Joseph Gibbs- The Eight Violin Sonatas- CR3706


“This is a series of variations of real interest, excitement and beauty”

“all the sonatas have pleasures to render up to the inquisitive listener”

“attractively Corellian Allegro of the Third with its sliver of a Grave movement and sedate minuet to end”


The opening of SONATA No.1 in D minor is noble in character and covers the full range of the shortened finger-board of the time with conviction and smoothness. The choice of D minor is one of the most favoured and integral to the violin. The Largo movement immediately strikes one as pure and reflective as Handel would have written. These melodies of such refinement are characteristic throughout all the Sonatas. The last movement has five variations in which the fourth requires quick fingers and skilful crossing of the strings. The last variation is written in magnificent choral-like doublestops.

SONATA No.2 is our first glimpse of Gibbs’s ability to master the fugue and counterpoint. In the second movement the violin sets out a classic theme for two bars and then is imitated by the harpsichord, suggesting an exhilirating counterpoint. Although he has yet to exploit the complexities of the fugue, we can hear the classic melodic theme he might employ. The first movement is again notable for its melodic line but with considerable use of the mordent which adds a certain melancholy to the movement. This melancholy is another characteristic of Gibbs’s music. Showing a subtle touch and imagination he uses two bars of doublestops to enhance this mood. A Minuet ends the Sonata with grace and charm.

In SONATA No.3 Gibbs again ends with a Minuet with two variations. It is interesting to note that on so many occasions he is not ashamed to end a sonata modestly. Although this Minuet may be more spirited, it nevertheless retains a simplicity and charm. This style of modest ending was rare and eventually non-existent. The Sonatas 1,2, and 3 follow the style of Corelli and Handel in the laying-out of the movements, especially the short and slow interlude, a “quasi recitative” which appears before a final movement, usually in the relative minor key. This was common to the period, although all Handel’s violin sonatas, for instance, end with a consistent bravura tempo.

Perhaps Gibbs’s melancholic moods were influenced by the Scots, for in SONATA No.4 the opening movement is strongly characteristic of Scottish song. The second movement again shows Gibbs’s mastery of counterpoint. The third movement is a simple and charming tune with nne variation. The Sonata ends with a spirited Minuet.

In SONATA No.5 we can see a better picture of Gibbs’s skill in writing for the virtuoso technique of the violinist. The second movement sets out a fugal theme and at the third bar the second voice is added by doublestops, the harpsichord joins with a third voice. The counterpoint is comparable with that of J.S.Bach.

The only Sonata that begins with a fast tempo is No.6 and we are drawn again to the Scots. The melodic line of the opening movement encourages one to play the Scottish Snap. The second movement opens with a fugal theme and projects the counterpoint for the harpsichord to follow. Vivaldi-like passages appear later with the theme in short bursts in the harpsichord. The following movement is a Largo, but to help in this transition of moods and keys there is a coda-like four bar Adagio in F major played in doublestops to prepare for the plaintive Largo in F minor. He ends with a Gavotte; yet in the second half Gibbs retains a memory of Scottish song by using the pentatonic scale and the Scottish Snap, reversing the gavotte figuration of dotted quaver-semiquaver to semiquaver-dotted quaver.

SONATA No.7 has only three movements. Howevei; he satisfies the listener musically. The nobility and melancholy of the first movement is by now very expected and typical of Gibbs. In the second movement he goes into an exciting Allegro with grand leaps between notes. He ends the sonata with a tune and two variations. Gibbs indicates this last movement to be played with affection and tenderness but in the second variation he carries us to the robustness, once again, of the Scottish Snap.

Joseph Gibbs’s most ambitious attempt to reveal the techniques and capabilities of the violin and violinist is perhaps in the final SONATA No.8. As if to emphasize the human experience, the opening movement is marked Grave. The doublestops offer opportunities for sustained sonorities with much use of the open fourth string, moving from suspensions to resolutions and finally, as if to underline the depth of feeling, Gibbs brings to a conclusion this gravity in the relative key of C minor. In the second movement, one cannot help feeling again the distant sound of the Scots. Gibbs has combined the Italian dance rhythms of the Siciliana with the plaintiveness of the Scots. Like his contemporary J.S.Bach, an Organist also, Joseph Gibbs understood the complexities of the Fugue; in the third movement only a Master could fuse his ideas with the sonorities, colour and nuances of expression for which the violin has the potential. Even in the last movement Gibbs offers no respite to the performer. It is titled Como but the character of the music suggests the triumphant sound of many horns and conjures up visions of coaches or the hunt. It is perhaps in this last Sonata that we are left with the overwhelming evidence of the important contribution to the violin repertoire by Joseph Gibbs. © Sergei Bezkorvany.

JOSEPH GIBBS was not a prolific composer, but he was not entirely unknown. He was bom in Dedham, Essex in 1699, though not much more has been traced of Gibbs until 1748. In that year, he was appointed organist at the Church of St. Mary-le-Tower, Ipswich, and his first published work EIGHT SOLOS FOR A VIOLIN WITH A THOROUGH BASS, also appeared.

Only one other work (six quartettos) is known to have been published in the remaining forty years of his active musical life.

