9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Sets of Variations in Italian Ensemble Sonatas of the first half of the Seventeenth Century

Peter Allsop

Among the most important legacies bequeathed to the emerging ensemble sonata in Italy were the techniques of improvised embellishment and variation as expounded in the diminution manuals of the sixteenth century. Standard bass patterns such as the Ruggiero and Romanesca, already present in such didactic treatises as Diego Ortiz’s Tratado de glosas (Rome, 1553), offered a framework for extensive instrumental compositions for over 100 years. Yet if the contents of printed collections are at all a reliable guide, in the first half of the seventeenth century sets of variations on basses or popular tunes were much more the domain of keyboards and plucked instruments than of instrumental ensembles. In fact, just three composers—Salamon Rossi, Giovanni Battista Buonamente, and Marco Uccellini— together produced 37 sets between 1613 and 1645 accounting for at least 95% of the surviving repertory during this period, a vigorous line of development over three generations which inexplicably failed to survive past the mid-century. These works constitute some of the most substantial and technically impressive compositions for instrumental ensembles of the entire century, and moreover provide abundant stylistic evidence of a master/pupil relationship between these instrumentalists.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita