Concerto in F major
ed. Paul Everett
A further clue that Visconti must have lived into the 1720s, if not later still, is the relatively modern, intricate style of some of his surviving concertos. It is hard to believe that the present work, characterized by the galant manner, phrasing with triplets and a particularly frequent use of appoggiaturas, could have been composed earlier than the 1720s. We must nevertheless be cautious when drawing such conclusions since Visconti's style, exemplified very well by the present work, is an idiosyncratic one that does not easily bear comparison with the styles of his close contemporaries. It is notable for the tendency (evident even in such early works as his Op. 1 sonatas) to include written-out graces in the solo part rather than to leave them to the improvisation of the performer, and for unusual rhythms that must have seemed as eccentric early in the eighteenth century as they can seem today. Both traits stand as evidence of Visconti's own virtuosic ability.
His fondness for imposing duple rhythms against the grain of triple metre (or against the triplet beats in a compound metre) is demonstrated several times in the present work; see, for example, bars 18-20 in the slow movement, or bar 62 in the finale. His treatment of notation was (insofar as one can tell in the absence of autograph manuscripts) unusually free; and this appears to have produced, or at least facilitated, some of the peculiarities in his rhythmic expression. Standard modern notational conventions cannot always do justice to this aspect of Visconti's musical language: the intricate rhythm of bars 18-20 and elsewhere in the slow movement, for instance, possesses in its original form a logic and clarity that are lost in translation. Several further cases of this phenomenon occur in the work.
To the best of my knowledge, the only known source for the present concerto is a set of seven non-autograph manuscript parts within a large collection of Italian music now known as 'The Manchester Concerto Part-books'. Since the history and contents of this significant collection, representative of the heyday of the Italian concerto, are fully described elsewhere, only a summary needs to be given here. The volumes contain sets of separate parts for 95 compositions, mostly concertos, that came into the possession of Charles Jennens, well-known as the librettist for Handel's Messiah and other works; later they passed to the music libraries of the earls of Aylesford and Sir Newman Flower. It was Jennens who had acquired the music from Italy and had it bound in its existing volumes. Earlier, in its unbound state, the collection had almost certainly been part of a much larger corpus: the music amassed over many years at the court in Rome of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, sold off after the illustrious patron's death in 1740. The diverse contents of the partbooks suggest that Ottoboni's musicians collected and performed music from artistic centres elsewhere as well as works composed locally. Many of the manuscripts (approximately 50%) were evidently copied in Rome; the rest, having been created elsewhere, were presumably collected by, or donated to, the cardinal's establishment in a variety of circumstances. Thus while the existence within the collection of this and two other concertos attributed to Visconti hints that the composer may have visited Rome, it does not establish that he was employed there or that he came under the cardinal's patronage in any official or lasting capacity.
The manuscript appears in fact to be two distinct sources. Although catalogued in modern times as item 77 (a notional single entity that usefully reflects the way in which it has been regarded since the time when Jennens had the volumes bound, if not earlier), its seven parts fall into two sets distinguished by provenance. The first, which for convenience we will call 'source A', is musically complete, giving just one part for each instrumental voice, as is typical for this collection. These five parts were notated by a single scribe who, for this task, employed one particular type of Roman music-paper exhibiting one particular rastrography (pattern of stave-ruling). Their original nomenclature and location within the partbooks are as follows:
Principal violin: Violino Prencipale volume VII, f. 93
First violin: Violino Primo Rinforso volume IX, ff. 46-47
Second violin: Violino 2.do Concertino volume VIII, ff. 60-61
Viola: Alto Violetta volume XI, f. 41
Basso: Violone ò Cembalo volume XIII, ff. 68-69
These parts belong to the largest subset of the collection: works copied on Roman music-paper by persons who are likely to have worked at Ottoboni's court, in and around the mid-1720s. The scribe in question was evidently a fairly senior figure in the cardinal's musical establishment; taking into account all 43 manuscripts in this Roman subset, he was responsible for producing more whole works and individual parts than any other copyist, and is the person who most frequently added superscriptions. Only the Violone ò cembalo part identifies the composer and gives a title for the work, having been designed as a folder into which the remaining parts could be inserted when not in use. The music of the bass itself begins on the second page (f. 68v), following a title-page giving the words 'Concerto à 4 del Sig.e / Gasparo Visconti'. Like most items within the concerto partbooks, source A is a utilitarian set of parts intended to be used in performance rather than to grace a library shelf. The text is ugly in appearance having been hastily copied, and contains numerous errors (as our Textual Notes attest).
The remaining two manuscript parts - 'source B' - are bass parts with texts that differ only in very minor respects from that of the Violone ò cembalo part: one is labelled 'Violoncello' (volume XII, V. 12-13), the other 'Basso' (volume X, V. 6-7). The latter also possesses a superscription (f. 6r) attributing authorship: 'Concerto del Sig.r Gasparo Visconti'. These two parts are of cognate provenance (they employ one particular type of paper with one particular rastrography, and were copied by one unidentified scribe), but this is a provenance distinct from that of source A. Source B and three other items in the Manchester collection with the same non-textual characteristics (a concerto by Ignazio Balbi and two trio sonatas by J. J. Quantz) are suspected, in the absence of concrete evidence, to be Milanese manuscripts.
