An Examination of Sources as
they Pertain to Domenico Gabrielli's
First Ricercar for Violoncello Solo

by Brian Carter

Brian Carter Performing Gabrielli's First Ricercar

Domenico Gabrielli (1651-1690) was a member of the group of elite cellists that operated in Bologna, Italy in the seventeenth century. Along with his teachers, Petronio Francheschini and Giovanni Battista Vitali, Gabrielli was one of the pioneers of baroque cello playing.1 Gabrielli's Seven Ricercare for Violoncello Solo represent the first works to be published for a lone cello. Gabrielli was a busy cellist and composer, maintaining employment in Bologna's two premier instrumental groups: the Accademia Filarmonica, and the orchestra of the Basilica San Petronio.2

The Orchestra at San Petronio was Bologna's most important musical group. This orchestra attracted famous composers, performers, and conductors, and helped to set the stage for young composers like Gabrielli and later, Torelli. Its chief architect, Andrea Manfredi, designed the basilica at San Petronio to be "the largest church in Christendom."3 This massive structure was completed in the fifteenth century, and by the mid-1600's, there was already a small orchestra in place, numbering between ten and twenty musicians, depending on the occasion.4

Bologna was also home to an innovation that would forever alter the course of string playing, and therefore the writing of music for stringed instruments. In the 1660's (a clear date is not readily available), Bolognese string makers developed the wire-wound strings to be used for the cello's C and G-strings.5 These new strings afforded the cello with a clearer tone, and allowed for a smaller instrument to be used without sacrificing the tonal benefits of the larger cellos that were sometimes used for continuo playing. Anne Schnoebelen's article points out that some of the manuscripts left by San Petronio composers called for violoncello continuo and violoncello spezzato. She notes that the continuo instrument was likely a larger-sized cello, or the older violone, while the spezzato instrument was more likely a smaller instrument, capable of handling more soloistic material.6 These new wire-wound gut strings would have solved this issue. By allowing for a quicker response, the smaller cellos (now strung with these new strings) would have been able to handle both roles. As this study moves to a direct look at Gabrielli's composition, we will see just how important these strings must have been for him.

Gabrielli's Ricercari are fairly free in terms of compositional structure. Rather than falling into the category of the structured, fugal ricercari of G.B. Antonii, or those of his teacher G.B. Vitali, Gabrielli's compositions can be grouped into three structural types. The first is the 'ritornello type.' This style contains some elemental subject that returns in a regular manner, thus affording a real sense of organization. The second type is the 'through-composed' style. In these ricercari, Gabrielli utilizes an almost improvisatory style. The musical ideas seem to naturally arise out of the preceding material, and there is little melodic repetition. In this style, rhythmic ideas and cadential formulas are the main connective tissue. The final formal type used is that of the 'canzona-type.' In this style, Gabrielli moves through larger sections, using tempo and meter changes to indicate demarcate sections. This third style is surely a precursor to the method he employed in his continuo sonatas, which are very sectional.7

It is the through-composed style that is of greatest concern here, as that is the category that best describes the first ricercar. The opening statement of the first five measures comprises the closest Gabrielli comes to providing a theme.

Example 1: Gabrielli, "Ricercar Primo." mm. 1-5.8

This example shows the basic contour that is used throughout the first ricercar. The gentle rising, by way of scale steps, followed by some type of large leap, closed with a very basic, if not expected, cadence. The other main, and important feature of this idea is that it commences on beat two, after a rest. While this rest is the only one that appears in the entire composition, it serves as a guide when finding other points throughout the work where new ideas are beginning. The rest of the piece resembles a written out, free improvisation upon this opening melodic fragment. Gabrielli varies the rhythm, introducing eighth notes in measure 12, and later adds syncopated and dotted rhythms.

Example 2: Gabrielli, "Ricercar Primo." mm. 11-15.9

If we refer to Kinney's analysis of this ricercar (seen in Appendix II of this paper), he shows us how Gabrielli has organized the work into five main sections, contaning what he calls seven individual "episodes." 10 These episodes travel through only the obvious keys, given that the first ricercar is in the key of G minor. The key areas utilized are G minor, B-flat major, D minor, and a very brief sojourn to C minor. Kinney also shows how the two different cadential patterns appear throughout the work, further solidifying the assertion that these cadential figures play prominently in the organization of the work. The first cadence type exists in the last measure of Example 1 (seen on the preceding page). This first cadential type ("K" in the analysis table) is the more common of the two, and is characterized by a descending octave leap on the dominant, resolving upwards by the interval of a perfect fourth, arriving at the tonic pitch. The second style, seen in Example 3, is more localized, containing neighbor notes around the dominant, and resolving downwards by a perfect fifth to the tonic note.

