Anonymous, Sonata di mandolino

My next post is focusing on a small preserved fragment of mandolin music. It is entitled “Sonata di mandolino” and has two movements.

The manuscript is a folded leaf, written in ink, of 23 x 30 cm. It is preserved in the State University of New York at Buffalo, Music Library with shelf mark Treasure Room M02 Aa so LIB – MUS017.

The source is also digitized and can be found online at:


Unfortunately there are few clues to date the manuscript or try and pinpoint its provenance on a map. The library itself states it is from the 18th century – though this is correct it is a bit of a wide time span.

We can only guess by looking at the style of the music and that points towards something probably from the mid-18th century. Personally I doubt this was composed before ca 1720 or after ca 1760. Still a wide timespan but at least not as wide as a whole century. ;)
However, please note that this is just an educated guess – no more, no less.

Though the manuscript is clearly having Italian writing on it, this doesn’t always mean it was actually composed in Italy or by an Italian. It is the most logical though as French, English or German sources usually don’t use the name “mandolino” but use variants of the name. It remains to be seen if we might not trace the origins with further investigations but at the moment we’ll have to make due with “probably Italian”.

Manuscript content

The content is what appears to be either an incomplete sonata for mandolin. It is written for “mandolino” and unfigured bass.

1/ Allegro 2/4 in C major (f. 1)

2/ Andante Grave C in D major (f. 2)

No real chords are used but there are some passages of parallel thirds which in my experience are quite common on the Milanese baroque instrument but not on the Neapolitan mandolin (after all, it is easier with an instrument tuned in 4ths).

The range of the instrument does extend to the low g, so if it indeed is for a Milanese baroque mandolin, it must be the six-course one. That would fit nicely with the proposed date of mid-18th century (even though we know that the 4-course type still existed, the 6-course type was becoming predominant).

The music makes use of some techniques often found in late baroque music and the harmony used seems to stick more with the baroque tradition than the early classical. The piece does ask for a continuo as the bass in itself doesn’t fulfill the need of accompaniment, another argument to place this piece in the second quarter of the 18th century.

Though the Allegro is not the most thrilling music, the Andante Grave has some more interesting musical development in it and might be worth trying out.

As we are clearly missing out on the third (of even further) movement(s) – these pieces might never reach the stage where they will be played or published. But for those adventurous enough to try and play from the sources, just follow the link given above and try it out for yourself. You’ll have to find a sufficiently experienced continuo player though. :)

Cafaro, Il trionfo di Davide

In a series of blog posts I will try to shed some light on some of the discoveries of the past year. I didn’t always find the time to blog about these straight away, but with the upcoming international historical mandolin symposium coming up I’m preparing presentations anyway. ;)

The first in the series is about the use of mandolin in an oratorio. I must admit that it’s not a real mandolin aria as the role of the mandolin is limited – but the importance of the discovery lies more in the circles in which the instrument was used.

The source is a manuscript in two volumes (I: 111 f., II: 119 f. of 22 x 28 cm) and is preserved in the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de Fance, Paris). The shelf mark is Richelieu – Musique – magasin de la Réserve MS- 1673. It is actually also digitally available through the digital counterpart of this library, Gallica:

The mandolin is used in a da capo aria in volume 2. (The link above goes to volume 2.)


It’s always a pleasure when the provenance of a manuscript is so clear. The manuscript dates the first performance and other sources confirm this to be in 1746. The composer is Pasquale Cafaro, who was a student and later teacher at the Naples Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini. He even succeeded di Majo as the maestro di capella of the Chapel Royal of Naples. He was quite renowned for his operas, oratorios, motets and masses.

The manuscript even has some history to it – it was once owned by a Giovanni Battista de Benedictis. However, the library does not list anything else about the acquisition history.

Mandolin aria?

The first indication is found on f. 92v of volume II, at the bottom of the page. The writer of the manuscript made a point of announcing the next pieces, so in this case there is a note “Siegue Davide col Mandolino”.

When we turn the page to f. 93r, the instrumentation is indeed changing with at the top of the score “Mandolino”, followed by unison violins I & II, violetta, Davide, and the bass. The aria has a tempo mark of “And.e” (Andante) and the strings have the indication of “p° assai”. The violins I & II actually are indicated to be in unison with the mandolin part straight from bar 2 onwards. As you might notice, this means that the mandolin is probably only used as an extra bit of flavour in the orchestral sound – rather than having a separate part and role in the aria.

