The mandolin(/violin)-piano sonata by Michele Bolaffi (ca. 1789-1798)


Most of the mandolin-related prints prior to 1850, even those that are not preserved, are known to mandolin scholars through contemporary advertisements. Sometimes items still emerge which have escaped attention so far. The volume I have found and will discuss in this post is by the composer Michele Bolaffi and was printed in Firenze during the last decade of the 18th century. It is preserved in the Royal Danish Library (shelf mark MAlæs-B324 mu 1306.2700).

Mandolin sonatas: mandolin solo sonata with bass versus mandolin and keyboard

Most 18th century mandolin sonatas are written in the fashion of solo sonatas with a bass (usually unfigured). The big bulk of mandolin prints published in Paris are all part of this tradition. We’re not entirely sure how these bass lines were performed. Harpsichord seems the obvious choice, but some evidence suggests that the bass line is sometimes played without figuration, and possibly an octave higher (see for example the plectrum signs on Leone’s bass line of his variations – discussed in the blog post of my discovery of the variations, as well as the remarks on the title page of the Verdone edition of Barbella mandolin triosonatas). Only at the end of the century the first examples emerge which use a fully written out part for keyboard which at least cause less confusion about the originally intended ensemble. Alas, only a few of these were preserved prior to 1850, and even fewer are from the late classical era.

A fine example which has some bearing on the volume by Bolaffi was already discussed by Paul Sparks in The Early Mandolin (Paul Sparks, The Early Mandolin (Early Music Series 9), Oxford, 1989, p. 135, 157, 166, 168-9). It is the Suonata Decimaquarta by Vincenzo Panerai (for “Cimbalo a piano-forte e Mandolino o Violino obbligato”). This rather short sonata was published in Firenze. The date given in The Early Mandolin is only approximate (“ca. 1780”). With a little digging I have retrieved an advertisement for this print from 1790 (See Gazetta Universale, o sieno notizie istorice, politiche, di scienze, arti agricoltura, ec, nr. 67, August 1790, p. 536.).

Dating the piece by Bolaffi is not as straight forward as I have yet to retrieve any advertisement. However, some secondary information helps to narrow down the date a little bit. First of all, the editor Pagani only started printing music around 1789 (I have not found any earlier music though he was a very active printer of literary books prior to music). I haven’t found clear and corroborated details about when Pagani, or at least Anton Giuseppe, might have died (it seems some confusion arises with Giovacchino Pagani who worked together with Anton Giuseppe and continued the business). Based on prints available in library catalogues, it appears that Anton Giuseppe might have lived until 1798.

There are also a few correspondences between Bolaffi and Panerai’s sonatas which help reinforce the dating to 1789-98. Both were engraved by the same person (Giuseppe Poggiali). And though the sonata of Panerai only mentions Rinaldo Bonini as editor or sales point, some other sonatas by Panerai mention Anton Giuseppe Pagani. The dedication is not exactly the same, but there is some similarity. The Panerai print is dedicated to a specific Florentine lady, and the Bolaffi print is dedicated to all Florentine music amateurs ladies . Granted, these are all just secondary sources, but they seem to confirm that the print is from the last decade of the 18th century. Hopefully one day an advertisement will surface which will help to date the print with more accuracy.

Michele Bolaffi

Michele Bolaffi (Livorno, 1769 – 1842, dates by David Conway) is a rather unknown composer and not a lot is found in the regular reference works. David Conway published an excellent article on Bolaffi (mainly from the point of view of Jewish music and musicians). To date this is the most extensive source of information on Bolaffi:

It appears Michele Bolaffi was in Firenze in 1793 (composing a cantata for the opening of the new synagogue). This coincides well with our current approximate date and place of his mandolin sonata. He later on wrote and occasionally also published music, both in Italy and abroad (France, Germany, England). As held by Conway, he’s a true example of the globalization of musicians at the turn of the century. I agree but would phrase this slightly differently as there are plenty of examples from the earlier 18th century already. However, from the end of the 18th century onward musicians become more and more independent of direct patronage. Though Bolaffi still held some posts, he also seems to be an example of someone making money outside of service to a patron. In that respect, he is indeed a good example of the way musician became more independent and hence were able to become more globally active.

There is a side to Bolaffi which seems to have been ignored by researchers so far. Bolaffi was active as a translator and poet . For example, in the Mercure Étranger ou Annales de la Littérature Étrangère, vol. 4, Paris, 1815, p. 141-143, there are two sonnets by Bolaffi dedicated to the memory of his then recently deceased wife. These were written at the time when he was preparing his translation to Italian of L’Enriade  (Henriade) by Voltaire (which got published in Paris in 1816). An example of other work as translator is L’Immortalità dell’anima by Jacques Delille and published in 1813 (listed as printed in Venice).

Hence the figure which emerges is quite faceted – someone who is both accomplished in several cultural arts and moved in higher social circles in several countries. His contribution to mandolin history is all the more interesting coming from someone who clearly had an excellent education. This clearly shows in his Suonata Prima.

