Giuseppe Colombi(1635 — 1694) an introduction

Posted on January 20th, 2018 by

Before the performance. Backstage at St Mary-at-Hill with the Stradivari and the Antoninio Airenti bow. 16 1 18

Giuseppe Colombi(1635 — 1694)

Peter Sheppard Skaerved – Violins (Antonio Stradivari 1685^)(Maggini 1600s#)

Preludes & Vollenteris 7 . Live at St Mary at Hill, London 16th January 2018

Recording courtesy of Colin Still (Optic Nerve)

This charming chaconne is a perfect place to start exploring Colombi’s remarkable music for violin alone; a reminder that a ciaconna was a fast dance, not a dirge, with a stressed second beat. This is just a simple, but elegant exercise in various divisions

Giuseppe Colombi  – Tromba á Violino solo^

The imitation of the trumpet is a dominant style of early solo writing for the violin. It’s always in D Major, and never modulates. Colombi wrote large-scale examples, and like those of his friend and colleague G B Vitali, his are divided into fanfare and dance sections. There are fascinating dynamic effects built into this example -both Forte/Piano echo effects, familiar from contemporaneous theatres, and a terraced ‘into the distance’ ending _ Forte, Piano, Piu Piano

Giuseppe Colombi – Passemezzo*

Dance music makes up a significant proportion of Colombi’s surviving solo works. Much of it has been built, like this ‘One & a half step’, arranged so that the played can keep rotating the melody and episodes at will; this is possible with works such as Bach’s ‘Gavotte en Rondeau’ if we but try. The Passemezzo was known in Englad as the ‘Passy Pavanne’

Giuseppe Colombi – Corrente (Scordatura GEAE)^

This is the simplest re-tuning which Colombi uses, and results in what composer David Gorton would call a slightly ‘Citrus’ quality. Here it is used to add zest to a slow corrente, and piqauncy to the dissonant final cadences.

Giuseppe Colombi – Sarabanda (Scordatura GDGB)#

This exquisite Sarabanda uses a close tuning-across a tenth. In this instance, it lends the violin a Gamba-like quality. Interestingly, the close tuning means that an extended fingering is used on teh top string. As a rule, on an unfretted instrument, shifting is avoided on high strings to avoid the relative pitching problems. There are a number of mistakes in the composer’s notation, which serves just as a reminder that these manuscripts seem to have served more as mnemonic, like a musical knotted handkerchief, for himself, so that the occasional slip is academic.

Giuseppe Colombi – Giga (Scordatura GDGB)

This little gigue comes close to the ‘self-accompanying’ solo writing which would become familiar in the early 18th Century. Colombi makes limited use of the possibility of fast writing in thirds which which the close tuning allows (this never happens in Bach, ever!), and there’s lots of space of elaboration.

Giuseppe Colombi – Sarabanda (Scordatura GDGB)#

This Sarabande is laid out as series of couplets, resulting in a similar character to the ‘Ciacona’ also presented here. There’s a lot of use of notated ‘unisons’, next to accented dissonances and contrary motion harmonies. Colombi makes use of the ‘Minor 2nd – unison’ cadence (in place of the perfect cadence), which would become central to Giuseppe Tartini’s experimental harmony in the next century.

Giuseppe Colombi-Allemanda (Scodatura GCEG)#

This Allemande uses an extremely constricted returning-covering just an octave from low G. In order to stablise the instrument to play this turning, it is strung with thick gut strings, and I reversed the position of the anchos behind the bridge and in the pegbox  thus:

Stabilizing the bridge for Colombi’s more dramatic scordature can demand some rethinking, such as reversion the anchor postiions of the top two strings, which seems to work. 14 1 18


Giuseppe Colombi – Allemanda [prelude]^

This F Major allemande is much closer in style to the surviving preludes by Torelli and Matteis, a richly wrought piece in the style of intellectual improvising, like sophisticated discourse, which was the mark of the true ‘virtuoso’ (in every sense) of the day.

Giuseppe Colombi – A Corde doppie^

Playing ‘ in two parts’  was a skill much prized in the 17th and 18th Century-by the age of the Viotti, it came to be regarded as superior to contrapuntal 3 and 4 part playing. This example seems, to me, to have distinctly Venetian overtones, prefiguring some of Vivaldi’s theatrical ‘pacing’ gestures, and in the use of dramatic silence, which is surprisingly rare in early music for violin alone.

Giuseppe Colombi -Corrente a due corde^

Collombi begins his Corrente with the good intentions of only using two strings as pro the title, but halfway through the ‘b’ section is seduced by the fun of 3- and 4-string arpeggiations and forgets what he had set out to do. What’s in a name, when you have a violin in your hand?!