After a short instrumental introduction the singing starts. The lyrics aren’t always clearly readable but I have tried to decipher them as best I could. “Cambia in amore, gran dio d’Abramo, l’empio furore del nostro chè della mia cetera al suono amabile si venda docile quo fù Mosè.” This piece ends on f. 94v (“Subito Coro”‘). There can be little doubt that the “cetera” mentioned in the lyrics convinced Cafaro to use a mandolin. Of course he might have thought of other plucked string instruments, but not all would fit his purpose and the mandolin does have a tradition of being used in oratorios.

The part of Davide is in the same rythm as the mandolin/violins and is actually also in unison. The writing does bear all the hallmarks of what made Naples’ vocal output so famous in the 18th century. This small first phrase of the aria is located on f. 93r-94v.

This initial aria singing is followed by a chorus on f. 95r-96r which has violin I, II, violetta, vocal parts are Gionata, Micol, Samuele and Saulle, and there is also a bass, this time with figuration. This little chorus is a de facto repeat (though somewhat reworked) of the first part of the aria by Davide, followed by a short instrumental ending. The bottom of the page has the clue “Siegue subito Davide col Mandolino”.

The first phrase of the aria is an Andante in 3/8 beat in C major.

The contrasting middle section is from 96v-98r (Davide) and 98v-99v (chorus). Here we swith to an Allegretto in 2/4 beat in G major (though it does flirt with g minor at points). At the end we find some figuration in the bass so perhaps even the Davide arias might be performed with a full continuo section.

This aria part again starts with an instrumental introduction followed by the vocal part of Davide. “Fà che è sua lege Dio d’Israele Ci sia fedele Qual fù Noè Ah le suè furie Dio degli eserciti Il cor di Saule Non sfoghi in me”.

Again a chorus follows with the same instrumentation and again it reworks the first phrase of the aria part by Davide and a small instrumental end. The note again reads “Siegue subito Davide col Mandolino”.

As can be expected, the subsequent aria part by Davide is the real da capo of the first aria part (f. 100r-101v) again followed by a chorus (f. 102r-103r) to conclude the piece to then switch to a recitativo. “Rendi placato qual cor stegnato E l’arme siegua di Giosuè È docce il tuo Davide Dio di vittorie Aura ri fuggio Se non in te”.


Even though the musical contribution of the mandolin is rather limited (unison with violins and/or Davide), this piece is an important scoop. It is by my knowledge the first piece we can certainly link to on of the Naples conservatoriums in the 18th century. That in its own right merits this piece a place in mandolin history.

On the subject of the mandolin type used, it is rather difficult to make out. Even though one would suspect a Neapolitan mandolin might be considered, we’re not 100% sure when that instrument was invented (usually supposed to have happened at the same time of the creation of this piece). It might be more logical to assume that Cafaro stuck to the traditional mandolin type used in so many early and mid 18th century arias, the Milanese baroque mandolin tuned in fourths.

It is my hope that this little contribution might start further investigations into the use of the mandolin by other Neapolitan composers and the conseratories, and maybe also can either elaborate on some of my work on this piece.

Ortesia Caccini’s sonata manuscript

The Libro per la Mandola by Matteo Caccini

For the benefit of those unaware of the Libro manuscript, I will briefly describe it and will give some references for further study. The title page reads “Libro per la Mandola dell Matteo Caccini | A di p.o Agosto 1703“.  The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, under the siglum RES – VMB – MS9. It contains some solo dances for four-course Italian baroque mandolin tuned in fourths (a tuning chart is provided on fol. 16v) in normal notation (treble clef) with occasional chords. Some composers are mentioned by name (Ceccherini and Cappellini). For a more detailed description you can read up on some further details in: James Tyler & Paul Sparks, The Early Mandolin, Early Music Series 9, Oxford, 1989, p. 23-25. A modern edition of the music has been provided by Marga Wilden-Hüsgen (published by Grenzland-Verlag, KM-2086). The manuscript contains tuning charts and music for other instruments as well: one is for psaltery, one for what is presumably violin and which would match with the music in the rest of the manuscript.

