Introduction, Part Two

The History of the Viola da Gamba


THOMAS BREWER was also a celebrated performer on the gamba, who was born in 1611. He was admitted to Christ's Hospital at three years of age, and learnt the viol from his music master. He composed various fantasias for his favourite instrument, besides airs, catches, rounds, as well as Pavins, Courantes, &c., for which kind of composition he seems to have been noted.

The English gambists of the first half of the seventeenth century must then have had some considerable reputation abroad, for the Frenchman, Andr6 Maugars, already mentioned, went about 1620 to London, lived there for nearly four years, and perfected himself after the models of the best gamba players. He does not seem to have had pupils. But his compatriot and rival Hottmann' (or Hotteman) not only taught, but distinguished'bimself especially by some charming compositions. One of his most noted pupils was Marais (Marin), born in Paris on the 31st of March, 1656. At first a choirboy in the Sainte Chapelle, he educated himself further under the direction of Hotteman, and then under Sainte-Colombe, another excellent Parisian gamba player at that time. Lully gave him instructions in composition. In 1685 Marais became solo gambist at the Court Chamber Music Concerts, which position he held until 1725. He died August 15, 1728.

Besides Sainte-Colombe there were at that time two able French gamba players-namely, Desmarets and Baisson. Marais, however, excelled them in artistic execution. He added to the six strings of the instrument tuned in the accepted manner-

also a seventh, the A of the " contra octave." (Michael Corrette ascribes this to Sainte-Colombe in his violoncello school, which appeared in 1741, concerning which we shall speak farther on. ) This enabled him to surpass in harmonised playing all his predecessors and contemporaries. He was the first who caused the lowest strings of the gamba to be cased in metal wire so as to give them greater tension and resonance, a step in advance which was soon adopted for the two lower strings of the violoncello. Besides some operas, Marais was the author of a considerable number of gamba compositions which appeared in five parts. The fifth of them, for one and two gambas with a bass, was printed in 1705.

Out of his nineteen children, three sons and a daughter devoted themselves to the study of the gamba. Amongst them the most distinguished for his performances was

ROLAND MARAIS. In the year 1725 he succeeded his father as solo gambist at the Royal Chamber Music Concerts, the prospect of which had been assured to him Some years previously. Quantz, who heard him in 1726, reported him as a very skilful player. He published, in 1711, a " Nouvelle m6thode de musique," and in the years 1735 and 1738 two volumes of gamba pieces with figured bass.

The Sainte-Colombe mentioned above had, besides Marais, two noteworthy pupils, ROUSSEAU and HERVELOIS. Jean Rousseau perfected himself as a distinguished gamba player, and was actively engaged in Paris during the second half of the seventeenth century. He also made himself more widely known by the production of two - livres de pi6ces de viole," as well as a gamba school, - Trait6 de la viole." The latter work appeared in Paris in 1687.

CAIX DE HERVELOIS, born about 1670, became, under the direction of Sainte-Colombe, an excellent player, and after further study entered the service of the Duke of Orleans. In Amsterdam he had two books of his compositions published: Pieces pour la basse viole avec la basse continue."

Another French gambist of distinction in the seventeenth century was Antoine Forqueray. He was born in 1671 in Paris, and was one of the performers at the chamber music Concerts of Louis XIV. Forqueray received instruction from his father. At the age of five years he already excited the astonishment of the kiifg by his performances, who called him " his little wonder." In the year 1745, on June 28, he died at Nantes, whither he had retired upon his pension.

His son, Jean Baptiste Antoine, born on April 3, 1700, in Paris, was esteemed as the most able French gamba player of his time. He also at five years of age was heard with such favourable result before Louis XIV. that he later on became a member of the royal music society. He again had a son, whose christian name was Jean Baptiste, born about 1728, who was also a gambist and published several books of compositions for his instrument. He does not seem, however, to have made himself conspicuous as a performer.

Gerber mentions in his musical Lexicon a Parisian cyambist of the eighteenth century of the name of Forcroix, or Forcroy, " whose delightful playing Quantz, who was in Paris in 1726, admired." Possibly this artist may be identified as the A. Forqueray mentioned above.

The art of gamba playing was pursued in Germany with as great or perhaps greate-r'zeal than in England and France. While the pursuit of music by the English and French was confined chiefly to London and Paris, there were in Germany many courts who admired and cherished with fostering care the art of music; and the result was, especially after the tumult of the thirty years' war had subsided, a widelyspread musical life throughout the whole of the German nation.

Amongst the first German players to be mentioned is DAVID FUNK, born about 1630, in the Saxon town of Reichenbach. Gerber says of him, he was " an excellent musician and master of the violin, the viola da gamba, the angelica (Concerning this instrument, Mattheson says: "The Angelique, somewhat resembling the lute, must have been far easier to play, and has more cords or strings, which one can accurately touch by reason of their arrangement without moving the left hand much. There is nothing specially besides to remember." It was, therefore, an instrument of the lute kind.), the clavier, and guitar " ; and then goes on: "Funk was in every way a genius. His chief study, which he carried to no small degree of perfection, was that of the law. He was, besides, a wit and a poet, and was reckoned among the good German poets of that time. As a musician he was not only a virtuoso on all the above-named instruments, but he was also a composer, and won the applause of the public in a variety of styles, for the church as well as for the chamber. . . . How and where he had gained all these distinctions there is no account. He was first known as a composer in the year 1670, by the publication of his work on the gamba." This enthusiastic account emanated, according to Gerber's report, from the precentor Job. Martin Steindorf, of Zwickau, who was personally acquainted with Funk.

