Life and works
Little is known about the life of Giovanni Zamboni. Pisan chronicler Busoni defined him as “an excellent writer of musical counterpoint and a very virtuoso player of theorbo, lute, harpsichord, chitarra sminuita, mandola, mandolin, and also a skilled grinder of Eastern stones, i.e. jewels”. We find him as a “double-bassist” in the Primatial Church in Pisa from 1707 to 1713, i.e. in the years immediately preceding the publication of the works collected within this album. He also had the opportunity to work in the Cathedral Church of the same city. Besides these facts, very little certain information about him reached us; we do not even know his birth and death dates. The epithet “Roman” which is often juxtaposed to his name allows us to situate his activity within a rather precise context. His style, in fact, contains clear influences from the Roman music of his time, suggesting a very strong connection with the city of Rome, which was, at the time, a very important cultural and musical centre in the Italian peninsula. Regarding this, suffice it to cite Corelli’s work, and, as concerns the field of lute music proper, composers such as Johannes Hieronimus Kapsberger, Lelio Colista or Arcangelo Lori.
The eleven Sonate d’Intavolatura di Leuto, Opera Prima (Lucca, 1718) are, for all intents and purposes, the last printed publication for the lute in the form of tablature in Italy. Not only, in fact, the same composer failed to publish a second volume (or it was lost), but no Italian, after him, published further tablatures for this instrument. This style of notating music was abandoned in favour of a more modern writing style, based on the use of the pentagram. This does not mean that the lute (so most coeval musicians called the archlute, since it was the only kind of lute employed at the time) was forgotten in the period following the eleven Sonate. This instrument continued to be in use, although without great clamour; it was abundantly employed both for the continuo and for the performance of solo musical works.
This printed work, published by Marescandoli in Lucca and currently found, in a single specimen, at the Library of the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome, has an excellent technical quality. Still, it lacks dedication, preface or other indications for the performer as are usually found at the beginning of a publication. The composer’s skill in the manual activities suggests that he may have personally prepared the already-engraved printing plates. Under this viewpoint, Zamboni was very different from Kapsberger, who likely realized the plates for his Terzo and Quarto Libro d’intavolatura di Chitarone: their quality bears witness to his amateurish – if not inexistant – preparation as an engraver.
We know only two more manuscripts by Zamboni, containing 24 concertato madrigals in four parts, “con l’obbligo necessario del suo basso continuo”, published in Rome in 1755, and to which he owed the flattering epithet of “umilissimo e dignissimo virtuoso”. Just as the book of musical works for the archlute came late in the instrument’s history, similarly this publication is belated if related with the function of the madrigal in history. Along with the features of the “elaborata antica scuola”, these works also contain the “licenze cromatiche voltanti ed espressive” typical for the modern school. Still, the composer’s choice to use an obsolete musical genre at such a late time is curious.
Zamboni’s works for the lute comprehend pieces of a very high quality, with various stylistic influences. Among the sonatas one can find pieces with a clear Italian style, where the influence of Corelli is evident, particularly in the use of counterpoint and melody. (Corelli, who lived in the second half of the seventeenth century and in the early eighteenth century, was Zamboni’s contemporary). “French” Allemandes are frequent, typically characterized by the use of the dotted rhythm. From this viewpoint, the Allemanda of the Sonata IX is particularly interesting: here, all half-phrases are concluded by two simple quavers, as if the composer wished to add an expressive element with a more intense melancholy – a trait which will be developed in the second part.
Melodic outbursts typical for the style galante are also present. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the ideal of the “galant homme” became fashionable. He was a wise man, with courteous soul and habits, but, at the same time, a spontaneous and truthful person. Soon afterwards the term “goût” (“taste”) started to be employed for the first time, in order to describe that elegant and non-artificial style of writing and performing music, fleeing from erudite efforts and pedantry and favouring a more essential and limpid treatment of the melodic line.
For this recording, four complete Sonatas, a Fugue (excerpted from Sonata VII) and a concluding Chaconne were selected.
The first and third Sonata, both in G major, display similar stylistic features. Among those performed here, they are probably the ones written latest by the composer, with clear influences from the style galante. The simplicity and clarity in the management of the musical form flow into elements with an elegant melodic singing style. The general formal structure is very well balanced, and the individual dance movements are remarkably imposing and lengthy. Within them all, the composer was able to accomplish the formal solidity typical for lute music in the Baroque era; this trait is best exemplified in the work of composers such as Sylvius Leopold Weiss. It is likely that Zamboni heard (and probably knew personally, perhaps well) the great German lutenist during the latter’s stay in Rome, from 1708 to 1714; he could have absorbed from him, at least partially, the traits of style galante we can observe in his compositions.
By way of contrast Sonata IX, in C minor, displays features more connected with tradition, with a very short Sarabande and concluding Gavotte, a dotted Allemande in the French style and, in general, a greener formal structure – which does not imply an inferior value. The Sonatas written in the minor keys sound more archaic to the ear; this is not a matter of quality, but rather due to their stylistic and formal properties. In particular, Gavottes and Minuets (at times also Sarabandes, as well as the only Bourrée found here) have been treated “à l’antique” in all Sonatas of this volume. Very short movements are juxtaposed to the other dances, which are employed in a broader and more modern fashion.