The manuscript copy of the Libro

Some mandolin scholars have already found the second manuscript linked to this Libro: the manuscript RES – VMB – MS8 in the same library starts with a copy of the same mandolin pieces and are in the same hand. The rest of this manuscript contains vocal pieces which are in a different and more recent hand.

MS 8 fol. 1r: Minuet = MS 9 fol. 1r: Minuette
MS 8 fol. 1r-1v: Burè = MS 9 fol. 1r: Burè
MS 8 fol. 1v: Minuet = MS 9 fol. 2r: Minuet
MS 8 fol. 1v-2r: Saltarello di Meccoli = MS 9 fol. 2r-2v: Saltarello di Meccoli
MS 8 fol. 2v: Aria di Veneziana = MS 9 fol. 3r: Aria di Veneziana
MS 8 fol. 2v: Aria di Veneziana = MS 9 fol. 1v: Aria di Veneziana
MS 8 fol. 3r: Aria di Veneziana = MS 9 fol. 1v: Aria
MS 8 fol. 3r: Passaggio = MS 9 fol. 3r: Passaggio
MS 8 fol. 3v [untitled] = MS 9 fol. 3v: dal Sigre P.P. Cappellini
MS 8 fol. 4r: dal Sig P.P. Capellini = MS 9 fol. 4r: dal Sigre P. P. Cappellini
MS 8 fol. 4v: Alemanda di P.P.C. = MS 9 fol. 4v: Alemanda di P.P.C.
MS 8 fol. 5r: Alemanda di Niccolo Ceccherini = MS 9 fol. 5r:  Alemanda di Niccolo Ceccherini
MS 8 fol. 5v: Fuga [incomplete] = MS 9 fol. 5v: Fuga di Niccolo Ceccherini
Next pages: 1 page “Cadenza per il Basso Continuo” (fol. 5v), all the rest is vocal music, usually with figured bass – and some blank pages are left at then end of the manuscript.

Questo libro di sonate… by Ortensia Caccini

A third manuscript which has correspondences with the Libro, has so far not caught the eyes of mandolin scholars. The manuscript is also preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (VM7 – 4905). The title of this manuscript is Questo libro di sonate | e della Ortensia | Caccini. The title page contains some further inscriptions and sketches. Most of the manuscript is filled with vocal music, with occasional instrumental parts which are clearly for harpsichord. One piece is either instrument or vocalization, written in alto clef; but most of the music is in soprano clef with figured bass.

The manuscript is digitalized by the library and is accessible online:

Even though most of the manuscript is vocal music, there are a couple of pages in this manuscript which deserve our attention. First and foremost, a tuning chart on fol. 1r, written in treble clef. The tuning of the instrument here is clearly that of the four-course Italian baroque mandolin (which Matteo Caccini calls mandola), tuned in fourths: e’-a’-d”-g”. This page will be looked at in more detail below.

Some music for the instrument of the tuning chart can be found on the following pages, always in treble clef and if there are chords they fit the tuning: fol. 9r, 31v-32r. These pieces are easily identified – and they correspond to the first pieces of the Matteo Caccini Libro:

(Ortensia Caccini) fol. 9r: Minuet = fol. 1r: Minuet (Matteo Caccini)
(Ortensia Caccini) fol. 31v: Bure = fol. 1r: Burè (Matteo Caccini)
(Ortensia Caccini) fol. 32r: Minuett = fol. 2r: Minuet (Matteo Caccini)

In my opinion these pieces for Italian baroque mandolin were added to the manuscript later on. It odd though that the tuning chart gets featured on fol. 1r, this might mean that the manuscript was first conceived to contain mandolin music. However, we see tuning charts for instrument without music for the instrument in some other manuscript. For example, the Matteo Caccini Libro  contains a tuning chart for psaltery without (to our knowledge) music for it.

The pieces of music mentioned above are put in place on what clearly were blank spaces left after writing in the vocal music. Making use of leftover space in an existing manuscript is an often encountered practice.