Example 3: Gabrielli, "Ricercar Primo." mm. 40-41.11

Using these two cadences, Gabrielli is able to move through the various key areas very smoothly, adding to the improvised feel of this 'through-composed' style. This piece then, exemplifies Gabrielli's departure from the pre-existing structure of a ricercar. Abandoned is the contrapuntal fugal writing, and any adherence to a specific form or style seems to have been ignored.

Another aspect in this work (and really all of the ricercare), is the constant use of the lower two strings, often times with rapid notes. These pieces were written about thirty years after the introduction of the Bolognese wire-wound gut strings. While Gabrielli certainly makes use of the upper strings, and even requires the cellist to utilize a great deal of shifting on those upper strings, he just cannot seem to resist the draw of the lower strings.12 This dramatic use of the lower strings would not have been possible on the bare gut lower strings, and Gabrielli's ricercare would have been unplayable on the larger, continuo cellos. Given the extensive demands on the left hand which included rapid passage-work, a great deal of position shifting, and double-stopping, the new strings in combination with a slightly smaller cello would have been absolute necessities for the performance of these works.

In searching for primary source material dealing with the violoncello in the seventeenth century, there is very little to choose from. Owing to the fact that treatises were generally used as a teaching tool for amateurs, the violoncello receives very few mentions, due to its status as a professional's instrument. As such, it was taught through the guild system, and was not meant for amateurs. In fact, the first known Italian cello methods did not appear until midway through the Eighteenth century! The first, penned by Francesco Scipriani was published ca. 1753, followed by Salvatore Lanzetti's 1756 method.13 That said, there are a few relevant sources that do discuss violin playing, and they are able to serve as a sufficient starting point for this project.

Bartolomeo Bismantova's 1677 treatise, Compendio Musicale, covers many topics, ranging from basic theoretical discussions to the techniques of playing stringed, keyboard, and wind instruments. There is precious little information available concerning Bismantova's life, but he did seem to be well educated, and his treatise contains some of the earliest available fingering tables for the recorder, flageolet, and the cornett.14

For my purposes, Bismantova's work contained some excellent examples of how one should bow different musical examples. He laid out short musical excerpts in a variety of different time signatures in order to show how different rhythmic groupings might alter one's bowing choices. In these excerpts, Bismantova uses a system of dots to indicate bow direction: a dot above the note indicates up-bow, while a dot below the note indicates a down-bow. In the following examples, I have only included the ones in triple meter, as they are the most relevant to my study, since the first ricercar is in 3/4 time. The main aspect to be noted from Bismantova's examples is the strict adherence to the so-called "rule of the down-bow." This rule, largely associated with French and German schools of playing, states that when using an overhand bow-grip, all important notes and downbeats are to be played down-bow. Bismantova's use of this rule is curious, to say the least, but it offers some insight into how string players in the seventeenth century were using the bow.

It is important to note that Bismantova felt it was worth mentioning that bowing rules are "the same for the cello as for the violin."15 This distinction allows me to state with some confidence that Bismantova's bowing rules are directly applicable to Gabrielli's ricercar.

Example 4: Bismantova: Compendio Musicale, bowing examples.16

Francesco Geminiani's second treatise (of six), entitled the "Art of Violin Playing" is a fairly detailed and exhaustive manual for violinists of his day. I have chosen to use it mainly to demonstrate the later change in taste concerning bowing rules in the Italian school of string playing. His treatise is far too late to be of any real use for this study, but it does help to cement Bismantova's taste in bowings to be of an earlier, more old-fashioned school.

In his instructions for playing the eighth lesson in his treatise, Geminiani states that the player should take "care not to follow that wretched rule of drawing the bow down at the first note of every bar."17 He exemplifies this attitude by providing a series of short melodies with bowing indications. Unlike Bismantova's system of dots, Geminiani uses the abbreviations "g" and "s," with g equaling a down-bow and s indicating an up-bow.18

Example 5: Geminiani: Art of Violin Playing, bowing examples.19

In this example, we can see that in the section labeled "B," Geminiani tells us that some measures are to be begun with an up-bow. This is quite a departure from Bismantova's rules, whereby the use of consecutive up-bows was to be used in order to avoid that very thing – an up-bow at the start of a bar.

