G066, G067, G068

Martha McGaughey, Viola da Gamba Society of America News, December 2005:

Pariser Gambenduos. Six early Classical sonatas by an unknown composer for two bass violas. Collaction VM7 6297 of the National Library in Paris, edited by Leonore and Günter von Zadow, Edition Güntersberg Erstausgabe, G068 June 2005.

This edition of these little-known duets would be a nice gift for a player who has a certain degree of technical expertise and has recently become the proud owner of a seven-string viol. The two parts are not equal; the top one is more of a solo voice and the second one more of an accompanying part, but the lower part does have occasional chords that can be played only on a viol as well as a few forays into alto clef. Both parts use the low A-string in comfortable and idiomatic ways. There are no figures in either parts, and it is difficult to imagine that the piece could have been intended for any instruments other than seven-string viols. The music is much easier than Forqueray. Oh, you might think, that's not so easy, and you are right! Some movements, however, are so idiomatically written that they contrive to sound more impressive that they are difficult, which might make this good music with which to impress your friends.

The watermarks in the manuscript are French, as are the ornament signs and the bowing indications. The style is very late: the "heart on the sleeve" Empfindsamer Stil reminds of Abel, Graun, CPE Bach and JC Bach. As far as French composers go, I was most reminded of Leclair, particularly of some of his sonatas for violin or flute. There are long chains of appogiaturas, expressive chords, and short passages for the two viols in unison, as well as some decidedly un-baroque harmonic twists. Five of the six sonatas have four movements each (slow-fast-slow-fast). The movement titles and inspiration are more Italian than French. Many are labeled merely Adagio, Allegro, Cantabile, or Aria (with variations). The dances are gigas, sarabandas, and some very Italian correntes with long passages running sixteenth notes and fairly straightforward 3:4 rhythms rather than the more complicated French 3:2 courante which alternates between bars in two and bars in three.

I read through all six of these sonatas with Carlene S. over the course of several weeks. (Full disclosure here: Carlene and I each practised the top part of one sonata a week before attempting to play the sonatas together; it would have been much less satisfying to try and read the top part of any of these pieces without looking at it a few times in advance.) All of the music is fun to play; many of the harmonies and special effects are unexpected to baroque ears, and some are quite humorous (for example, in the opening Largo of the fifth Sonata, when the two viols have, after slow note values and a long rest, a rapid descending sixteenth-note down to the low D in unison). The sixth sonata, which has been recorded by Wieland and Sigiswald Kuijken (Les Maisons de Plaisance - Music for two viols, ACC 99132 D), is particularly interesting. The opening Allegro of this sonata features thick chords for both viols at the same time, and the final Cantabile has five variations with a wide range of expressive devices: running sixteenth notes, triplets, parallel thirty-second-note triplets in both parts, and an impressive bravura final variation. My personal favorite in all of the six sonatas was the third movement of the third (F-major) sonata, a haunting Andante in F-minor with poignant Lombard figures, mode changes, chromaticism, expressive double stops for both viols, and sophisticated harmonies including dimished chords used in surprising and wonderful ways.

This is a very performer-friendly edition, with separate parts for the two viols as well as a score (the parts avoid awkward page turns). Bar numbers have been added to the modern edition, put in at every beginning of the system. I would have preferred to see these every five bars, but this is a minor reservation. Bowings, slurs, and fingerings are preserved from the original. (These relatively few and far between indications serve mainly to make the modern player wish that the anonymous composer had been slightly more generous with his indications: there are many spots that besome closer to being playable after a few fingerings have been written in.) The paper is an easy-on-the-eyes off-white, and even the score is large enough to be perfectly legible. There is a facsimile of the beginning of two movements from the manuscript printed inside the back cover of the score. A brief but informative preface is given in both German and English. All in all, the edition is a welcome addition to the viols repertoire. And the music is much easier than Forqueray.