Introduction, Part Three

The History of the Viola da Gamba


He succeeded best in the dances, compared with which the more elaborate productions appear poor and are in some measure incorrect. Especially is this true of the two so-called fugues, which do not rise above feeble attempts at fugues. It is, however, interesting to know what position Schenk took as one of the best reputed gamba virtuosos at that time with regard to composition, for his productions give an average idea of the executive capabilities of his contemporaries. At the same time, Schenk's works prove very surely what double-stoppings, chords, and figures were possible on the gamba, and in this respect reveal a remarkable richness in various styles of playing.

Opposed to this by its simplicity in a technical point of view is a "Sonata a Cembalo Obligato col Viol da Gamba," by Handel. Double-stops and chords are altogether omitted. It is true that he has quite another object in view, for Handel treated the gamba not like Schenk, as a solo instrument, but as subsidiary only to carry out a musical idea, thus placing it on a level with the clavier. He chiefly uses also the middle positions of the gamba in the alto key throughout. Otherwise this Sonata (A MS. copy exists in the Royal, Library at Berlin.), though solid in form, is of small importance, and gives the impression of a composition quickly thrown off for some special occasion.

Handel's great contemporary, Joh. Seb. Bach, treated this instrument, in his three sonatas composed for it and the clavier, in quite another manner. It is true that with rare exceptions he makes no use of the scored and harmonised technique for the gamba; but the artistic and complete mode of working out by which all his instrumental works are more or les's distinguished is also peculiar to the gamba sonatas just mentioned, of which the most important are the first in G major and the third in G minor.

Charmingly and with characteristic effect did Bach employ the gamba in his Passion Music from the Gospel of St. Matthew and St. John, as well as in some of his Cantatas. One has only to recall the splendid, deeply touching alto aria

It is finished," in the Passion Music of St. John. Now at the performance of this sublime work the gamba part in the aria referred to is played by the violoncello, which does not quite express the deeply melancholy, pathetic tone that Bach's music was designed to express. But there is no more appropriate substitute in the modern orchestra for the gamba than the violoncello.

One peculiarity of Joh. Seb. Bach is that, with a rare knowledge of art, he made use for his purpose of all the instruments current in his time which adapted themselves in any way to the representation of a special effect. But he further conceived the idea of enriching the choir of instruments by an invention of his own. During his work at K6then be constructed the "Viola Pomposa," a stringed instrument of the cello kind, though, like the violin, for the hand, which had five strings tuned to C, G, d, a, e-

Gerber remarks concerning it: " The limited way in which the violoncello in Bach's time was handled compelled him, for the quick basses in his works, to the invention of the so-called viola pomposa, which, rather longer and higher than a tenor, had a fifth string, e, in addition to the four lower strings Of the violoncello, and was placed on the arm. This convenient instrument enabled the player to execute more easily the high and rapid passages which occurred."

It may be seen from Bach's Suites for Violoncello Solo, which were originally written for the viola pomposa, the compass of this instrument extended from the great octave C

However, the " Viola pomposa " did not attain to general use. It scarcely survived its inventor, and disappeared, as it seems, even before the gamba, out of the musical sphere.

Bach's eldest son, Philipp Emmanuel, also wrote for the gamba. Amongst other things a sonata in three movements, with the clavier, in G minor (The MS. is preserved in the Royal Library at Berlin.), which was apparently composed about 1759. The three-part movement in this is solid, though somewhat meagre and dry.

Amongst the gamba compositions of the previous century, which have lasted up to our time, there is also to, be noted an unpublished Concerto by Joseph Tartini, the famous founder of the old Paduan violin school, with accompaniment for four stringed instruments. and two horns (It is to be found in the autograph collection of Count Wimpfen at his estate near Gratz. ). Possibly Tartini wrote it during his three years' residence in Prague (1723-1726) for a German gambist, as -about that time the gamba was still cultivated in Germany with great enthusiasm, though it bad been, in Italy, thrust into the background of music by the violoncello. The Concerto bears all the marks of the author's manner of expression, but it is in the main quite as antiquated as all his violin concertos. The introduction and Finale are in G; the " Grave " between the two movements is in D minor. The single part theme of the solo, with the exception of a few double-stoppings and chords, is throughout written in tenor and bass clef. It is worthy of remark that all the pieces are provided before the full close with cadences, written at full length, for the solo instrument, after Tartini's usual manner in all his violin concertos.

