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The Consort

Pierre Gutman

Volume 73, Summer 2017

Johann Friedrich Schreivogel
Sonata in E minor for violin and basso continuo;
Edition HH, HH432.FSP, Launton, 2016
(pbk, £10.95)
ISMN 979 0 708146 37 7

At a time when downloading free material from IMSLP is generally regarded as the easiest way to explore little-known material, even if it is often crudely scanned from a crumbling, untidy manuscript and adorned with damp marks and spilled wine, it is surely refreshing to find this fine violin sonata by, to me, an unknown composer, beautifully presented and printed as well as skilfully edited by a world expert in the field.

Edition HH is thus to be congratulated for issuing two sonatas by Johann Friedrich Schreivogel (fl. 1707-49), of which the beautiful Sonata in E minor has fallen on my desk for review; his name is translatable as ‘Screambird’. The coloured portrait on the cover shows the bewigged composer in all his finery, fingering and strumming the violin cradled in his arms, while possibly humming to himself the work propped up on his desk. If the artist’s sense of proportion is accurate, the violin may seem a little on the large side, thus explaining Schreivogel’s nickname of ‘il Tedeschino,’ or ‘the little German.’ Perhaps because ‘Tedeschino’ had a more glamorous ring to it than Schreivogel, the composer’s son and grandson, both violinists, were to adopt ‘Tedeschino’ as their surnames.

This edition contains a violin part, a figured bass part and a score with a realised continuo part, the realisation printed in a smaller script than the bass. The informative introduction, in English and German, as well as the Textual Notes, are by the eminent scholar Professor Michael Talbot, and both provide just the right amount of background knowledge and textual information that an editor should give us. The violin part has suggestions that the player may accept or ignore, but nothing more than that; the edition can thus be considered as ‘Urtext,’ a claim made by certain editions whose parts are nevertheless daubed with bowings and fingerings…

Schreivogel is described by Talbot as ‘the doyen of an important school of violinist-composers that flourished in Milan, capital of Habsburg-ruled Lombardy, during most of the eighteenth century’. Quantz, who met him in Milan, praised him as the ‘capable leader’ of the court orchestra there, while Pisendel regarded his works highly enough to bring three of his violin concertos and a sonata back to Dresden, presumably to perform them there. This E Minor sonata exists only in a copied-out version by Pisendel. It has three movements: a slow Grave, an Andante and an Allegro Assai, the composer thus breaking free from the more usual four-movement sonata of the time (Slow / Fast / Slow / Fast).

In an age when Italian violin sonatas were being composed in quantities comparable to the mass production of Fiat cars in the twentieth century, it is nevertheless clear from this sonata that Schreivogel had managed to develop his own idiomatic way of writing and playing. Although the bass is never too adventurous, the harmonies are often eccentric, surprising and even alarming, with the goal of maintaining our interest.

Certainly there are echoes of Vivaldi and Albinoni in the violin part, but although Schreivogel stays within a fairly modest compass, his dives and leaps, and his phrases, now long, now fragmented, contribute to a quite individual style. Like other composers of the time, such as Tartini, he marks the moment where the performer is expected (arbitrario) to improvise a cadenza (un tasto solo al modo di violino). Performers liable to suffer anxiety from such markings will be relieved to know that Talbot has provided a crib which they may copy or use as a model.

The Andante is a galant-style composition that flows elegantly, enhanced by occasional rhythmic ambiguities, while the final fast movement provides some more virtuosic writing, including some double stopping. The quality of this sonata would certainly justify its inclusion in recital programmes and recorded anthologies; it is to be welcomed as a discovery of importance to be integrated into the vast mosaic that is the violin repertoire of eighteenth-century Italy.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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