There are some similarities between the hand who wrote the Matteo Caccini manuscripts – but, though it’s hard to be conclusive, I would say it’s unlikely to be the same copyist. The hand in the Ortensia manuscript seems less experienced and makes some mistakes (using the typical + sign for corrections, happens more than once). I therefore consider the pieces to be copied in from one of the other manuscripts rather than the other way around. However, Ortensia got married in 1704  to Giovanni Vincenzo Del Vernaccia, so it can’t have been copied very long after the creation of Matteo’s Libro – which is dated on its title page as written on the 1st of August 1703.

Of course, as there is no new mandolin music in Ortensia’s manuscript we could be quick to dismiss the manuscript as an interesting source… But the tuning chart on fol. 1r actually does contain something I’ve not seen in other manuscripts. It seems to be more of a scale exercise than a pure tuning chart, and the numbers under the notes seem to be fingering rather than tabulation. That of course could help musicians to understand how the pieces in these three manuscripts should be played.

The Caccini family

The fact that we now have a third manuscript with a provenance in the same household reinforces that the Italian baroque mandolin surely held a prominent place in the Caccini family. This manuscript also further confirms that the Matteo Caccini of the manuscript was indeed a nobleman from Firenze – as we can trace the family genealogy and that of his sister Ortensia (1684-1753). If Ortensia wrote manuscript herself then it’s reasonable to assume the mandolin parts were added around 1703-1704 when she would have been around 20.
Matteo died in 1717, after which the younger brother Francesco (1680-1749) took over the family estate. After the death of Francesco, Ortensia inherited, thereby uniting the family estates of Caccini and Vernaccia for her children. At that time Ortensia was granted a higher status in nobility (an azure ball with three golden lilies was added to the family heraldic weapon – interestingly enough this is called “the round shield of France”, connecting the Caccini/Vernaccia family to France).

It seems that some parts of the family archive have been preserved (Biblioteca Roncioniana, Prato) – so further background information about the family can certainly be obtained. Though it will probably not contain information about the music practice or musical preferences of the family, perhaps these documents can help us grasp how influential the family was. And that in its turn can help us understand the importance of the mandolin in the Firenze noble families and their musical culture.


James Tyler & Paul Sparks, The Early Mandolin, Early Music Series 9, Oxford, 1989.
Catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.
Online digital version of the manuscript by Ortensia:
Itialian unified information system for archives:
Online site of the Prato library containing the Caccini archive:
Description of the archive in the Prato library:
State archive of Firenze:
(All online sources were last successfully accessed on the 1st of October, 2013.)

James Oswalds “Mandelin”

On Thursday July 12th 2012 I presented a short lecture on the subject of the James Oswald’s “Mandelin” during the “Zomerseminar voor Mandoline en Gitaar” (Summer seminar for mandolin and guitar). The lecture mainly focused on demonstrating how to perform research into the history of plucked string instruments. An article pushibled in MandoGita later summarizes some aspects of the lecture and already focused a bit more on the basic point: which instrument did James Oswald mean when he put the term “mandelin” on his title page?

This blog series will focus a bit more on the actual case study, and will weigh the different options with more details than I could during the lecture or article. In this first blog, I will just give the general context – I’ll point you to the music and explain a bit more about the background.

I came accross the divertimento bundle by Oswald from several sources. First of all, because it showed up in some bibliographical research about the mandolin. Secondly, because Paul Sparks already mentioned it in The Early Mandolin. Third and not least, because of the excellent article by John Goodin which popped up doing some background research. I was especially drawn to the subject because of his final phrase: “The Mandelins in question could have been any of a number of instruments available to Oswald in mid-18th century London and I certainly welcome speculation on that point from the many true scholars of the early mandolin.”. A good cue to stick my musicologically skilled mandolin nose into the affair, I thought.

Some background information is required though I will not go as far as quoting all the information available. James Oswald was born in 1711 in Scotland. After some time as a dancing teacher in Dumfermline (Fife), he moved to Ediburgh (in 1736). In this city he developed into an accomplished singer, composer and even organiser of concerts. He next moved to London in 1741 and even started his own publishing house (in 1747). Especially the bundles entitled The Caledonian Companion was well received (numerous volumes and editions). Towards the end of his life he even achieved the title of court composer of chamber music (1761). Oswald was a member of the secret society of composers called The Temple of Apollo (which also attracted such members as John Reid and Charles Burney).