In the year 1682 Funk gave up his appointment in Reichenbach and accompanied the "East Friesland Princess " into Italy as secretary, where he remained with his mistress seven years. After her death there in 1689 he returned to his native land, and, driven by the necessity of beginning again to earn his livelihood, he had no other choice but to accept, at " Wohnsiedel (Wunsiedel ?), the miserable post of organist and girls' schoolmaster." Funk's dissolute character led him to misuse his office as teacher to immoral purposes with the girls entrusted to his care, so that he was compelled "by night and fog to fly in order to escape the rage of the parents."

From that time Funk led a vagabond life. He next betook himself to Schleitz, and remained three months at the Court there. Thence he was obliged to decamp as he was rigorously pursued by the police of Wohnsiedel. He made his way to Arnstadt, but did not reach that place. He was found one day lying dead underneath a hedge.

At the same time as Funk, the virtuoso August Kuhnel was at work-born August 5, 1645, in the little town of Delmenhorst, in Oldenburg. From 1695 to 1700 he lived at Cassel-, holding a position at the Court. During this time he published "Sonatas or Parts for one or two Viole da gamba, together with a bass, 1698." According to Gerber, several of his works should be in the Museum at Cassel. In composition, Kuhnel was a pupil of Agostino Steffani during his residence in Hanover. His successor in office appears to have been a certain Tielke (He was perhaps a brother or relation of the instrument maker Tielke mentioned pp. 7 and 8 of this work. ), for he was from 1700 to 1720 gambist in the Cassel chapel.

Another gambist of the name of Kuhnel (Johann Michael) lived in the second half of the seventeenth century, and was engaged at the Berlin Court. From here he went, in 1717, to Weimar, and later on to Dresden, in the service. of Field - Marshal Flemming. He seems to have ended his life in Hamburg. Of his compositions there appeared at Rogers's in Amsterdam, "Sonates a1 et 2 Violes de gamba."

One of the most important gamba players of Germany at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century was Johann Schenk. As he appears to have had his second work, " Konst oeffeningen," printed at Amsterdam in 1688, consisting of fifteen sonatas for the gamba and bass, it may be concluded that he was born about the middle of the seventeenth century. Towards the end of it he was chamber musician in the Elector Palatine's service, which post however he must have given up at the beginning of the eighteenth century, for be is said to have settled in Amsterdam about that time. Whether he remained there to the end of his life is doubtful, for on the title-page of his sixth work, " Scherzi musicali, per la viola di gamba con basso continuo ad libitum," he calls himself " Chamber Commissary and Chamberlain of the Elector Palatine." On the other hand, Mattlieson informs us that he ~Schenk) was named inspector of the fish market, because he had played the gamba so well! On the whole, he published eight works, chiefly pieces and sonatas for the gamba, as well as for the violin with a bass; a copy of the one, of which the title is mentioned above, is preserved in the Royal Library at Sondershausen. This comprehensive collection, consisting of 101 musical pieces, is dedicated to the Elector Palatine Prince William, consequently to the same art-devoted Prince to whom Corelli, in the year 1712, dedicated his " Concerti Grossi."

The title-page of the "Scherzi musicali" bears no date, but it may be assumed that they appeared between 1692 and 1693, for Schenk published his Op. 3 in the first and his Op. 7 in the latter year, and the collection in question, as already observed, bears 6 as the number of the work. The compositions which it contains are grouped after the manner of "Chamber Sonatas" or "Suite." It is true thattheauthor has made use of neither of these terms, but the keys chosen by him leave no manner of doubt as to the description of instrumental compositions to which these " Scherzi musicali" belong. We know that it was usual for all the subjects of a suite at that period to be in the same key.

Looking from this point of view at Schenk's work for the gamba, it is apparent that it contains twelve suites or chamber sonatas, of which some indeed are unusually long. For example, the second suite (F major) and the fourth (A minor) consist of fourteen pieces. Dances, such as Allemandes, Courantes, Sarabandes, Gigues, Gavottes, and Minuets, make up by far the greater portion of the volume. There are also a couple of Bourr6es ; but then the composer gives also Chaconnes and Passacailles with variations, which in some cases are of great length, as well as Rondos and "Arias." The fourth sonata contains moreover a Canzone and an " Allabreve "; the ninth, a Fugue ; the eleventh, the same (It is worthy of observation that this second fugue (D minor) has the theme

which Mozart, nearly 100 years later, made use of for the second Finale of the 11 Magic Flute." There is no doubt this was purely accidental, as Mozart could hardly have seen Schenk's work.) and an Overture. The greater number of the suites begin with a Prelude, though, on the contrary, the second begins with a Fantasia, the fourth with a " Sonata con Basso obligato," and the eighth with an " Overture," the ninth with a " Capriccio," and the twelfth with a "Caprice." The mode of writing alternates from one to several parts, and the chords, by frequently doubling the intervals, are extended to five notes struck simultaneously. For the notation Schenk required four different keys-viz., bass, alto, discant, and treble, by which means the compass extends from

We conclude from this that Schenk, like the French gambist Marais, used a gamba with seven strings, and, indeed, the highest of them must have been tuned up to the one-lined G. Schenk must have gone considerably above the seventh fret of the fingerboard in order to reach the twice-lined Bfiat. With regard to the artistically musical quality of Schenk's compositions for the gamba, they are mediocre; they bear no comparison with the violin compositions of Corelli of the same period.


Introduction, Part Three

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