The sonata

The sonata is a little gem, and the more I studied it, the more I took a liking to it. Though I generally try to refrain from a long and dry musicological analysis of music forms and similar approaches in my blog posts, this time I am too much in awe of Bolaffi’s creativity and had to showcase some of his craftsmanship. I will also try to compare where possible with Panerai’s work as both were printed around the same time by the same printer.

The sonata is written in F major and has two movements: Allegro Moderato (in C metrum) and a Rondo Allegretto (in 2/4 metrum). Panerai also has two movements (Brillante in D major in C metrum and Allegro Scherzo in D major in 3/8). Bolaffi’s piece is quite a bit larger (11 pages of music compared to 4 by Panerai). Hence the sonata form in the first movement by Panerai is quite limited. He does use a proper recapitulation, but there isn’t a lot of room for proper development and the groups and themes are simple and contrasts are limited. Bolaffi’s groups, development and other aspects of the sonata form in the first movement are a lot more interesting. He has a very nice first part of the movement, with proper contrasts between the two groups and a nice flow towards the closing group who reminisces the first group charmingly. The development uses a lot of the typical tricks you might expect in piano sonatas by a good composer at the end of the 18th century. There is only one thing slightly out of the ordinary – the recapitulation is a bit creative. The modulation back to F major happens with a repeat of material from the second group before going back to material from the first group. In my opinion Bolaffi’s tricks work, however, as the music flow is very subtly building towards the end.

The second movement is only a simple rondo, but the thematic material is rather more intricate than in most contemporary rondos. Often, the last movement in a sonata is a rondo, but usually it’s a very simple and light theme. Bolaffi is again a bit more creative and choses a very rhythmical and flourished theme. The theme does portray the typical uplifting character expected of a rondo at this time, but the rhythmic and melodic complexity are higher than usually encountered. The alternatives to the refrain are mainly focused on the dominant key (C major) but have some interesting harmonic movements which show the expertise of Bolaffi. Panerai’s second movement is not a rondo, so comparing them is a bit difficult.

The mandolin is never treated very idiomatically by Bolaffi. However,  there are a few indications which indicate this is originally meant for mandolin and not violin. Though playable on the violin, we’re also missing certain idiomatic figures for the violin. The fact that the music stays very limited on the fingerboard is a first clear giveaway. The composer even avoids going to the third position at the end of the first movement (where it makes sense to go up to have the theme played in the expected octave – but clearly this is avoided to not have the mandolin play in position). I’ve compared this with the treatment of the violin in Bolaffi’s Sei Canzonette del Celebre Poeta Estemporaneo (where the violin is only accompaniment). Here you can find some more violin specific figures, the music reaches the third position and has violin articulation (bows etc). Some figures of the Suonatina Prima are slightly more fitting on the mandolin and/or might sound better (due to chordic playing). Though I am very much aware of the big exchange of repertory and other links between the violin and mandolin in the 18th century (see my paper on that from the symposium at Mainz university – to be published later), the above suggests that the music by Bolaffi was originally intended for the mandolin. The violin seems to be mentioned mainly as a commercial trick. In contrast, Panerai doesn’t refrain from using the third position in his mandolin sonata. But his music also seems originally intended for mandolin rather than violin for the same reason of missing violin idiomatic writing.

Panerai has a tendency to focus on exchanging themes between the mandolin and right hand of the piano. Often this is in a predictable pattern. Bolaffi also exchanges some themes between mandolin and right hand of the piano but he’s less predictable and more original. Though Bolaffi is not a Mozart or Beethoven, he’s certainly a level above Panerai in making the composition more interesting and fun for the musicians as well. The way he switches from one group to another shows he understands how to build up tension and he uses some piano idiomatic techniques very suited to certain transitional passages (for example the switch in bars 17-18 from group 1 to 2 or in the development bars 51-53 to build up to the development of parts of group 1). Bolaffi also shows how to drive the music forward or building up tension, for example by condensing or slowing the rhythm.

All in all, Bolaffi shows his mastery as a composer and of the sonata. His treatment of the mandolin could have been more idiomatic, but as he is clearly aiming at amateurs he could not aim at a technical high level. I can only conclude his piece is very well written within the given context. It’s also unique as it’s one of the few classical mandolin-piano sonatas which survive. No doubt some students and professional musicians will take this up in their repertory as the music is rather charming.


As usual I try to make the music available to the community. Often I have to resort to sharing only editions I create. In this case I can however share a link to the original. Because of my original request for a digital reproduction, the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen now offers this as a free download. (NB: It’s not the first time my reproduction requests made material available and I’m rather pleased when this happens.)

Colour version (3MB):
Black and white version (2MB):

It’s certainly worth considering playing from the originals. However, the landscape layout, bigger paper size, some older layout, omissions and a mistake compelled me to create my usual urtext and modern editions. The urtext editions remains true but put in place corrections. The modern edition has a modern layout and adds a score as well as partbooks. I tried to make the modern edition a playable layout, though you will still require three pages next to each other (but in my experience that should still fit a normal music stand). 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.