As other authors have mentioned, Oswald seems to have conciously published some music anonymously or under nicknames. Even Geminiani, who had some music published by Oswald and even lived in the same street, seems to have been tricked by this (he mentions his praise for the composer David Riccio, which was one of Oswald’s nicknames).(1) All this makes it rather difficult to prove the exact author of some of the music Oswald published. Rob MacKillop and John Goodin come to the conclusion that the bundle of 18 divertimentos were most likely composed by Oswald himself, and I have not yet seen any reason to doubt that assumption. Therefore we will continue in the further writing to assume Oswald as the composer and not just collector or arranger of the pieces.

James Goodin has made such a modern edition of the 18 divertimentos by Oswald available online via his site mandotopia.
Even though I have gone through the trouble of getting a copy of the original, this edition should be fine for musicians. (Though I will eventually focus some attention to the fact that most musicians don’t always follow the typical conventions of the 18th century, for example when playing grace notes.)

In the next blogs of the series, I will first give some further general information about the music before starting the discussion of the possible mandolin types Oswald might have meant.

(1) Already mentioned by John Goodin’s article: he references this back to John Purser, Scotland’s Music, Edinburgh,  1992, rev. ed. Edinburgh, 2007.

The Mandolin Aria

One of the other operas that have a mandoline “serenading aria” that is sometimes still performed is the Giovanni Paisiello version of Il Barbieri di Siviglia. That opera is of course most performed in the version of Rossini. Though Rossini’s version originally didn’t supercede its predecessors popularity, it became predominant over time. Needless to say that I’m not against Rossini’s version of the opera or the way he wrote his serenade – but no-one can blame me for having a personal favoritism for the Paisiello version in full as well as the mandolin serenade in particular. I’m glad it occsionally gets some limelight as it sheds light on some aspects of 18th century opera and is generally very enjoyable.

Paisiello’s aria is a typical canzonetta and is (almost certainly) for the Neapolitan mandolin, which is quite different from the Mozart aria which is (almost certainly) for Milanese or Lombardian mandolin. (For those who have missed that fact, I will most likely share some thoughts about Mozart’s mandolin aria in a separate blog post.)

If you haven’t already heard the refreshing music of Paisiello… make sure to check it on Youtube – I’ve included a link to a decent version.

Saper Bramate

The text is the typical sweetening poetry – fully in line with the main character who tries to convince his beloved to choose him (the count is in disguise as a student, so his beloved would choose him because of love rather than his wealth). This is a good example of the commedia dell’arte style of the storyline – with rather grotesque characters.

The opera was written by Paisiello during his stay at the court of Catherine II in Saint-Petersbourgh. The libretto is based on the play Le barbier de Séville by Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais. The full title reads “Il barbiere di Siviglia, ovvero La precauzione inutile” (the barber of Seville, or the useless precautions) – and it’s a rather typical comic opera for its time. The premiere in Russia was on 1782, but in the year after his home-town Naples followed, and soon the opera spread all over Europe. It stands to reason that the main reason for Mozart to include a mandolin aria in his Don Giovanni is the unrivalled success of the Paisiello opera.

The aria has enjoyed some life of its own accord outside of the opera, after the usage of it as part of the film music by Stanley Kubrick in Barry Lyndon. The music is instrumental in this case – and it was used in the scenes where Barry is cheating at cards.

Barry Lyndon music

Lyrics (and very free translation – any native speakers are invited to improve this ;) ):

Saper bramate bella il mio nome ecco ascoltate ve lo diro
io son Lindoro di basso stato nè alcun tesoro darvi potro
ma sempre fido, ogni mattina
a voi mie pene, cara Rosina, col cuor su’ labbri vi cantero
If you yearn to learn my name, beaty, listen and I will tell,
I’m Lindoro of low status
without a single treasure to share,
Every morning, I will sing to you about my sufferings, singing with my hearth on my lips.

Speaking for myself, I really enjoy this little serenade, both musically and theatrically it really adds a lot to the opera. Of course, it’s not the most impressive piece of music by the count – just a simple serenading canzonetta – but it fits its purpose in the opera and the mandoline accompaniment is really nicely written.

I hope this post will get some people to think twice about the mandolin aria / serenade as well as bringing this subgenre to the attention of some opera lovers. :) Enjoy!