Italian Mandolin Sonatas – CR5581


“music-lovers in general will find much to enjoy and appreciate here, the more so for the excellently balanced recording quality, made in the beautiful acoustic”


Italian Mandolin Sonatas

The eighteenth century mandolin sonata is usually divided into three movements – fast, slow, fast – and is representative of the elegant gallant style of the late Baroque period.

The melody is lightly accompanied and has balanced phrases punctuated by regular cadences, and certain other characteristics are much in evidence: frequent series of jf triplets in semiquavers, delicate appoggiatura ‘sighs’, scotch snaps and other dotted figures. The mandolin sonata embodies the Enlightenment ideals of music that is clear, pleasing and natural, as opposed to the elaborate counterpoint of earlier composers.

Giovanni Battista Gervasio

A Neapolitan by birth Giovanni Battista Gervasio was one of the most influential figures in the mandolin world during the 18th century. Long before the term was invented Gervasio had a portfolio career promoting the mandolin which he accomplished through his various activities of performing, teaching and composing. For example, he was the first to write an important treatise on the mandolin, Methode tres facile Pour apprendre a jouer de la Mandoline a quatre Cordes Instrument fait pour les Dames, published in Paris in 1767. He also travelled widely throughout Europe giving concerts, including an appearance at the Haymarket Theatre, London, on 3rd March 1768, where he played a mandolin concerto during one of the intervals in Barthelemon’s opera Oithona. In addition he devoted himself to writing compositions for the mandolin- duets, sonatas (for one or two mandolins with bass), and Airs for the mandoline, guitar, violin which was published in London (c.1768) and resides at the British Library, although it is presently missing.

Of the compositions composed by Gervasio the sonatas are the most complex, both technically and musically. The duets are simpler in character and were probably aimed at the amateur market, chamber music being a popular leisure time activity, and for teaching purposes. The sonatas, on the other hand, are altogether more serious, showing off the technical virtuosity of the instrument with bariolage passages, arpeggiated chords sequences, repeated notes, ornamentation, high positions, rapid scale passages and double and triple stops.

The six solo sonatas are contained in various manuscripts, some of which exist in several copies, and are preserved in the Biblioteque Nationale, Paris, and the University Library, Uppsala. The Sonata in D is taken from Ms. L2768 in the Biblioteque Nationale where another of Gervasio’s sonatas (Ms. 2082) is dedicated to his pupil the ‘Princess Heir of Prussia’ (an interesting detail about Gervasio’s didactic activities). The Sonata in G comes from two manuscripts, Gimo 145 and 146 respectively, conserved at Uppsala, and it is dedicated to ‘Cavalier Lefebure’.

Domenico Scarlatti

Italian composer and keyboard player Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was Neapolitan by birth but lived variously in Lisbon, Seville and finally in Madrid. He worked firstly for King John V of Portugal and then for his daughter Maria Barbara who married the Spanish crown prince. The main compositions from this Iberian period are the exceptional keyboard sonatas. Scarlatti is perhaps most noted for writing more than 550 keyboard sonatas which extended keyboard technique, using devices such as hand-crossing, rapidly repeated notes, and wide leaps in both hands to create a dazzling, virtuosic effect.

Only recently, through the research of Italian mandolinist Ugo Orlandi, has it also become known that Scarlatti wrote some mandolin sonatas. Of Scarlatti’s huge output about five works (Sonatas K81, 88, 89, 90 and 91) stand apart as being for a melody instrument and basso continuo since the musical writing suggests a dialogue between a solo instrument and keyboard and because there is evidence of a figured bass. They also fall characteristically into the three or four movement pattern usual for melody/bass sonatas. Some of these sonatas have appeared in editions of printed music scored for violin and keyboard although K88 cannot be executed satisfactorily on the violin owing to the choice of notes for the chords.

The repeated notes, perhaps the influence of Spain, and the short note values are, on the other hand, reminiscent of the mandolin.

The discovery of manuscript 6785 of the Biblioteque de I’Arsenale in Paris by the French mandolinist Didier Le Roux, however, gives clear proof that Scarlatti intended at least one of these sonatas for the mandolin. The manuscript which is identical to K89’s first movement bears the words “sonatina per mandolino e cimbalo”. An examination of the technical requirements of these five sonatas reveals that they were probably intended for different types of mandolin, which were in concurrent usage during the Baroque era, if they are to be performed correctly: a Neapolitan mandolin (tuned in fifths) for Sonatas K89, 90, 91, and Lombardian mandolin (tuned in fourths and a third) for K88 and K81.