BOLAFFI, Suonata Prima modern-Cimbalo_a_piano-forte.pdf150 KB
BOLAFFI, Suonata Prima modern-Mandolino_o_violino.pdf123 KB
BOLAFFI, Suonata Prima modern.pdf203 KB
BOLAFFI, Suonata Prima urtext-Cimbalo_a_piano-forte.pdf166 KB
BOLAFFI, Suonata Prima urtext-Mandolino_o_violino.pdf126 KB

VI Variations for mandolin(/violin) and guitar by Zucconi (1801)

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 variations

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.)

ZUCCONI, Variations modern-Guitar.pdf132 KB
ZUCCONI, Variations modern-Mandolin_(_Violin).pdf128 KB
ZUCCONI, Variations modern.pdf196 KB
ZUCCONI, Variations urtext.pdf192 KB

Some newly retrieved mandolin related prints from Great Britain during the 1750s (2)


As announced on the previous blog post, there is yet another music print related to the mandolin from Great Britain from the 1750s. The volume is called Miss Mayer and is by the Italian composer Santo Lapis. Together with the Oswald’s Eighteen Divertimentoes and Walsh’s Forty Select Duets we now have a lot of extra information and repertoire available. Same as with the print by Walsh I would need to apply and pay for a license to publish an edition. In reaction to my previous post about Walsh’s Forty Select Duets, John Goodin did point out that I might apply for a CMSA grant to get the music published. Depending on the outcome of that or enough donations arriving, I will however have to limit this post to describing the volume.

Santo Lapis, Miss Mayer (London, 1759)

The print is catalogued by RISM in Series A/I as L 667 and is printed in London in 1759. The current RISM entry doesn’t mention the mandolin but it is a clear omission, likely due to the fact that the mandolin is only mentioned later on the title page. The item is preserved in the British Library with shelf mark Music Collections G.809.c.(16.).

Miss Mayer
A new 
Guittar Book in 4 Parts
Italian, French, English Airs, and
Duets for the Voice accompanied
with the
Guittar and a Thorough
Bass for the Harpsicord

Composed by

Santo Lapis
Maestro di Capella Italiano

Opera XVI. Price 5s.

NB. These Airs & Duets may be play’d on the
German Flute and Mandolin

LONDON Printed and sold for the Author at Mr. Liessem’s Music Shop
in Compton Street St. Ann’s Soho.


Santo Lapis is a rather unknown Italian composer who received some music education in Bologna in the early 1720s. After a few contributions to operas and a cantata in Italy it seems he travelled to other places in Europe from the mid-1730s. Most of his work as composer and performer seems closely linked to opera and other vocal genres though he also printed some instrumental music. (See Grove Music Online, (2002). Lapis [Lapi, Lappi], Santo (opera). Grove Music Online. Retrieved 14 Jun. 2018, from http:////

Besides the title page there are 20 pages. There are four parts, as announced on the title page. First consists of six Italian songs with bass, then six in French (followed by a Vaudeville in French), third part are six English songs and lastly six duets with bass (again in Italian). There is one instrumental piece (Preludio) which is for English guittar, and during the rest of the book is it presumed that that guittar (and mandolin) can function as an alternative to the vocal part (first arietta of the first part lists “guittar con la voce”).

In the overview of the parts and songs below I have put the poets of the lyrics in brackets after the title. (Some of the English songs have appeared in poetry books but usually without author so no references were provided. More than one correspondence was found with The Wreath, A Curious Collections of Above Two Hundred Songs, ed. Slater, London, 1755; but not enough to claim a clear link.)

  • Parte Prima (p. 1-4)
    • Preludio (instrumental)
    • Arietta 1 Non parlarmi (Paolo Rolli)
    • Arietta 2 Quante son pazze
    • Arietta 3 Chi mi dice
    • Arietta 4 Bella cosa il provo (Carlo Goldoni)
    • Arietta 5 Che bel piacer (Paolo Rolli)
    • Arietta 6 A me non piaciano (Carlo Goldoni)
  • Parte Seconda (p.5-8)
    • Air 1 Gardez vous Beautes Mortelles (Jean Baptiste Rousseau)
    • Air 2 Feux illegitimes Trompeuse
    • Air 3 Aux traits qu’une Belle (Jean Baptiste Rousseau)
    • Air 4 Temoin de ma souffrance (Jean Baptiste Rousseau)
    • Air 5 O Beaté partage funeste (Jean Baptiste Rousseau)
    • Air 6 Quand l’Amour vous blesse (Jean Baptiste Rousseau)
    • Vaudeville Vous qui par vos tendres accens
  • Parte Terza (p.9-14)
    • Air 1 When Fanny blooming fair
    • Air 2 Too late for redress
    • Air 3 Say Dori shall I speak
    • Air 4 Long time my Heart had rov’d Inconstant
    • Air 5 Cruel Creature can you leave me
    • Air 6 What tho they call me Country Lass (Henry Carey)
  • Parte Quarta (p.15-20)
    • Duetto 1 Se penar per te poss’io Caro
    • Duetto 2 Bella notte quanto sei Cara (Michelangelo Boccardi)
    • Duetto 3 A Vista del suo ben palpita
    • Duetto 4 So ben che al par di te
    • Duetto 5 Che vi Costa o luci Care
    • Duetto 6 Godo che molti Amanti (Paolo Rolli)

Taking a look a the keys used, it is very obvious this book was composed or collected with the English guittar in mind. All songs are in C major, and the tuning of the English guittar is a C major open chord.