The purchase of a Gainsborough in 1928 by the National Portrait Gallery created a renewed interest in Joseph Gibbs. This painting of Gibbs was hitherto unknown and handed down through generations of Gibbs’s family who were the only ones aware of its existence. Ipswich had a lively Music Club in which Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was a keen and passionate member. It is during this period that Gainsborough painted a portrait of his friend Joseph Gibbs. In the background of this portrait are two volumes. One is titled Corelli and the other… Gem… presumably Geminiani. Acknowledgement of these names in a portrait speaks profoundly of the sitters projections towards the violin. It seems fitting that the recordings of the Eight Violin Sonatas should coincide with the bi-centenary year of Joseph Gibbs as well as that of Thomas Gainsborough. At Christchurch Mansion is another painting attributed to Gainsborough. This is on the case of the grandfather clock, assumedly of the convivial Music Club, amongst whom one can recognize Joseph Gibbs in sober grey, seated at a table with a glass in front of him. The Music Club met in the home of a Mr. Sparrowe, which is now known as the Ancient House in the Buttermarket.

Gibbs was often called upon as the local musician of standing for various occasions. A newly erected Organ at Eye in Suffolk was to be opened in 1749 by “… Mr. Joseph Gibbs, Organist of Ipswich… And in the Evening will be a CONCERT of Vocal and Instrumental Musick… And after the CONCERT there will be a BALL.”

At the time of Gibbs’s appointment as organist, Ipswich was an important and flourishing centre. It was also garrisoned by the Scots Greys. Undoubtedly, with his active musical and social life, Gibbs was in contact with the Scots Greys and their music-making, for his Sonatas contain many references to Scottish song.

Joseph Gibbs was accorded a Civic funeral and a band of the Scots Greys and East Suffolk Militia played the Dead March in ‘Saul’ with their instruments draped in black crepe. The published obituary stated . . . “His corpse was deposited in a grave in front of the organ.” (Gentlemans Magazine Dec. 1788) Unfortunately, since the restoration of the Church in the 1860’s, no trace of his gravestone has been found. However, a dedication reads …

In Memory of Mr. Joseph Gibbs, who was forty years Organist of this Church.

He was eminently distinguished in his profession both as a Composer and Performer. Having brought up a large Family and seen his Children’s Children to the fourth Generation, after a life of meekness and integrity.

He died December 12th. 1788, Aged 89 years. © Sergei Bezkorvany.

Review: – Music Web International

This is the first and so far only integral set of Joseph Gibbs’s eight violin sonatas. They were published in 1748 in which year Gibbs, born in Essex, moved to the position of organist in Ipswich. The set was the first of his small yet select body of published work – a set of six quartets appeared under his name in later years, though nothing else as far as is known.

Biographical details are sparse. He was born in Dedham in 1699 and the move to the Church of St. Mary-le-Tower in Ipswich proved to be a definitive one; he remained in post for forty years, dying at the age of eighty-nine. He was given a Civic funeral and a militia band saw him to his rest, as befits the man who was “eminently distinguished in his profession,” as his dedication read. The booklet portrait by the way is Gibbs and was painted by Gainsborough, a neighbour and friend, and points to the position of local eminence held by the composer-organist.

The sonatas are spirited and often surprisingly technically demanding. The models are Italian in the main – Corelli and Geminiani though Handel is also very much an influence. In fact in the Gainsborough portrait Gibbs is shown holding copies of works by both Italian composers. The sonatas generally conform to expected patterns – there’s one five and one three-movement sonata but the rest are cast in the conventional four movements.

The First Sonata is an especially beautiful one. Its Largo is expressive to the point of desolation but even better is the Aria finale. This is a series of variations of real interest, excitement and beauty. There’s also plenty of thematic variety and some strong demands on the player as well. Gibbs must have had an authoritative and fine player to hand if this is anything to go by. But all the sonatas have pleasures to render up to the inquisitive listener. There’s the intriguing counterpoint of the Second Sonata and the attractively Corellian Allegro of the Third with its sliver of a Grave movement and sedate minuet to end. Gibbs was clearly keen on the Scotch snap. He uses the feature a number of times, not least in the opening Largo of the Fourth in B flat major.

The Fifth has some traps for the unwary. The bowing demands of the opening are balanced by the double stops and fugal complications of the ensuing Vivace. The sonata also houses the only Saraband Gibbs wrote – note how harpsichordist Julian Dawson varies his articulation to the necessary limpid delicacy. The second movement Allegro from the five-movement Sixth is a fine conflation of English sturdiness and Handelian extroversion, though as it develops some Vivaldian influence can be felt as well, especially in the way Gibbs brings out lower voicings. And Gibbs continues to favour fruitful contrasts. The Seventh has three movements but Gibbs is clear to play off the long and delicate Affetuoso with the boisterous and energetic Scotch-snapped Allegro. He returns to this vein with the last, which has a kind of Scotch Corno to conclude in dynamic style.

The only other recording known to me – but not heard by me – is that of the D minor which is on a Hyperion disc devoted to English violin sonatas of the period and played by the indefatigable Elizabeth Wallfisch and the Locatelli Trio – The English Orpheus series. The Claudio acoustic is rather chilly and the sound is therefore very forward. Sometimes Bezkorvany’s intonation is not beyond reproach and one or two of the fugal passages sound shrilly taxing but these are otherwise enjoyable and small-scaled performances that present Gibbs’s muse with understanding. © Jonathan Woolf.