Addiego Guerra

At present there seems to be no biographical information about Addiego Guerra. The original manuscript of the Guerra sonata is preserved in the library of the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatoire in Milan.

Emanuele Barbella

The Italian violinist and composer Emanuele Barbella (1718-1777) was a descendent of the Tartini school (as a result of being a pupil of Tartini’s pupil Pasquale Bini). His compositions reflect both the style and form of Tartini’s works, although the mandolin sonata is an exception with regard to form, deviating from the usual three movement plan and being instead in five movements. The original manuscript, Gimo 22, at Uppsala consists in fact of six movements but the only published edition (Trekel 1977) omits the Siciliana. However, there is evidence that Varacini permitted the deletion of one or two movements in five movement sonatas and this may well have been normal baroque practice.

Barbella’s working life was principally divided between being an orchestral musician and teaching. He played the violin in Naples at the Teatro Nuovo, the royal chapel and San Carlo. We are provided with some excellent first hand information about Barbella through the writings of the celebrated English music historian, Dr. Charles Burney. Burney travelled extensively throughout Europe and wrote of his experiences meeting musicians and hearing them play, both formally in concerts and informally in private houses.

Of Barbella he said: “He seems to know music well, and to have a good deal of fancy in his compositions, with a tincture of not disagreeable madness.”

In addition to the mandolin sonata, duos and divertimenti for mandolin, six trio sonatas (duos for two violins or two mandolins with bass ad lib) and a mandolin concerto, Barbella wrote mostly violin compositions: sonatas, duos and trio sonatas. Of these six sonatas for two violins and basso continuo were published in London in 1762, an indication that Barbella may have visited England to see his friend Burney.

The mandolin sonata, unlike other works of Barbella, does not actually contain reference to the mandolin on the frontispiece of the manuscript, but it is perhaps more appropriate for the mandolin, as opposed to the violin, because of the chords in the opening movement. In any case some of Barbella’s works clearly stated that they were suitable for either instrument, violin or mandolin, sharing as they do the same fingering.

Giuseppe Giuliano

As with Guerra there is no biographical information available about Giuseppe Giuliano, although he may be the Mr Julien referred to, as the ‘finest mandolinist’ in Naples, in the 1768 mandolin method of Denis. The Giuliano sonata is also preserved in the same Milanese library as the Guerra. © Frances Taylor

Frances Taylor studied mandolin with Ugo Orlandi at the Padua Conservatoire of Music (Conservatorio di Musica “C. Pollini” Padova). She has given recitals throughout Great Britain promoting the mandolin as well as undertaking concert work in Finland, Denmark and Italy. The mandolin has provided an opportunity for her to accompany some of the world’s greatest artists: singers such as Placido Domingo and Katia Ricciarelli (Verdi’s Otello) and dancers such as Darcy Bussell (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet) in performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Frances Taylor is also an enthusiastic teacher and has developed a special London based project to introduce young people to the mandolin, and to provide opportunities for lessons and borrowing instruments.


Cover: Faustina Bordoni, oil on canvas, c.1734, Bartolomeo Nazari.

© Handel House Collections Trust. Special thanks to Barry Pratt for technical advice and help with stringing.

**Artists Website

Review: I – Musical Opinion Magazine

This is an utterly delightful record of 18th-Century Sonatas for Mandolin, comprising six such works which reveal the range of expression and of interest that the instrument enjoyed, the more so in combination with Basso Continuo.

Although it is certainly true that in the majority of cases the works conform to a familiar Allegro-Largo-Allegro structure, none of the pieces chosen are predictable in their utterance. A very good example of this is the D major Sonata by Emanuele Barbella (1718-1777). The five movements of which almost make a set of character studies – the concluding Gavotta Allegro assoi being quite brilliant in itself and is quite brilliantly played here.

Indeed, every one of these performances is admirable and Frances Taylor, alongside her fellow-musicians, has produced a recital disc which is much to be commended. I must add that this programme is not merely for specialists – music-lovers in general will find much to enjoy and appreciate here, the more so for the excellently balanced recording quality, made in the beautiful acoustic of the Church of St Bartholomew in Brighton.

The cover photograph is particularly appropriate. A splendid disc. Robert Matthew-Walker