As a contemporary of Schenk, the War Minister of HesseDarmstadt, ERNST CHRISTIAN HESSE, who was born on the 14th April, 1676, in the Thuringian town of Gros sengottern, distinguished himself. Gerber says of him, that he was the first and most famous gambist of his time in Germany. Having spent his school years at Langensalza and Eisenach, he entered the Darmstadt chancery service as supernumerary and followed the Court of his new master in 1694 to Giessen. At the Academy there he continued his work and also his legal studies. In 1698 he had permission from the Court to go to Paris in order to perfect himself there on the viol da gamba, which he had already begun to study in early life. He remained there three years and had instruction at the same time from the two famous masters, Marais and Forqueray. As privately they were at enmity with each other he was compelled to give his name to one as Hesse and to the other as Sachs. Both were delighted with his skill and progress, and severally boasted of the excellent pupil whom he had taught. At last they challenged each other to put to the test, in a concert arranged for that object, the proficiency of their pupil. But what was their astonishment on Herr Hesse's appearance to find he was the pupil of both! He did his two masters, each in his own manner, special credit, but immedixtely after the occurrence left Paris.

After his return to the Darmstadt Court, in the year 1702, Hesse was named Secretary of the War Department and Foreign Office. In the following year he married.

In the year 1705 Hesse travelled through Holland and England, and two years later he betook himself to Italy, in order to increase his knowledge in the art of composition. Everywhere his gamba playing excited the greatest admiration. On his return journey from Italy he visited Vienna and was heard at Court, together with Hebenstreit, famous in his time as the inventor of a dulcimer-like instrument, called Pantaleon. The Emperor was so charmed with his playing that he presented him with a gold chain and his portrait. In the year 1713 be lost his wife. About the same period the vacant post of Kapellmeister at the Darmstadt Court was given to him ad interim. He then married his second wife, the Jamous singer, Johanna Eliz. Doebbrecht (Dobricht), and in 1715 he was promoted to the post of War Commissary and eleven years later to the dignity of Minister of War. "In 1719," says Gerber, "Hesse made another musical tour with his wife to Dresden, to the famous festivals held in honour of the Elector's marriage and where several operas by Lotti and Heinichen were represented. They both gained extraordinary honour and abundant appreciation. From this time be devoted himself quietly to the Court until his eighty-sixth year, and died May 16, 1762, after he had participated in every kind of good fortune. Besides the airs which he arranged for the church during the time that he filled the Kapellmeister's vacancy, he left behind him many Sonatas and Suites for the Viola da gamba, which fully bring out all the possibilities of this instrument.

Hesse had twenty children, only eight of whom, however, survived him. His eldest son, Louis Christian, became, under his father's tuition, a clever gambist, and entered as such into the service of the Prince of Prussia in 1768.

Besides his son, Hesse formed the excellent gamba player, JOH. CHRIST. HEXTEL, born 1699, in the Swabian town of Oettingen. His father, who was Kapellmeister to the Prince of Oettingen, and--then worked in the same capacity at the Ducal Court of Merseburg, wished that the boy should study, and entered him, in 1716, at the University of Halle. Here he occupied himself by preference with music, and when he returned home he gained his father's permission to devote himself exclusively to the art. The Duke of Merseburg announced his willingness to grant him the means of pursuing his studies either in Paris, under Marais and Forqueray, or at Darmstadt, under Hesse's direction. The young Hextel himself decided for Hesse, who took him as a pupil under exceptional conditions. After two years' study he left Darmstadt, performed at concerts at the Courts of Eisenach, Merseburg, Weissenfels, Zerbst, and Kothen, and accepted a post in the Eisenach Kapelle. During the years 1723-27 he was travelling in Germany and Holland; played in 1732 before Frederick the Great at Ruppin, while he was still Crown Prince; and then undertook the post of Concert Director at Eisenach. When, after the death of its prince (1742), the Eisenach band was dissolved, through the recommendation of Franz Benda he was appointed Concert Director at the Court of Strelitz. He filled this place until 1753, and died a year after. Of his numberless compositions only six sonatas for violin "solo e continuo," 1727, were published at Amsterdam.