In terms of metrums there is some variety:

2/4 (11): Preludio, I-2, I-5, II-1, II-4, Vaudeville, III-1, III-5, IV-2, IV-4, IV-6
3/4 (6): I-1, II-2, II-6, III-4, IV-1, IV-3
3/8 (5): I-3, I-6, III-2, III-6, IV-5
6/8 (2): I-4, II-3
C barré (1): II-5
C (1): III-3

Music articulation is not abundant but there are many slurs and fermatas, and occasionally an appogiatura. In some songs staccattissimo signs are used as well. Dynamics seem to be present only in the instrumental Preludio.

The style of music seems to be late baroque. Some mannerisms seem out of place for its time. However, the two other guittar books from 1757 (Walsh and Oswald) are also in late baroque style. It is a contrast though with the continental sources which even in the 1750s start to link the mandolin with the preclassical style. I discussed this in some details during my presentation at the symposium Toleranz und Intoleranz in der Musik. Dargestellt am Beispiel der Zupfmusik (Tolerance and intolerance in music. Shown through examples from plucked string music) in Mainz on 8/6/2018. As this presentation will normally be published I hope to give a notification when this paper is published.


The book by Santo Lapis adds again to our knowledge and repertory of the early music for mandolin. Though primarily focused on vocal music it is clear that the guittar and mandolin are not mentioned as alternatives without some thought (as proven by the C major key in all pieces). Though I will feature the link between the mandolin guittar again in some upcoming blog articles, I will turn my attention to some newly found mandolin-related prints from continental Europe first.


Some newly retrieved mandolin related prints from Great Britain during the 1750s (1)


[UPDATED: After receiving permission from the British Library I have been able to add urtext and modern editions of these duets.]

My research on mandolin-related prints prior to 1850 turned up a couple of previously unknown prints related to the mandolin from Great Britain in the 1750s. The first source is from the well-known printer John Walsh and is from 1757. This is the same year as the already known print by James Oswald. Besides the year of publication, there are a few more similarities: the somewhat strange spelling of “mandelin” for one. Otherwise it can also be commented that the repertory is late baroque instrumental music in both volumes.

Walsh, Forty Select Duets

This volume is preserved in the British Library with shelf mark Music Collections g.928.k. [UPDATE] I’m very grateful for the permission from the British Library for me to publish an urtext and modern edition (download see below). Dating is provided by the British Library as [1757] which seems to suggest someone has found a secondary source confirming an exact date of print. I have however no knowledge of this secondary source, but the date does correspond with the one of the Oswald print.

The score has 18 pages (1 title page and 17 music pages) and the title page reads:

Duets, Ariettas & Minuets

By the best Masters.

N.B. These Airs are also proper for
two German Flutes or French Horns.

London Printed for & Sold by Jn.° Walsh at the Harp & Hoboy in Catherine Street in ye Strand.

The 17 music pages contain scores of two parts. None of these goes below or above the range of the English guittar, the instrument for which this print seems primarily meant. Unlikely Oswald, the pieces seem to have been collected rather than originally created for the print. Four times a specific composer is mentioned (Händel): numbers 1 (Air), 2 (Minuet), 20 (Air) and 22 (Minuet). Most of the pieces are entitled “Air” (36x) or “Minuet” (5x), with one exception: number 36 is a “Pastoral” (1x). And yes, that makes a total of 42, not 40 as mentioned on the title page.

Air (36x): 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42
Minuet (5x): 2, 12, 13, 18, 22
Pastoral (1x): 36

As can be expected the keys which suit the English guittar are favoured:

C major (17x): 1, 2, 4, 9, 12, 14, 16, 21, 26, 29, 30, 33, 36, 39, 40, 41, 42
G major (13x): 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 20, 23, 25, 27, 31, 34, 35
F major (6x): 13, 22, 24, 32, 37, 38
D major (4x): 17, 18, 19, 28
d minor (1x): 8
a minor (1x): 15

In terms of metrums there is plenty of variety:

2/4 (13x): 6, 7, 8, 11, 16, 17, 19, 27, 29, 31, 37, 39, 41
3/4 (10x): 1, 2, 4, 9, 12, 13, 15, 25, 35, 40
3/8 (8x): 18, 21, 23, 30, 32, 34, 38, 42
6/8 (4x): 3, 14, 22, 26
C barré (3x): 5, 10, 24
C (3x): 20, 28, 33
6/4 (1x): 6/4

Articulations used are limited: appogiaturas, tr trill signs, the occasional fermata and staccattissimo signs. Slurs are very infrequent.

