems to have been during his stay in Naples – a possible line of inquire into Denis’ background and stay in Naples. At least we can now date his travels before this print (1764), and unless he went back the references he makes in the mandolin method also predate the Six Duos.

The volume contains six duets of three movements. The last two are claimed to be suitable for musette or vielle à roue which actually shows up in the musical style. It’s of course meant as a commercial gesture to try and achieve more sales. But the music shows that the composer takes into consideration the specifics of these instruments (range, bourdon). Those not familiar with the musette or vielle à roue should certainly take some time to read up. Both instruments were part of the Paris late baroque – early classical music life and some prints were targeting them (sometimes both instruments).

The duets are not yet in the fully developed sonata form, and are a bit reminiscent of the baroque sonata form. Often there is a subdominant reprise which transforms to the tonica key at the point of the dominant modulation of the original exposition. Thought certain elements could be considered ‘Italian’ in style, the galant style of writing is not yet fully employed in these pieces. It’s certainly not a late-baroque French set of pieces but more something of a transient between the baroque and classical styles and something with Italian influences when this was still a novelty in  Paris.

Duetto I (p. 2-3)

  • 2/4 in F Allegro non tropo 1/8+25+3/8:||:1/8+20+3/8:||:
  • 2/4 in Bes Andante 1/8+ 15+3/8:||:1/8+25+3/8:||:
  • 3/8 in F Allegro 41:||:50:||:

Duetto II (p. 4-5)

  • 2/4 in D Allegro non tropo 1/8+16+3/8:||:1/8+25+3/8:||:
  • 3/4 in D Minuetto + Variasione Minuetto 8:||:16:||: Variasione 8:||:16:||:
  • 2/4 in D Baletto Presto 6:||: 4:||: (in d) 4:||:6:||Da capo

Duetto III (p. 6-7)

  • 2/4 in G Allegro 1/8+15+3/8:||:1/8+20:||:
  • 3/8 in C Andante 35
  • 2/4 in G Presto 1/4+7+1/4 DS :||:1/4+7+1/4 DS :||:14+1/4 DS :||:7+1/4 DS :||:7+1/4 DS :||

Duetto IV (p. 8-10)

  • 2/4 in A Tempo Giusto 1/8+23+3/8:||:1/8+29+3/8:||:
  • 3/8 in E Andantino Sempre piano 20:||:28:||
  • 6/8 in A Allegro assai 1/8+22+5/8:||:1/8+27+5/8:||:

Duetto V (p. 11-13)

  • C barré in C Allegro 1/4+16+3/4:||:1/4+28+3/4:||:
  • C barré in G Andante 3/8+11+2/4:||:2/4+17+2/4:||:
  • 3/8 in C All.° assai 1/8+40+2/8:||:1/8+64+2/8:||:

Duetto VI (p. 14-15)

  • 2/4 in C Allegro ma non tropo 1/8+19+3/8:||:1/8+21+3/8:||:
  • 2/4 in G Andantino 1/8+14+3/8:||:1/8+20+3/8:||:
  • 6/8 in C Giga 21:||:28:||:


As usual I have put in an effort to make this unknown part of the mandolin repertory available to the community. I’ve used my usual approach: an urtext edition and modern editions.

The urtext edition is true to the original and only puts in place some corrections (which are listed and often even visible in the score). Due to the bigger paper size I had to make one adjustment: the urtext editions are in landscape (so we could still put the same amount of bars on the staves without minimizing the size of the print too much). Rather than one big edition of the full set of duets, I’ve split them up per duet.

The modern edition is aimed at today’s players and has a more usable and modern layout and includes parts besides the score.

I’d like to express my thanks to Yale University Library (especially Suzanne Lovejoy) for the permission to create these editions.

As always these editions are free. If you would like to show appreciation for my research and the effort I put into the editions, you can contribute via the donate button.