As noteworthy German gambists belonging to the first half of the eighteenth century must be mentioned- EMMERLING, HARD, and BELLERMAN. The former of these, born at Eisleben, was in the year 1730 Chamber Musician and Viola da Gambist to the Margrave Louis of Brandenburg, and also, as Gerber says, instrumental composer.

JOH. DANIEL HARD, born May 8, 1696, in Frankfurt on the Alain, remained at the outset of his musical career for five years in the service of King Stanislaus during his residence at Zweibrilcken, and then was Chamber Musician to the Bishop of Wiirzburg and the Duke of Franken, Joh. Phil. Franz von Sch6nborn. After four years he gave up this service and took a post as Chamber Musician at the Wurtemburg Court. Later on he again became Concertmeister and finally Capellmeister to the Duke Carl Eugene. He Still filled this office at Stuttgard in 1757. Further accounts of him are wanting.

CONSTANTINE BELLERMAN, "Imperial Crowned Poet" (poet laureate), as Gerber calls him, studied as amateur gamba player. He was born in 1696 at Erfurt, there studied law, and also pursued music theoretically and practically, playing the lute, gamba, violin, and flute. He was called to Munden as Cantor, and then, in 1741, as Rector of the School there.

Of his many unpublished compositions, there are amongst them Church pieces, Cantatas, an Opera, Suites for the lute, Concertos for the Oboe d'Amour and the Flute, Clavier Concertos with violin, and Overtures; here only six Sonatas for Flute, Gamba, and Clavier will be noticed. The year of his death is unknown.

Amongst the German gambists of the first half of the eighteenth century a lady held a prominent position, DOROTHEA v. RIED, one of the five daughters of the Austrian musician, FortunatusRied. Johann Frauenlob says of them, according to Gerber, in his Essay on Learned Women: "That although two of them were still very young-one was scarcely eight years old-their father had brought them on so well in music that with their two brothers they had given at Vienna, Prague, Leipsic, Wittenberg, and other places such evident proofs of their talent as to have excited universal admiration, for people thought they heard heavenly rather than earthly music."

Here also must be mentioned a royal person age-namely, the Elector MAXIMILIAN JOSEPH, born March 28, 1728; died December 30, 1777. He played the violin and the cello, but was especially an excellent gambist. Burney, who heard him in 1772, says that he needed not to be a great prince in order -to discover that his skill, his rendering of adagio, and his accuracy in time were perfect. Maximilian also composed. His teacher for composition was Bernasconi.

Finally, CARL FRIEDRICH ABEL must also be mentioned as a gambist of the first rank. He was born at K6then, 1725, where his father held the appointment of gamba player in the Hofkapelle. "The young Abel," says Gerber, "seems to have had instruction, as Thomas' scholar, at Leipsic, from the great Seb. Bach; then came in 1748 to the Hofkapelle at Dresden, where, during the more flourishing period of Hasse's life, and for nearly ten years, hojound time enough to form his taste ( According to Fdrstenau, Abel was engaged as violoncellist at Dresden. See his "History of Music and of the Theatre at the Elector of Saxony's Court," Vol. 11., p. 240. ) . His small salary and a split with the director Hasse caused him to leave that Court, according to Burney, in 1758, with three thalers in his purse. In order to increase this capital, he went on foot to Leipsic, laden with the MS. of six symphonies, where, through the generosity of the publisher of these symphonies, he became six ducats richer. He now went from one German court to another, and, by repeated good receptions and applause, he regained not a little confidence. Finally he turned to London, in 1759, where he found a great patron in the lately deceased Duke of York, who supported him until the formation of the Queen's Band, to which he was appointed in the capacity of chamber musician, receiving an annual payment of 300 pounds.