Michel Corrette's Mïthode de violoncello predates the Italian cello treatises by a little over a decade, having been published in 1741. Nonetheless, this date also proved to be entirely too late to be of any real use to me. Corrette's treatise seems to be fairly exhaustive, covering topics that range from left-hand fingering strategies to holding the bow, and even to thumb position. Of special concern to me was the section on holding the bow. Corrette presents a diagram, which catalogues the three different acceptable ways of holding the bow.

Example 6: Corrette: Mïthode de violoncello, bow hold diagram.20

In his explanation, Corrette refers to the old-fashioned, Italian way of gripping the bow. This Italian bow hold is shown with the letters A, B, C, D, and E. Letters A through D represent the placement of the first through fourth fingers of the right hand, and the E indicates the placement of the thumb. While this treatise was too "new" to be of any other use, I did use this description of the Italian bow hold to influence my own choice of where and how to hold my bow when playing Gabrielli's ricercar.

Also, as an anecdotal item from this treatise, Corrette shares the observation that, "I have heard some Italians who play as the bow strokes come, without being concerned about pulling or pushing twice according to the rules…"21 This note further bolsters the idea that by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Italian way of bowing was certainly not concerned with the rule of the down-bow.

The fourth primary source used for this project is a copy of the earliest known manuscript of Gabrielli's ricercare. It is not known whose hand the manuscript is in, but it is a valuable source regardless of its provenance. In her preface, Bettina Hoffmann notes that three different people may have been involved in the copying of the manuscript (which contains all seven ricercare, the canon for two cellos, and a sonata for cello and continuo). She states that none of the hand writing looks to be Gabrielli's based on her work with some of his other manuscripts which are known to be in his hand.22

My main use for this source was to check all of the bracketed accidentals that exist in the Hortus Musicus edition that I will be performing from. In every instance the editor, Bettina Hoffmann chose to add a number of extra e-flats. While all of these additional notes sound completely normal, I wanted to refer back to the source to investigate whether or not there was any evidence of these notes. The copy that I have to work from also contains some performance indications in Luigi Silva's hand. Silva and Hoffmann do not entirely agree as to these added e-flats, though there are a fair number of instances where they do agree. I am opting to adhere to all of Hoffmann's suggestions, as they all exist within phrases where other e-flats have been notated in the manuscript. In every case, playing e naturals, as originally printed, does not make any sense musically, or harmonically. It should also be noted that in his critical edition, Gordon Kinney added all of the same e-flats.

My final primary source is Sylvestro Ganassi's Opera Intitulata Fontegara, a recorder treatise from 1535. While this treatise is decidedly a little too early for my uses, it offered me a fairly comprehensive look at the diminution style of ornamentation that was used regularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Bismantova also offers a brief section on diminution options, but Ganassi's is so much more organized, and offers many more options and examples. In looking at these two treatises for ornamentation ideas, it has become clear that in many cases, melodic ornaments were extraordinarily complex, and the base rhythm of a passage could often be masked, especially in the case of rather simple rhythms.

My goal with ornamentation for this project is to be able to add some ornaments on the spot in my performance of the Gabrielli, using the ideals of Ganassi and Bismantova as a guide. There are a number of cadences and wide melodic leaps in the Gabrielli that seem to me to be ideal places to add embellishments. Using Ganassi's catalogue-like structure, I only need to look up the interval size and direction (rising or falling) to be presented with numerous options of how to connect the two pitches. I do not imagine that I will be able to ornament with the degree of complexity that Ganassi calls for, but at least I will be approaching the embellishments from an earlier perspective, as opposed to attempting to add later eighteenth century trills and exaggerations.

In conclusion, this project has provided me with many challenges in terms of locating relevant source material to guide my performance choices. At the very least, we know both what type of strings Gabrielli was using, and that he was performing on a smaller-size instrument similar to what we currently use. With the help of Corrette, making a decision on how to hold the bow was made easier with his distinction of the Italian-style of bow hold. I feel that the most important discovery I have made in this project has been Bismantova's very clear bowing examples. I feel the most confident about the bowing choices that I have made thanks to Bismantova's very clear and orderly approach to laying out the rules of bowing. It must have been right at the end of the down-bow tradition in Italy when Gabrielli wrote these pieces, as the style obviously changed soon thereafter to Geminiani's ideal of bowing as the notes come.

