Gioachino Rossini: Sei sonate a quattro

Rossini Critical Edition

Edited by Matteo Giuggioli (2014)

One-volume set: score + critical commentary pp. LXI, 315; instrumental parts
GR 40

The Sei sonate a quattro for two violins, cello and double bass is considered the earliest composition by Gioachino Rossini to have come down to us, to be assigned to about 1804. Years, presumably a few decades, after the composition of the Sonatas, when he had by then perhaps completely lost track of them, Rossini had in his hands and submitted for revision the manuscript source that still constitutes the only known record of these youthful pieces in their original arrangement: a set of separate apographical parts currently preserved at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Having retrieved the parts, Rossini authenticated them with an amusing note penned in his own hand, which is often quoted and commented on in Rossini studies. The authentication text, in addition to proving Rossini’s authorship of the Sonatas and the composer’s direct contact with the source, provides, along with the frontispieces, valuable historical information about the circumstances that provided the background and fostered the origin of the pieces.

Parts of first violin, second Violin, violoncello, contrabass for six horrendous sonatas composed by me at the country house (near Ravenna) of my friend and patron, Agostino Triossi, at the most youthful age, having not even had a lesson in thorough-bass. They were all composed and copied in three days and performed in a doggish way by Triossi, contrabass; Morini (his cousin), first violin; the latter’s brother, violoncello; and the second violin by myself, who was, to tell the truth, the least doggish. G. Rossini.

The witness consists of four separate manuscript parts not autograph, but with interventions by the composer, probably dating from a revision several decades after the writing. This is the manuscript that Alfredo Casella was able to view thanks to the recommendation of Oliver Strunk, bringing to light the Sonatas in their original arrangement, both with regard to the arrangement and the quantity and succession of the pieces.

It cannot be entirely ruled out that the writing of the detached parts dates back to the occasion that fostered the birth of the Sonatas, the 1804 musical entertainments at Conventello, the estate near Ravenna of Rossini’s friend and early «patron» Agostino Triossi. In such a case, imagining that the parts were taken directly from the full score, very quickly as Rossini recalls in the letter of authentication and under the composer’s control, we would be in the presence not of an apograph, but of an idiograph later revised at a distance by the author. Autograph corrections of the information provided by the title pages, however, open the field to other hypotheses. The parts may have been made later than 1804 and not in direct contact with the autograph score, which supposedly remained in Triossi’s possession and is now lost along with the Rossini papers that Triossi allegedly took with him into exile in Corfu.

With the rediscovery of the source preserved in Washington, if the Rossini authorship of the Sonatas and their framing in the composer’s biography have ceased to be a mystery, however, the urgency of the question about the relationships with Rossini’s other early compositions, as well as with the other theatrical works to come, has not subsided. The opinion of twentieth-century musicologists in general has not contradicted that of Rossini’s contemporary commentators. The Sonatas are part of the vast context of Italian instrumental music of the time, the culminating experience of a long tradition that had been capable of influencing the various trends of other geographical areas and was open to receiving returning influences from them.

The Sonatas constitute a unique experience stylistically. Rossini blends in his own way different trend lines and different influences, elaborating pieces that carve out a space of absolute originality even within his own production while presenting some points of contact with his other youthful instrumental pieces and, in a more nuanced way, with his future operatic style.