Most likely this volume was indeed intended for the English guittar, and the mandolin (mandelin) was an easy alternative. It might be argued that this might still or also mean the 5- or 6-course baroque Milanese mandolin. John Goodin already speculated this might be the case with Oswald’s print (J. Goodin, James Oswald and the Eighteen Divertimento’s for two Guitars or two Mandelins, Mandolin Journal, May 2003, and online at: NB: Rob MacKillop has recorded the pieces by Oswald and has also took the effort to do additional research on these pieces (

However, there is some evidence to claim the possibility that this print and Oswald’s are contemporary to the first Neapolitan mandolins in Great Britain. (See for example the portraits from the 1750s pictured in Sparks, The mandolin in Britain, 1750-1800, Early Music Journal, vol. 46, iss. 1, 4 May 2018, p. 55–66.) So we’ll have to call this inconclusive, until further sources arrive who might explain what the “mandelin” was exactly.

In conclusion, the Walsh print is a fine addition to our limited sources of printed music related to the mandolin. It seems to me to have been collected and/or adapted from existing pieces rather than composed which likely is true for Oswald’s Eighteen Divertimentos. I will soon publish about another piece related to the mandolin and printed in Great Britain in the 1750s. Together with Oswald, these pieces give us fresh insights into the world of plucked strings in Great Britain in the 1750s and how this contrasts with the continental developments (on which I will comment in the next article).


With the kind permission of the British Library 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 critical notes, but usually also clearly marked in the score.

The modern edition has a normal modern layout and makes it slightly easier to read the music. The urtext edition is only a score and doesn’t take into account page turning. The modern edition has both a score (which does take into account page turns) and separate parts.

I’m convinced that some of the pieces in this volume deserve a place on the stage, whether played by English guittar, Neapolitan or Milanese mandolin, or any other instrument (cittern, flute or horn are also mentioned on the title page). 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.)

WALSH, Forty Select Duets modern-Part_1.pdf338 KB
WALSH, Forty Select Duets modern-Part_2.pdf279 KB
WALSH, Forty Select Duets modern.pdf506 KB
WALSH, Forty Select Duets urtext.pdf497 KB

Follow-up: Variations by Gabriele Leone

Apparently my blog about the variations by Gabriele Leone seems to have triggered some readers to request the items from the library. Normally, that’s not a big problem, but of course it can flood the library staff and we’re dealing with a fragile item as well. To offload their staff and preserve the volume’s integrity the library has requested me to share the scanned images from the volume I received so far.

Down below you can find a download link to get the scans as one PDF. Please note though that this consists of pages of the different items in the volume:


  • Title and dedication page of Leone’s Method
  • Title and first page of first sonata of the Leone Sonata set
  • Title and dedication page of the volume containing the Barbella violin sonatas edited by Leone and the variation sequence
  • First sonata by Barbella edited by Leone
  • Full variation sequence by Leone


UCSB Cage MT608.L4.M4.pdf24 MB

My special thanks to the library staff at the Music Library of the University of California, Santa Barbara, for giving me the opportunity to share.

Please note that I’ve undertaken efforts to consult the remaining Barbella sonatas. As soon as I get my hands on the full set, I will of course publish about them on this blog.

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 PARISGravés par Vendôme rue S.Honoré vis a vis S.t Honoré
Chez L’editeurEt 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:

LEONE, La Pierre de Touch, Modern Edition by Pieter Van Tichelen.pdf218 KB
LEONE, La Pierre de Touch, Urtext Edition by Pieter Van Tichelen.pdf235 KB

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.

Quartetto by Giuseppe Totti

As part of my ongoing research project mainly focused on retrieving the known mandolin prints from the 18th century (almost finished by the way), I occasionally stumble upon manuscripts as well. Though these are not the focus point of my current research there are occasions were I cannot resist indulging into a little side project.

I also went through the Portuguese national library, and one manuscript caught my eye almost at once. My interest was soaring because of the particular ensemble (quartet of two mandolins and two guitars) as well as the composer: Giuseppe Totti, one of the music masters of royal court.

Giuseppe Totti

Though there is certainly a case for further research into this composer, some elementary studies provide information about Giuseppe Totti. Some first sources from Rome in 1777 list him as a singer, and some other sources put it that he was a castrato. When around 1777 some singers from the Portugese royal court went away or on pension, there were some vacancies for singers. Totti’s name shows up in the archives for an audition and was accepted in 1780.

The position of singer at the royal was combined with some functions as singer (in some cloisters, royal theaters and the royal chamber). Though we get good reviews about his qualities as a singer, one source mentions that he sometimes suffered from (health?) issues from which his voice also suffered. Hence it is not surprising that Giuseppe Totti looked for alternative musical functions. He was likely trained in composition by those famous composer from the royal court, like David Perez and Joao Sousa de Carvalho.

In the end, he reached the position of master of the royal chapel himself. He left compositions in different genres: quite a lot are vocal music (mainly religious). Some of the profane vocal music is accompanied by guitar, which seems to suggest that he had some affinity with plucked string instruments (maybe played guitar to accompany singers).

Mandolin at the Portuguese royal court

We already know for year that David Perez wrote a variation sequence of 128 variations on a theme, dedicated to the royal princesses. This piece was most likely a study meant for their music / mandolin tuition. This manuscript is also preserved in the Portuguese national library and a facsimile edition is available from Colibri.

