The original French edition of Barbella violin duets by Leone

Compared to my last contributions, this time my post will be relatively small and only in the margins of mandolin history. I have (after looking for it for years) managed to retrieve a copy of the original French edition of the duets for two violins by Emanuele Barbella, as published by Gabriele Leone in Paris in 1766.

Discovery and preservation location

During my standard research in library catalogues, I stumbled upon an item in the Library of Congress, Washington DC (United States of America). It is listed in the catalogue as “Barbella, Emanuele; Sei Duetti per due violini composti del Sgr. D. Emanuele Barbella. Paris,
chez Mr. Leone” and is listed under shelf mark: M287.A2 B23.

This triggered my interest. We knew the London edition of Barbella duets by Leone, which is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (France) under shelf mark K-2390 and available online through Gallica. However, the title page of this London edition is (naturally) in English (Six Duets for Two Violins). Hence I assumed the item in US-Wc could be the original French edition, which turned out to be true.

Secondary sources and other Barbella prints in Paris

The French edition can be dated thanks to two adverts:

  • 25/08/1766, L’Avantcoureur, n. 34, p. 531: “Musique. Six Duos pour deux Violons, composés par Emmanuel Barbèlla de Naples; prix 7 liv. 4 s. chez le Sieur Léone, rue Saint Honoré, au Gagne-Petit, près Saint Roch, & aux adresses ordinaires.”
  • 30/08/1766, Catalogue des livres nouveaux, p. 93: “Titres des Livres, & Adresses des Librairies qui les vendent. Musique. D Art. 16. Duo (six) pour deux Violons, composés par Emmanuel Barbella de Naples. A Paris, chez Léone, rue S. Honoré, & aux Adresses ordinaires de Musique. Prix 7 l. 4 s.”

So far we have no knowledge of secondary sources to help date the second edition in London. At earliest, it might have from 1766. However, the adverts in France date from August and Leone’s known concert adverts in London are from March and April 1766 (Public Advertiser, adverts on 11/03/1766, 03/04/1766 & 11/04/1766). It is a pity we don’t have adverts of this London Barbella print, because it would certainly help build not only the timeline of Leone’s Barbella publications but also of Leone’s travels. At the moment, we can’t say more with certainty expect that it seems very unlikely the London edition was printed until after Leone’s publications of the first edition of the first set of mandolin sonatas (1767), his mandolin method (1768) and second edition of his sonatas (1768 or after).

Theoretically speaking, it could be possible that Leone published first in London, and reprinted in France. The flow of evidence does not bear out this theory. First of all, Leone applied for a royal privilege in France to print (amongst other things) music by Barbella. Secondly, it seems counter-intuitive to first use an English frontispiece with dedication, and then move to an Italian one without dedication. Third point, so far mandolin scholars have always assumed Leone’s London version of his method to be from much later than his French version. Until fresh evidence emerges, I will assume the French edition is the original, and the London one the second edition.

Royal privilege of Leone

Gabriele Leone seems to have been the first to publish music by Emanuele Barbella in Paris. The style gallant and the genre of violin duets became very popular in the second part of the 1760s, and Leone was quick to take advantage with his Barbella duets set printed in 1766. In 1768, he published a set of Barbella violin sonatas, to which he joined his own set of 24 mandolin variations (La Pierre de Touche). (See my blog posts about La Pierre de Touche (1) and La Pierre de Touche (2).)

Normally, any printed music in Paris has to be covered by a royal privilege (A. P. D. R. at the bottom of so many prints mean “avec privilège du Roi”). There are several ways of operating when publishing music. In most cases, a publishing firm operated a big set of volumes under a general privilege. The composer usually got a number of copies to sell as renumeration; and the publisher had the big bulk of copies and the original copper plates.

Leone did publish some music in France in the early 1760s, under known publishing firms (mainly La Chevardière – the 30 Variations en dispute, the Cantate and the Six Duo). However, his activities as of 1766 are under his own name rather than that of an established publishing firm, though mostly the printing and distribution seems to still have been done through traditional publishing firms. His new status as publisher seems to includes his Barbella duets and sonatas, but also his own first set of mandolin sonatas (two editions) and his mandolin method.

Following the legalities, this meant that Leone had to have a royal privilege granted. And indeed, in the ledger, there is an entry for Leone:

“10 juillet 1768. P.[rivilège] G.[enerale] pour 6 ans, du 1 juin, au Sr Leone, pour la Methode nouvelle pour jouer de la Mandoline, avec des exemples de musique pour cet instrument et une suite de pieces, ensemble les ceuvres de musique de Barbella.”.

Ms. Fr. 21962 (F-Pn)

However, this is a bit out of place, as the privilege is entered in 1768, but Leone started publishing in 1766. Furthermore, there are other people who printed music by Barbella. How does this fit together?