December 7, 2008


1. Anne Schnoebelen, "Performance Practices at San Petronio…," Acta Musicologica 41 (June 1969): 46.

2. Gordon Kinney, The Musical Literature for … Violoncello (Ph.D. diss, FSU, 1962): 229-230.

3. Eugene Enrico. The Orchestra at San Petronio… (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976): 4.

4. Ibid.: 31.

5. Stephan Bonta, "From Violone to Violoncello…" Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 3, 1977: 98.

6. Schnoebelen: 47.

7. Ibid.: 234.

8. Kinney, Vol. 3: 40.

9. Ibid., Vol. 3: 40.

10. Ibid.: 245.

11. Ibid, Vol. 3: 40.

12. Brent Wissick, "The Cello Music of … Bononcini…" Journal of Seventeenth Century Music 12/1: 3.4.

13. Brent Wissick, "The Cello Music of … Bononcini…" Journal of Seventeenth Century Music 12/1: 3.4.

14. Jutta Lambrecht, "Bismantova, Bartolomeo," Grove Music Online, ed. Laura Macy. (accessed [05 December 2008]).

15. Bartolomeo Bismantova, Compendio Musicale (Firenze, Studio per edizioni scelte, 1977): 120. As translated by Mark Vanscheeuwicjk in his article, "The Baroque Cello and Its Performance," in the journal, Perfromance Practice Review Vol. 9 (1996): 87.

16. Ibid.: 112-114.

17. Francesco Geminiani, Art of Playing the Violin (London: Oxfrod University Press, 1951): 4.

18. Ibid.: 6.

19. Ibid.: 24.

20. Corrette, Mïthode de violoncello (Geneva: Minkoff Reprints, 1972): 8.

21. Ibid.: 12. As translated by Valerie Walden in her book, One Hundred Years of Violoncello.

22. Domenico Gabrielli, The Complete Works for Violoncello, ed. Bettina Hoffmann (Kasel: Hinnenthal-Verlag, 2001): VIII.


Primary Sources:

Bismantova, Bartolomeo. Compendio Musicale 1677. Firenze: Studio per edizioni scelte, 1978.

Corrette, Michel. Mïthode Thïorique et Pratique pour apprendre en peu de temps le Violoncelle dans sa perfection 1741. Geneva: Minkoff Reprints, 1972.

Gabrielli, Domenico. "Ricercare Primo," score, 1689. Special Collections – Luigi Silva Collection, Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Geminiani, Francesco. The Art of Playing on the Violin 1751. Edited by David D. Boyden. London; New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.

Ortiz, Diego. Tratado de glosas sobre cláusulas y otros gïneros de puntos en la música de violone 1554. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1961.

Secondary Sources

Berger, Jean. "Notes on Some 17th-Century Compositions for Trumpets and Strings in Bologna. The Musical Quarterly, 37/3 (July 1951): 354-367.

Bonta, Stephan. "From Violone to Violoncello: A Question of Strings?" Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 3 (1977): 64-99.

Careri, Enrico. "Geminani, Francesco."Grove Music Online. (accessed [05 December 2008]).

Cowling, Elizabeth. The Cello. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975.

Enrico, Eugene. The Orchestra at San Petronio in the Baroque Era. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976.

Gabrielli, Domenico. The Complete Works for Violoncello. Edited by Bettina Hoffmann. Translated by J. Bradford Robinson. Kassel: Hinnenthal-Verlag, 2001.

Kinney, Gordon, Ph.D. "The Musical Literature for Unaccompanied Violoncello." , diss. Florida State University, 1962.

Lambrecht, Jutta. "Bismantova, Bartolomeo" Grove Music Online, ed. Laura Macy. (accessed [05 December 2008]).

Paul Laird. The Baroque Cello Revival, An Oral History. Toronto; Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004.

Mishkin, Henry G. "The Solo Violin Sonata of the Bologna School." The Musical Quarterly 29/1 (January 1943): 92-112.

Schnoebelen, Anne. "Performance Practice at San Petronio in the Baroque Era." Acta Musicologica 41 (January-June 1969): 37-55.

Vanscheeuwijck, Marc. "The Baroque Cello and Its Performance." Performance Practice Review 9 (1996): 78-96.

Walden, Valerie. One Hundred Years of Violoncello: A History of Performance Practice, 1740-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Wasielewski, Wilhelm Joseph. The Violoncello and its History. Translated by Isobella Stigand. New York: Da Capo Press: 1968.

Wissick, Brent. "The Cello Music of Antonio Bononcini: Violone, Violoncello da Spalla, and the Cello "Schools" of Bologna and Rome." Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 12 (2006): .

Appendix I – Fully bowed and fingered part

This is a scan of the Hortus Musicus edition, with my own fingerings and bowings. The bowings have all been decided upon using Bismantova's rules as a guide. The fingerings are, of course a matter of personal taste.

Appendix II – Kinney's formal analysis of Ricercar Primo.

Analysis Table from Kinney: The Musical Literature for… Violoncello, 245.

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