David Perez both held the title of master of the royal chapel as well as teacher to the royal children. Hence he is a direct predecessor to Giuseppe Totti, who also achieved both titles later on. The quartet seems to suggest that mandolin tuition or playing of these instruments at the royal court held on in the 1790s. At the very least the music was meant for the royal court, but with the clear link to mandolin tuition, it’s even possible it was played by members of the royal family.

The Quartetto by Giuseppe Totti

Though it’s only a short piece it shows affinity with plucked string instruments as well as a very good education in composition. Both Neapolitan and Viennese influences can be found in the composition and it’s very much in line with the fashion of it’s day (composition has a date of “1793” written in a different hand).

The ensemble is made up by two mandolins and two guitars, though the part of the first guitar says ‘guitar or viola’. Though Totti used guitar in some other vocal works, he never used two guitars, and maybe had difficulty to find a second guitar player. The third part is quite possible with viola, but the chords and plucked string feel of the composition make it slightly less favourable.

There are only two movements, a rather stately Allegro with interesting orchestration. This is not a composition with two main melody instrument and accompaniment, the guitar parts are in effect used in interesting ways. The Allegro is a typical sonata form. There are also some nice interactions between the parts and some driving rhythms which make the piece pleasing to the ear.

The second movement is a Rondo. Here the first mandolin takes the lead and the other parts are usually accompaniment (true to the normal music form of a rondo), but in some cases (mainly in the alternation themes to the rondo theme) their roles becomes a but more substantial. Again a composition very much in the style very fashionable at the end of the 18th century – a Rondo is quite usually the end of a quartet.

It seems there never were other movements, and though a quartet usually had three or four movements, there are other examples of two-movement quartets. Some dynamics help form a view of the interpretation – though only piano and forte signs are used there is also a distinct use of technique which suggest crescendo.

Playing the quartet

The quartet is quite playable as it stands in the manuscript. I made an adaptation for mandolin orchestra first. The biggest alterations are reduction of the guitar chords (so you can take them with the four fingers rather than strumming a chord) as the left-out notes are present in other parts. Also, some alterations / reduction were made to fit the mandola rather than guitar. I’ve added in a double bass – more or less in the orchestration style of Mozart who uses the bass only in places where the orchestration needs the extra depth (forte passages usually).

First impressions from rehearsals: very enjoyable as this is one of the few 18th century pieces really written for a 4-part plucked string ensemble. We could also immediately reach a nice tempo and in short while have the interpretation in our fingers, which shows how suitable the music is for a mandolin orchestra. The orchestra members also seemed to prefer the piece to some of the existing adaptations of 18th century mandolin music. These usually are adapted triosonatas (or extended triosonatas – 2 mandolins, violin and bass) which have not so much of an orchestral composition but more of a melody role for the mandolin parts, reducing the rest to accompaniment. Totti has a more orchestral composition, and his style is also more akin to the fully developed classical era rather than the early classical (gallant) style.

Today we will create this adaption for the first time before an audience (fingers crossed!). Based on the feedback from the audience and my colleagues in the orchestra I will likely make some slight further alterations (so far already highlighted: making the mandola part slightly more idiomatic).

In the meanwhile I’ve also created a mandolin quartet version of the music. Though at some parts this lacks the orchestral depth, the music seems to hold its own  even in this particular ensemble.

I will likely distribute the original and my adaptations at a later stage, when I’m content and have reached a version I consider to be final. If possible I might also share some recordings of the piece as the concert will be recorded (though a simple field recording only, not with a huge setup of audio captation).

The original can be found at the Portugese National Library in Lisbon, ms. F.C.R. 216/47.

Focus point of research & sharing = caring

Focus point in mandolin research

People who have been in touch know my vision, but for the sake of clarity I will repeat it here. (I don’t think I shared it as it as clear and openly on this blog yet.) I have directed my main efforts to a focus point of mandolin history instead of a wide spread research effort. Even though I concur that best results are coming from a multi-disciplinary approach, the amount of work to be done on mandolin history is staggering. Hence I had to decide on my priorities.

For me, it makes most sense to start work on the mandolin prints prior to 1850. I won’t completely ignore iconographical or written sources or even manuscripts as long as they are connected to the prints. (And I allow myself to occasionally diverge to these other sources besides my primary focus to break the boredom – not all print research is exciting.)

Why this focus?