" This salary was considerably increased bythe music dealers giving him a stipulated sum of 150 pounds for six symphonies. His duty at the Queen's Concerts was generally to play the tenor on his gamba, and now and then, in the absence of Bach ( Sebastian Bach's youngest son, Job. Christian, was born in 1735, in Leipsic, and died in London in 1782, whither be had gone in 1759 as Band Conductor. ), to accompany on the piano. For some years he lived in Paris during the summer, where he found in the house of a fermier-general not only a friendly reception, but also what he liked better than all, the best of wine. On his first appearance in London, his discretion, his taste, and his pathetic manner of expression in the rendering of his adagios so captivated the young virtuosi that they very soon followed his school, with less expenditure of notes and with more successful result. His taste and knowledge especially made him the umpire on all contested points, so that he was looked upon in all difficult cases as an infallible oracle. With his dexterity on the gamba he also possessed the talent, like many other older virtuosi, of exciting the astonishment and admiration of his hearers by free fantasias and learned modulations. And although he had considerably less power on the harpsichord, yet he knew how to modulate in arpeggio with consummate skill and in endless changes."

" Abel remained in London until 1782, in which year the desire of once more seeing his brother and his country induced him to return to Germany. It was on this journey that he displayed, both at Berlin and Ludwigslust, the greatness of his talent, his wonderful power of expression, the richness of his tones, and his stirring execution on the gamba. The present king, then Crown Prince of Prussia, before whom he performed in Berlin, presented him with a costly casket and 100 louis d'or. A few years later he stayed some time in Paris on account of the disordered condition of his finances. But he returned again to London and died there on June 22, 1787, after a three days' lethargy, without the least suffering. Shortly before his death he played a recently finished solo which astonished his warmest admirers. His cadences especially were excellent."

It is remarkable that, amongst Abel's numberless published works, which consist partly of concertos and orchestral pieces and partly of chamber music, there are no compositions for the gamba. This must be explained by the fact that the zenith of gamba-playing had been reached, and the art was on its decline, at the beginning of the second half of the eighteenth century. It went out of fashion, and with it also gamba music, and in its place only violoncello compositions were in request. In many ways this change was as much lamented as was the case at the banishment of the lute to cabinets of curiosities or the lumber room.

After Abel there were no German gambists of conspicuous importance to mention. From the middle of the last century the gamba was more and more neglected, in consequence of the violoncello being brought forward, and the younger geniuses devoted themselves by preference to this instrument, which approached more nearly to the violin, then at the summit of all instrumental music.

Amongst stringed instruments, which had shared the same fate as the gamba, belong the Viola bastarda and the Viola di Bordone (English, Barytone). The first instrument was in shape somewhat thicker than the gamba and was provided with six or seven strings ( According to Pohl, the number of these metal-strings was raised to twentyseven. (S. C. F. Pohl: "Haydn," 1., 250. Information regarding the barytone and barytone compositions are to be found there.) . In order to increase the resonance, as many steel strings were introduced under the fingerboard and bridge, which were tuned to the same pitch as those above, like the Viola d'amore. Another variety of the gamba was the barytone, which was cultivated in the last century.