Since sources A and B have independent origins, it would almost certainly be wrong to conclude that the bass parts of source B were actually designed to supplement source A, even though that has been their effect. It is far more likely that source B is the remnants of what was originally a full set of parts for the work. Though the few textual discrepancies between sources A and B appear to rule out the possibility that source B was (in a formerly complete state) the exemplar from which source A was copied in Rome, the use of both sources in the preparation of this edition presents no conflict: together they convey a single version of the music.
It is worth noting, in passing, that the present work is one of numerous examples, in the Manchester collection and elsewhere, of a concerto in which the instrumental parts are described in a hybrid nomenclature, juxtaposing seemingly incompatible terms that derive from the formerly separate traditions of the concerto grosso and the solo concerto, and in this case complicated further by the generic label 'Concerto à quattro'. (It is possible, of course, that designations on manuscript copies such as these more closely reflect the performance practices of the establishments for which their scribes worked than the nomenclature which the composer himself would have used.) Since the primary feature of the present work is the solo expression of one player, the term 'violino principale' cannot be said to be inaccurate, and yet the typically Roman qualification '[di] concertino' was deemed necessary for the second violin part because it contains occasional solo contributions. In the light of that complication, and in circumstances when a standard concertino group was not intended, the term 'rinforso' for the first violin part was perhaps needed to clarify the fact that those who play this part have a doubling, non-solo role. Editorial policy and matters of performance In this critical edition, original key signatures, time signatures and clefs are retained. For the most part, text missing from the source or otherwise added by the editor is shown within square brackets. Editorial slurs and ties are given in dashed form. In other cases of editorial intervention, including instances where such intervention cannot be distinguished in the main text by those typographical means, the original readings are described in the Textual Notes. The original notation follows the normal convention of the early eighteenth century whereby an accidental governs only the note it precedes and any immediate repetitions of that note, whether barlines intervene or not. The conversion to modern notation has thus entailed the tacit suppression of accidentals that are redundant in today's usage (where an inflexion occurring earlier in the bar has not been cancelled) and the tacit addition of others (after a barline, when an inflected pitch continues to apply). An accidental omitted from the source in error is recorded in the Textual Notes if an accidental occurring earlier in the bar remains valid, by modern convention, for the pitch in question; it is otherwise restored in square brackets in the normal way. Editorial cautionary accidentals are given within round brackets; cautionary accidentals included in the source are reproduced without brackets.
Neither the Violone ò cembalo part of source A nor the bass parts of source B provide any figures for the basso continuo. (To find an entirely unfigured bass is not in itself unusual; professional musicians of Visconti's day were typically expected to be able to realize basso continuo extempore, without the aid of figures - especially in the case of Italian music such as this in which the harmonic progression is mostly straightforward.) Thus, all figurings in the present edition are editorial and shown throughout in italics. Naturally, an editorial figured bass does not provide the only possible harmonic solution in every instance; its purpose is to ensure that a complete text is presented and to assist continuo players inexperienced in realizing unfigured basses. (A version of this score with a written-out continuo realization is available separately, for those who require more help.) 'Tutti' and 'solo' directions in the basso continuo part distinguish passages for the full array of bass instruments (which may of course include a double bass or violone playing at sixteen-foot pitch) from those where it is appropriate to reduce the continuo to perhaps one melodic instrument (normally a cello) and one of the realizing instruments (harpsichord or perhaps an archlute or theorbo). The size and complexion of the continuo group is best determined in relation to the number of players available for the upper string parts. Concertos such as this were typically intended for fairly small forces. Although an interpretation with only one player on each violin and viola part can work, performances that employ at least two or three players on each of the non-solo parts are more likely to realize the powerful vigour of this music.
Editorial intervention has deliberately been kept to a minimum with regard to aspects of interpretation. The source specifies little ornamentation, not least because most solo figurations are already ornate by design. In consequence, editorial trills are suggested only sparingly: where they are clearly invited by particular melodic formulae, typically at cadences. The Adagio phrases in the fast movements may, if the soloist pleases, be subjected to further elaboration in the manner of a cadenza. Some editorial appogiaturas have been added by analogy with original ones. As recorded in the Textual Notes, the semiquaver form in which various appoggiaturas in the slow movement are notated in the manuscript is suppressed. Since these notes contradict quaver-appoggiaturas in comparable contexts elsewhere in the same movement, it is unlikely that they signify the species of 'short appoggiatura', with two or more flags, described by C. P. E. Bach. As was commonly intended in the early eighteenth century, the choice of dynamics is left to the discretion of the performers. In works such as this, forte (intended to mean a 'normal', full-bodied sonority) is typically assumed rather than explicitly marked, especially at the beginning of a movement and for ritornellos. Accordingly, piano means a relative reduction from that norm, not soft in an absolute sense; only pianissimo, when specified, requires a particularly hushed sound. Players - especially the soloist - may vary dynamics freely from moment to moment, though it is important to remember that long or wide-ranging crescendos and diminuendos are essentially foreign to this kind of music.