  • Access
    • Printed sources are usually a lot more easily retrieved and accessible than manuscripts. In my experience they are also less expensive than manuscripts (though everything is relative and some libraries are expensive regardless). In the same category: I usually am able to retrieve prints faster and easier and I often won’t need gloves if I take a look at them in physical form (though library rules differ).
    • Often the catalogues containing music prints are part of the main catalogues of libraries – which these days are more and more accessible online (a lot of manuscript catalogues of libraries are not even digital).
  • Size matters
    • Usually prints are composed of a big set of music movements, such as a set of 6 sonatas or duets (of each two-three movements). Manuscripts sometimes also come as a big collection but mostly tend to be limited to one sonata or duet. The difference lies in the fact that each item you retrieve takes time and money; hence retrieving prints is more efficient.
    • There are only about 250 items to be retrieved in my current focus point of prints. If I take a look at the manuscripts in the same range, there’s about 500. Having a limited focus point hence also helps to get a more obtainable goal.
  • Manuscript copies
    • Most often you’ll find a manuscript copy or two of a print. But these won’t always mention the source in full, so having all prints will help identifying them as copies if I start to shift focus to manuscripts. (There are expections: some Paris prints such as the Récreations de la campagne seem to be based on manuscripts and not the other way around as the manuscript are the more extensive versions.)
  • Distribution
    • Prints are intrinsically printed in many identical copies. Manuscripts are sometimes copied and distributed as well, but on a lot smaller scale. The chance of retrieving an existing copy out of a set of 100 printed copies versus one out of a handful of manuscript copies are quite different.
    • As there are more copies distributed, it is also a lot more likely to get hold of one. Some libraries are not readily accessible. Knowing in such a case that you can also retrieve the item elsewhere can save a lot of time and effort.
  • Chronological boundary
    • A time limit to 1850 is of course arbitrary. But we need to keep the focus on the historical repertory for mandolin rather than the flood of late 19th century prints from the revival of the instrument. (Otherwise the amount of sources to be retrieval is expanding on an exponential scale from 1880 onward.) The chronological boundary might yet shift upwards – it has already done so twice in the course of the search.

Current status: about 8 years on into my research I’ve reached the point where only a few dozen of prints remain to be collected (besides those items still lost). Some of my finds of lost volumes were already shared, some I’m still preparing as research on the items is ongoing. However, I’m close to reaching the focus goal and hopes are up I will be able to start sharing a lot of knowledge and (when possible) even repertory with the community. For this I have even started the effort of a specific site on which people can easily search for mandolin sources. This is then the nice hook into the next topic.

Sharing = caring

As mandolin history research isn’t exactly my main paying job, I don’t mind not making money out of my research. It would be nice to get some of my expenses covered now and then, but I don’t think it’s remotely possible to make a living out of this rather nice hobby. So it will remain a hobby and I won’t extort anyone to pay money for what is essentially our cultural heritage. My editions will be free, and my research results and where to find the sources will be shared.

Do I expect something back? No. It would be nice if people reach out to help, though. Helping can be done by a donation to cover some of my expenses (I’ll likely set up a donation button at some point in the future), or by offering to help out on the actual research. There are also quite a lot open tasks on entering data on the website. Because, of course in this day and age, it makes most sense to share online.

The site will make it possible to look mandolin sources based an search criteria (date, region, instrumentation, composer etc). The music movements will get a detailed description including the structure, key, metrum, articulations and similar properties. It will also include an incipit (first couple of bars). All of this should make it a lot more easy to either look up or compare. For example, if we find an anymous and untitled piece in a library we should be able to compare with the pieces entered quite quickly.

In the end I hope this contribution will help make more advancements than a specific research paper or book, or publishing music through regular publishers. I have hopes other people will start to get involved later so the community rather than a single person will be maintaining the project after a while. After all, sharing = caring. :p

Newly discovered pieces by Giovanni Battista Gervasio

One of the more striking discoveries last year were some music fragments by Giovanni Battista Gervasio – which to my knowledge were previously unnoticed.
The pieces consist of some minuets and barcarolles.


The manuscripts discovered are part of a special collection. The Alströmer collection was gathered by Patrik Alströmer, an important Swedish businessman and mecenas. This collection today is part of the Musik- och Teaterbiblioteket in Stockholm (Alströmer collection without further shelfmark).

Dating the manuscripts is taxing but there is one little help. The barcarolle manuscripts are clearly written in the same hand as the Gervasio pieces in the Gimo collection. Therefore it can be safe to assume we can use the same date range here (1758-1762).

Regionally these manuscripts must have originated in France, probably Paris. Most likely the Gimo collection and hence also these pieces were loaned for a while (for example via the bureau d’abonnement musical) – or perhaps copied straight away in France (those services were offered also by several firms).

As these manuscripts are part of the Alströmer collection we can assume Patrik Alströmer as one of the former owners. The full collection was passed on to the library though I have not seen a full ownership history of the collection.


There are two distinctly different manuscripts. The barcarolles folios are written in the same hand as the Gimo collection pieces of Gervasio. The other pieces (minuets) are in a different hand I haven’t recognised so far. It also doesn’t correspond to the hand of the anymous mandolin concerto I found in the same library (blog post will follow).
And there is also an instrumental piece at the end of the minuet folios which is in a third hand and may not be by Gervasio and/or for mandolin.

The barcarolles

1/ Di pena in pena

Barcarola del Sigr. Gervasio

“Di pena in pena vissi finora più bella ancora spunta per me

Le rie catene gia gia sperra i al fin trovai la libertà”

3/4 barcarolle in G major (“all°” for the last part of the piece)

2/ Vado tra selve

Barcarola del Sigr. Gervasio


“Vado tra selve chi amando Nice elle in felice di ce cosi

La sciami in pace inabbandono io nice sonno ma non per te

Io sempre nice io sempre nice ti vuo chiamar

Io sempre nice ti vuo chiamar”

3/8 Barcarolle in G major

The lyrics are in each case noted under the first voice. It might be meant as vocal pieces accompanied by mandolin. However it isn’t all that uncommon to find lyrics even in instrumental arrangements of vocal pieces so this cannot be seen as something definite. The music itself seems thought out vocally, so my opinion would be that these pieces are indeed vocal with instrumental accompaniment.