Chronology of Barbella prints in Paris:

  • 1766 Leone, Sei Duetti per due Violini (7 liv. 4 s.) Not in RISM
  • 1767 Le Roy, Sei Duetti per due Violini (6 liv.) RISM A/I B 888
  • 1768 Le Roy, 6 Duos très facile pour 2 Violons (6 liv.) RISM A/I B 887
  • 1768 Leone, Six sonates à violon et basse (avec un sujet varié en 24 manières, utiles pour les amateurs de la mandoline) (9 liv.) Not in RISM
  • 1772-3; Bailleux / Verdone, Six duos pour deux violins ou deux mandolines avec une basse ad libitum lorsqu’on voudra en faire des trios, mais il faudra exécuter la basse sur un alto RISM A/I B 884
  • 1773, Bouin, Six Duos pour deux violons, oeuvre III (7 liv. 4 s.) RISM A/I B 889
  • 1774, Bérault, Sei Duo per violino e violincello, opus IV(7 liv. 4 s.) RISM A/I B 895

From the list above, we can see clearly that though Barbella started first, Le Roy was quick to jump on the same wagon. Interestingly though, after 1768, there are no more Barbella prints, until 1772. This leads me to the assumption that Leone’s privilege, though entered in 1768, was somehow backdated to cover his activities as of 1766, and ended some time in 1771. Besides the sudden new Barbella prints, 1772 also sees reeditions of Leone’s own mandolins prints by Bailleux: the mandolin method, the duets and a volume of variations (likely a reprint comprised of both the 30 Variations en dispute and the Pierre de Touche variations). The first set of mandolin sonatas was not reprinted, but in my blog post about the second edition of this first set I have mentioned potential reasons. Instead, a new, second set of sonatas was issued by Bailleux.

Comparison of the editions

There are no changes to the copper plates of the music pages, hence we will focus on the title page only.

Original edition, Paris, 1766Later edition, London, s.d.
Per Due Violini
Composti dal
Stampati alle Spese di Gabriele Leone
Prix 7lt. 4s.
Chez M.r Leone l’Editeur près la porte S.t Martin
Mr. Martin Pintre ruë neuve S.t Martin vis à vis L’Enseigne des bons Enfans,
M.mme Vendôme Graveuse rüe S.t Honoré vis à vis le Palais Royal chez M.r Oblé l’Escalier à gauche S’adresser au Portier. Et aux adresses Ordinaires de Musique.
for two
To the Honorable
Composed by
Sig.r Emanuele Barbella
LONDON Printed and Sold by GABRIEL LEONE Price 10s6d
Comparison of the title pages of the original Paris and later London editions by Leone of Barbella duets

A first notable difference is the language. What might seem out of place, but is not entirely uncommon, is a title page in Italian (except for the information about price and where the print can be bought). The fact that the title page is in Italian could well be explained by the type of contract Leone and Barbella might have had. If Leone was to pay Barbella with a number of copies, it would make more sense to present him with an edition that was as Italian as possible.

The second difference is that in the English edition, Leone includes a dedication (though without a dedication page) to the “Hon. Thomas Shirley”. Though the name is common, it seems that especially with the honorific of “honorable”, this might be the same Honorable Thomas Shirley, Esquire, acting as Senior Grand Warden in meetings of the Freemasons in 1764 and 1765. (See James Anderson & John Entick, The Constitutions of the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, London, 1777, p. 293, 297-8, 301, 307.) It is highly unusual for a print to change dedication (even if from none to include one), so Leone must have received substantial aid from either Thomas Shirley in person (or, if indeed one and the same as the Freemason named, potentially from the Masons as a group).

I have another remark to add: the engraving is particularly elaborate in the case of the titles of the pieces on the music pages. This type of elegant and decorative writing is not regularly encountered in French editions, for example, never on the rest of Leone’s publications in France, including his Barbella sonatas. Likely the first edition was meant to impress Barbella, and to help ensure continued aid.

The music

The duets are very much in the famous style gallant, though way more elaborate and sophisticated as usually encountered. Barbella’s originality and capabilities as composer show clearly in avoiding to filling the duets volume with the typical stereotypes of “close harmony” of lesser composers. The works are quite divers in style and seem to be of a somewhat more serious nature than usual.

The title page mentions only the violin, and there are several passages that seem to be idiomatically best suited to the violin. However, due to the many links of both Barbella and Leone to the mandolin on top of the proven interchange of repertory with the violin, it is of course interesting to ask if it would be suitable to play this music on the mandolin. Quite a few pieces can be played on the mandolin, but there are also some pieces where the writing seems idiomatic for violin. Happily, the contemporary mandolin methods published in Paris contain some hints on how to overcome such difficulties (such as “De la Maniere de jouer la blanche” in the Leone method, p. 17). And even Barbella himself left some clues: in the case of low long notes which are combined with a melody on a higher string, the first bar of the first duet seems to hold the answer to this in the second voice. Barbella does in the second voice what I personally would do on the mandolin when playing the long notes on the first voice (though potentially on an a rather than f in the first voice and keeping an f in the second voice).


Looking at a preserved copy of the original French edition of the Barbella duets published by Barbella raises some thoughts. It seems Leone published the duets for Barbella (hence the Italian title page and luxurious edition) and later on ensured a royal privilege to safeguard his commercial interests as Barbella publisher in Paris. After moving to England, he took several copper plates of his publications with him, and reprinted the duets.