Sonata XI, in B-flat major, is noteworthy for its long and very rich introductory Grave. The Italian and French styles are diluted in a Sonata made of only four movements.
Our choice to insert in the programme only the Fugue from Sonata VII (one of the two Fugues found in the volume) has been dictated by the features of formal rigour it displays. Although a true countersubject is not found (but this is not exceptional in lute music) the structure is broad and balanced. Here too the singing quality, typical for Zamboni’s style, is not missing.
The Ceccona which concludes the album has been purposefully separated from Sonata XI preceding it in the tablature, in spite of the modern practice to play them as a single entity. In fact, it is written in a different (although close) key with respect to that of Sonata XI. Moreover, throughout the whole book, the composer always used the word “segue” if the following movement of a Sonata began on the following staff. The only exceptions are those when there was literally no space on the sheet for the text to be written. Although there was space between the Minuet of Sonata XI and the Ceccona, this indication is missing, and the blank space has been filled with a flourish. This makes us deduce that the Ceccona has been conceived as a separate element, to be performed as a self-standing piece.
Approach to performance
In performing these works, I tried as much as possible to follow the composer’s indications, in the performance of the embellishments, as concerns the “petites reprises”, and as regards the performance of the so-called “strascini”, i.e. the slurs. The excellent quality of the publication allows for an accurate reconstruction of all the refined elements deemed essential by the composer (besides the strascini, the vibrato, tremolos, arpeggios etc.). In Zamboni’s works, just as in those of other coeval and later composers, also in those written for other instruments of the family, the slur is not to be conceived as a merely technical-improvisational device, but maintains a formal and musical function which is integral to the compositional fabric. All of the composer’s choices have been therefore respected, with the only exception of a few rare moments in which the technical difficulty imposed on the performer would have compromised in too evident a fashion the quality of the expressive result.
Given that this is not a live recording, but rather an operation realized with the goal of producing an “ideal” performance (as much as possible), the ornaments introduced in the repeats have been built upon a more objective criterion than the criteria ruling improvisation, which are best suited for a public performance. I did not insert, therefore, variations with too extreme a character; by way of contrast, I adopted choices which were deemed to be as consistent as possible with the compositional material. I also tried to maintain the original refinement of these beautiful musical works.
The recording has been realized on an instrument with 13 courses, realized by luthier Juan Carlos Soto (Costa Rica 2013) on the basis of historical and iconographic sources. The strings employed here are of different types (from nylon to loaded synthetic gut strings, to natural gut strings) with the aim of recreating a certain dynamic homogeneity and to avoid, as much as possible, metallic sounds. Particular attention was given to the sound of the drones, which is frequently too weighty, metallic and excessively sustained in modern archlutes.
Liner Notes © Simone Pansolin
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Originally a classical guitarist, Simone Pansolin owes his education to Maestro Frédéric Zigante. Moreover, he followed seminaries with Eduardo Fernandez, Olivier Chassain, Jukka Savijoky, Fabrizio Giudice, Christian Saggese. He graduated at the Conservatory N. Paganini of Genoa and he later obtained a postgraduate diploma with specialization in teaching. From 2007 he specialized in the performance practice of lute, baroque guitar and theorbo, taking part in study seminars and master courses in Venice and Padua with Maestro M. Lonardi. Over time he further circuscribed his activity focusing only on performance of the Baroque repertoire, with special emphasis on coeval Italian music. This album blossoms from this itinerary of research. He performs as a concert musician, both soloist and in chamber ensembles.
He is also a poet, besides his activity as a musician; in 2017 he published the collection of poems Transfert, which obtained the critics’ award within the XII edition of the International “Premio Voci - Città di Abano Terme”. Since that same year, he dedicates himself to the study of haiku poetry. In 2021 he issued, for the American publishing house Red Moon Press, his collection of haiku by the title of Pixels. The critics wrote about him: “Compositions too beautiful, of terrible truth, to make you shiver.” (F. Russo, “Cultura e Prospettive”); “A new voice, outside the canons, a voice that makes you think, that caresses the imagination, that materializes the essence of man in the universe.” (M. Carocci, “Oubliettemagazine”)..
(b Rome, 2nd half of the 17th century; d Pisa, early 18th century). Italian composer. He was noted as a virtuoso on the theorbo, lute, harpsichord, guitar, mandore and mandolin. As such Zamboni, who also seems to have been a jeweller, found employment at Pisa Cathedral. His collection of Sonate d’intavolatura di leuto op.1 was published at Lucca in 1718. A contemporary account praises him as a ‘very excellent contrapuntist’, an ability which may be seen in his two books of four-part madrigals with continuo (I-Bc); they are, however, in a conservative style, and not dramatic. Lost works include two cantatas, a sonata for two lutes, two violins and basso continuo, and a sinfonia. He may have been related to V. Zambone, a Sistine Chapel singer in 1582.