I haven’t retrieved the origins of the pieces – di pena in pena seems not linked to the Vivaldi cantate or similar, and the second piece didn’t ring any bells at all. It’s unlikely to be music composed by Gervasio so it would be interesting to further the research and retrieve its origins.

The accompaniment follows the lead voice, sometimes in unison, sometimes in parallel thirds or sixths.

The minuet folios

fol 1v: 3/4 minuet in D major for 2 two instruments (mandolin?)

fol 2r: 3/4 minuet in Bes manjor for one instrument (mandolin?)

fol 2r 3/4 minuet in Bes major for one instrument (mandolin?)

fol 2r 3/4 untitled piece in Es manjor for one instrument (mandolin?)

fol 2v 3/4 untitled piece in G major for two instruments (mandolin?)

fol 3r 3/4 minuet in D major for one instrument (mandolin?)

fol 3r 3/4 minuet in D major for one instrument (mandolin?)

fol 3v-4r untitled piece in G major for one instrument (mandolin?)

The minuets correspond with the typical minuets you would expect for the time as written for amateurs. These would have sold well in any city in Europe. The last piece in this manuscript is puzzling, it’s in another hand and is notated much more sloppy than all the rest. No composer is mentioned so this might be a later addition and not by Gervasio and/or not for mandolin. Further reaseach might try to find the origins of this piece; in my opinion this seems to be a later addition of a piece for violin. At the start of the page of this piece the start of another minuet has been crossed out.


It seems these pieces were at some point part of the same source or even collection than the Gimo pieces. Therefore there can be little doubt that these are indeed by Gervasio. Even though the copyist’ hand only corresponds in one case, the link we have should suffice to make a hard link. Alströmer certainly had more than one copyist at hand.

The pieces themselves divert from the repertory in the Gimo though – there we don’t have minuets or barcarolles. It can hence be suggested that there might have been aprint of Gervasio in these genres which must have circulated either in Italy or France. This also fits in with the fact that we only have his “opus 5” – meaning we might lack at least four other prints.

Though musically this discovery isn’t all that uplifting it’s certainly a valuable addition to our knowledge about this particular mandolin composer.

Sonate da mandorlino

This blog post again focuses on some material which is digitally available.

The manuscript is preserved in Louisville, School of Music, in Louisville, Kentucky with the shelf mark of RICASOLI Profana 238.

The link to the digital version goes to IMSLP:

It’s a really interesting manuscript which add to the repertory but also brings up some interesting questions.


Dating the manuscript proves hard. It is anymous and there are no easy identifying marks. From the style of writing and music we can easily put this past the mid-18 century (most likely from around the 1780s) but it might just as well be somewhat more recent.

Regionally the fact that we at least know that the manuscript originates from the Ricasoli family helps link it solidly to Florence.


Even though the title promises “sonate” the actual content are mainly minuets (27) and some (3) counterdances, mostly for two, some for one “mandorlino”. The style is rather simple, with parallel acompaniment.

Minuè (2 mdl)

p. 3: 3/4 in D

Minuè (2 mdl)

p. 4: 3/4 in D

Minuè (1 mdl)

p. 5: 3/4 in G

Minuè (1 mdl)

p. 5: 3/4 in D

Minuè (1 mdl)

p. 6: 3/4 in G

Contradanza (2 mdl)

p. 6: 2/4 in A

Minuè (1 mdl)

p. 7: 3/4 in G

Contradanza (1 mdl)

p. 7: 6/8 in G

Minuè (1 mdl)

p. 8: 3/4 in G

Minuè (1 mdl)

p. 8: 3/4 in G

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 9: 3/4 in F

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 9: 3/4 in C

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 10: 3/4 in G

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 10: 3/4 in A

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 10: 3/4 in C

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 11: 3/4 in G

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 11: 3/4 in F

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 11: 3/4 in C

Contradanza (2 mdl)

p. 12: 2/4 in C

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 13: 3/4 in C

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 13: 3/4 in G

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 13: 3/4 in F

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 13: 3/4 in A

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 14: 3/4 in Bes

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 14: 3/4 in G

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 14: 3/4 in C

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 15: 3/4 in F

[Untitled, minuet (1 mdl)]

p. 15: 3/4 in C

On p. 27 the tuning is given, matching the Neapolitan mandolin’s tuning. That was also clear from the chords written in the pieces.


The interesting thing about this manuscript are pretty much plain for all to see. First of all the mention of yet another alternative spelling for the mandolin. Next, about 30 until now unknown pieces for our instrument. And of course the link towards a Florentine family of nobility is perhaps the most intersting of all. Whereas in the 1700s we have Florentine noblemen playing the Milanese baroque mandolin, this is proof that almost a century later the Neapolitan mandolin has taken over.