In Leopold Mozart's violin tutor is found the following description of it: " This instrument has from six to seven strings like the gamba. The neck is very broad and the back part hollow and open, down which nine or ten brass or steel strings are run beneath, which are touched and pinched by the thumb; so that, at the same time as the principal part is played with the bow on the upper cat-gut strings, the thumb by striking the strings stretched under the neck of the instrument can play the bass; and therefore the music must be arranged specially for it. Moreover, it is a most agreeable instrument." From this description it is evident that the barytone was a bass instrument resembling the Viola d'amore. The barytone in its time was much liked in Austria. Several Austrian composers, as Cybler, Weigl, and Pichl, and at their head Joseph Haydn, composed for this instrument. The latter was incited to it by his benefactor, the Prince Esterhazy, who looked with particular favour on the barytone. Haydn wrote no less than 175 pieces for it ( Pohl: "Haydn," 1., 257.) . The tuning of the strings on the fingerboard of the barytone was on the same principle as that of the gamba.

The Viennese, ANTON LIDL, who was born about 1740, was much esteemed as a most distinguished barytone virtuoso.

Gerber says of him, " that he rendered still more perfect his instrument, which had been invented about the year 1700. It is in shape like the Viola da gamba, except that it has brass strings at the back, which are played at the same time with the thumb. These lower strings he increased to twenty-seven and the semitones were played with them." He must have been an extraordinary artist on this instrument. The author of the Almanack of 1782 says: " His performance united the most charming sweetness to German vigour, the most surprising syncopations with the most harmonious melody." According to Burney, Lidl was no longer living in 1789. Up to 1783 he had published, in Amsterdam and Paris, Duets, Quartets, and Quintetsaltogether seven works. His compositions for the gamba were not published.

The barytone disappeared with the gamba, in the course, of the second half of the last century, from musical practice.

The same change took place in Italy about the same time or somewhat earlier, when a lively interest in the violoncello was aroused there by Franciscello, of whom we shall speak farther on. It appears, indeed, that in the land of the arts, as the quotations already given from Maugars' papers inform us, no predilection had prevailed for the higher study of the gamba, either for the reason that among stringed instruments the cultivation of the violin-which from the seventeenth century had decidedly usurped the first place in the study of music was chiefly pursued, or that the Italian composers did not specially concern themselves with the gamba. As a matter of fact, so far as can be perceived, with the exception of Tartini, no noteworthy Italian composer considered it worth his while to bring it into the field of creative activity. Besides Ferabosco, of whom mention has already been made, there are amongst famous Italian bass violin players and gambists to be named: Allessandro Romano with the cognomen " della Viola," and Teobaldi Gatti. ROMANO was born about 1530 at Rome, and in 1560 was a singer in the Papal (Sistine) Chapel. He later became a monk of the monastery of Mount Olivet, under the name of Giulio Cesare. But he did not find his sojourn there agreeable, for he was at strife and contention with one or other of the monks of his order through incompatibility of temper. His compositions, published between the years 1572-1579, consist of "Canzone alla Napolitana " for five voices and a book of Motets in five parts.

TEOBALDI GATTI, born at Florence about 1650, not only distinguished himself as a gamba player, but also made himself known in his time as an operatic composer. In the latter respect he was influenced by Lully, whose first opera-overtures so impressed him that he resolved to go to Paris in order to do homage to his illustrious countryman. Lully, who was flattered, showed his gratitude for this attention by making Gatti a member of the Parisian Opera orchestra, which post he filled for nearly fifty years uninterruptedly ( Gerber mentions him as a violoncellist, which must be a mistake, since in the Parisian Opera orchestra, up to 1727, as far as is known, only gambists were employed. He may, however, have played both instruments. ) . He died in 1727, in Paris. There were published in 1696 twelve "Airs Italiens " by him, two of which are duets.

As skilful Italian gambists are conspicuous also MARCO FRATICELM and CARLO AMBROSIO LUNATI ( See " The History of the Violin," by W. Sandys and Simon Andrew Forster. London,1864.) of Milan, with the cognomen "Il gobbo della Regina." The latter came to England during the reign of James II. Nothing further is known concerning either of these instrumentalists. It is worthy of remark in this place that the famous Italian singer, Lenora Baroni, born about 1610, was, according to Maugars' testimony, a clever theorbo and gamba player. As such she was in the habit of accompanying herself in singing.


Introduction, Part Four
not ready yet as of March 5, 2001

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