Sonates a Violoncello solo e basso continuo
Salvatore Lanzetti is one of several violinist/composers who lived in Italy during the late Baroque period. In this era I consider a violinist as a performer on any of the instruments from the violin family, including the violincello. Some if these performers have particularly interesting personalities, both as players and as composers.
Although Lanzetti was remained unknown until the beginning of the 1980’s, in his lifetime he was regarded as a brilliant ‘cellist. Yet his virtuosity on the instrument never equalled his fame, which was eclipsed by the popularity of another great 18th century Napolian ‘cellist, Franceschiello.
In any case, the skills of Lanzetti as a ‘cellist were inimitable. He was born in Naples in 1709, under the name of Lancetti (in Torino, where he lived for many years, the ‘cello was pronounced violinzello, which explains the change in spelling of his name). He studied at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, the most renowned school for ‘cellists in the eighteenth century, where he received lessons from the greatest ‘cellists of the Neapolitan school. He later moved to Torino, where he became ‘cellist of the Court Theatre, and a member of the Capella Reale.
During his lifetime, Lanzetti toured Europe several times. The most celebrated visits were his travels to Paris in 1736, where he performed in the Concert Spirituels, and to London (1730 and in the 1740’s) and Hamburg (1751).
His compositions are exclusively for the ‘cello. He wrote three collections of sonatas for ‘cello and figured bass (published as Opus I, V and VI), a method, some transcriptions, and several sonatas which have been preserved only in manuscripts. Even his early works require a surprisingly high technical ability for his time, and they become even more demanding in his later compositions. This can be seen in the use of double stops and bow strokes in Opus 1, even in the highest range of the instrument. In Opus V, Lanzetti’s further investigations into the technical possibilities of the instrument are represented through the use of artificial harmonics, an extremely advance technique for his time. Opus VI is somewhat different, returning to a simpler and more constant technique. His
developments in technique were probably too audacious for the ‘cellists of the eighteenth century, and therefore not suitable for publication. While he continued with his technical investigations, particularly in the handwritten sonatas (such as “Porto Mahone”), the published Opus VI remained in “easy and elegant taste”, as indicated on the title page.
The form of Lanzetti’s Sonatas reflects the European tendency in the late-Baroque era for the gout rèunis. Dance movements are constructed in a French style, against an Italian, lyrical Adagio, and often an Allegro or occasionally a Fugue, as the central movement.
There is a particular characteristic in Opus I, that is, its division into three parts. The first part (Sonatas I-IV) is composed for amateurs, with the ‘cello remaining in the low register (it is written only in bass clef), and with simple technical demands. The second part (Sonatas V-VIII) has a medium level of difficulty, (the ‘cello line is uses both bass and tenor clef), and the third part (Sonatas IX-XII) requires exceptional technical abilities, and it is written in four different clefs (bass, tenor, alto and treble).
Sonata Opus I no. 5 in a minor, which has three movements, is the first of the second group of Sonatas. The first movement, Adagio Cantabile, uses double stops and arpeggi in the melody of the ‘cello. The second movement, Allegro, is in a minor and common time, and uses the sonata form. The first theme, in triplets, contrasts with the second theme, which is quite melodic and consists of semiquavers and syncopations. Its exposition finishes with progressions and fast scale patterns. The development of the movement is based on both themes, although in the exposition only the first appears, followed by new melodies. The minuetto is an Andante in a minor and in 3/8 time. It has an elegant theme in semiquavers, followed by a second and more cantabile theme. The trio has a pastoral, Arcadian character.
Also in a minor is Sonata Opus I no. 9, which belongs to the third group of Sonatas in the collection. It also has three movements, the opening of which is an Adagio (in a minor, common time), where dotted rhythms, arpeggi and double stops prevail. This is followed by an Allegro (in a minor, common time), which contains three different lines- two are played by the ‘cello, and the third line is underlined or overlapped by the basso continuo, forming chords. An Andante (in a minor, 3/8) closes the Sonata, in which Lanzetti graciously combines the character of a minuet with the form of a rondeau.
Sonata Opus I no. 11 in F major is one of the few sonatas consisting of four movements. The first movement, Allegro (F major, 2/4) is a piece requiring incomparable virtuosity. It uses sonata form, and has an extremely personal touch. The second movement, Allegro, (F major, 4/4), acts simply as a bridge between the first and third movements. The third is also an Allegro (d minor, 3/8), and takes the form of a fugue. The final movement, Andante (F major, 3/8) is a very unique rondeau, in which the main theme appears only once, in the opening.
Sonata Opus V no. 2 in Bb major consists of three movements. The opening is an Allegro Assai (Bb major, 3/4), where fast arpeggi, requiring difficult changes of string, are combined with more expressive elements. The second movement, Andante (g minor, 3/4 – 2/2), is divided into two sections, one in 3/4 and one in 2/2. The second section contains a bow stroke that Michel Corrette, in his ‘cello method, refers to as coup d’archet de Lanzetti. This is placed next to groups of outlined and tied over quavers, and is comparable to the present portarto. The third movement is a gracious Allegro (Bb major, 3/8), in which triplets and ornamented figures prevail.
The following Sonata, Opus V no. 3 in D major, is also made up of three movements. The opening Adagio Cantabile (D major, 3/4) has a quiet pace, which is provided by the constant quaver movement of the accompaniment. An Allegro (D major, 3/4) follows, in which harmonics are notated, amongst other technical difficulties. The final movement, Grazioso (D major, 3/4), takes the character of a minuet, and is in fact a theme with variations. In the fifth variation harmonics reappear.
Opus VI was published twice: in Paris and in London. Both editions are almost identical, apart from the order of the sonatas and the title. The English edition is entitled “Six solos after an easy and elegant taste”, which is very meaningful in its reference to character as well as to the technical level. It is dedicated mainly to amateur players, and not at all related technically to the sonatas of Opus I and V. Many gentlemen in London favoured playing the ‘cello, including the Prince of Wales. The publication of this collection probably had large financial rewards for the editor.
Sonata Opus VI no. 2 (no. 4 in the English edition) in C major is certainly the best example of the motive behind this final publication. Again, it consists of three movements. The opening Andante (C major, 3/4) uses the old sonata form. The second movement, Chasse (C major, 12/8), is a fast Siciliana in which the ‘cello is imitating the sound of horns. The Sonata finishes with a Fanfare (C major, 3/4), which takes a rondeau form. Here the ‘cello imitates the sound of trumpets through the use of chords and dotted rhythms.
Lanzetti ceased publishing music completely after this publication. Rather, he preferred to display his enourmous virtuosity in his handwritten sonatas or single pieces, amongst them his musical testament, the “Porto Mahone” sonata.