Attilio Ariosti: The Stockholm Sonatas, Sonatas for Viola d’ Amore


  • Artist(s): Chiara Massini, Giorgia Veneziano, Ute Groh
  • Composer(s): Attilio Ariosti
  • EAN Code: 7.46160913759
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Cello, Harpsichord, Viola d'amore, Viola da Gamba
  • Period: Baroque
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00543 Category:

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The name viola d’amore immediately evokes a thing of beauty. In the ears of both Italians and non-Italians alike, it sounds sweetly and suggests something elegant and tender. The suffix“d’amore” is found also in the case of other instruments, most notably the oboe d’amore. Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, frequently employed both oboe d’amore and viola d’amore in pieces from his sacred works where mystical love was to be signified. In comparison with the instruments they derive from, in fact, both the oboe d’amore and the viola d’amore have sweeter timbres and a softer tone.
The name “d’amore” may therefore be due to this mellow sound quality. Or not? In the case of the viola d’amore, doubts have been cast as to the origin of the name. Another hypothesis that has been formulated is that its name could refer to the small head of a putto, carved at the top of the peg box. A further hypothesis, that has however been discarded by contemporary musicology, is that the name may be a corruption of “viola de’ mori”. Though unreliable, this hypothesis is not entirely without reason. In fact, the principle on which the viola d’amore is built is clearly of non-European descent, and is found mainly in instruments built in India and in other Eastern countries.
This principle is that of the resonating strings. The physical phenomenon known as “sympathy” determines that, when a physical body with the capacity of vibrating is in contact with another vibrating body, whose frequency corresponds to that of the first one, then the first one will vibrate in turn.
If, therefore, one strikes a C string on a piano while pressing the right pedal (and thus allowing the piano’s strings to freely vibrate), all the other C-strings will start to vibrate. Moreover, also other strings (such as the Gs, corresponding to the third harmonic of the root C) will enter in resonance. On the piano, this is used in order to increase the volume and especially the beauty of the timbre. In fact, the more harmonics are produced in a sound, the more pleasant it is.
The same principle (and well before the invention of pianos and of their pedals) is employed in the viola d’amore. Typically, it has seven strings which are played in a fashion analogous to the violin.
Different from violins, violas, cellos and double-basses, however, the viola d’amore possesses a second set of strings, called “resonating strings”. These cannot be reached by the player’s fingers in the same fashion as the “normal” strings. However, these resonating strings will begin to vibrate when harmonics corresponding to their root or their overtones will be produced. Consequently, they will dramatically enrich the tone of the sound.
In spite of the beauty of its sound, which conquered many of the greatest baroque composers (including Bach and Vivaldi), the viola d’amore was rather short-lived. Probably this was due, at least partly, to the complexity of its tuning and to the difficulty in reaching and changing the resonating strings. Or possibly it was just a caprice of the fashion, as frequently happens. (It should be said, however, that some twentieth-century composers, and also a handful in the nineteenth century, were so fascinated by this instrument that they wrote modern works for it).
What is certain is that it will enamor, quite literally, its listeners, as this Da Vinci Classics album demonstrates.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021

Attilio Ariosti, a colorful character of the Baroque world of music, was born in Bologna on November 5, 1666, the son of an illegitimate branch of the aristocratic Ariosti family, and died in London before September 3, 1729. Nothing is known about his youth; his musical education probably took place at San Petronio in Bologna where he had been an altar boy since 1672. In 1688 Ariosti entered the religious order of the Servites as Frate Ottavio, received the minor orders and worked as organist in Maria dei Servi in Bologna. Even though he was never ordained a priest, he was called Padre, which is also stated in the libretto of an oratorio for the Duke of Mantua: Padre Attilio Ottavio Ariosti, virtuoso della [duca di Mantova].

As he was soon famous for his compositions, especially operas, the Duke of Mantua took him into his service in 1696 and in 1697, when the Princess Electress of Brandenburg Sophie Charlotte requested a good musician, sent him to Berlin where, as maître de musique, he became one of her favorite musicians and a personal friend. His presence as a Catholic friar at the Protestant court in Berlin caused a great stir among his confreres and he was ordered back to Bologna in 1703 – which did not suit his employer at all…

As a favorite of Sophie Charlotte, he managed to delay his return with the help of distinguished intellectuals of his time, such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (who wrote, for example, that Ariosti was almost dying out of fear of his monastery …) and diplomatic correspondence. A “short” stay at the Viennese court of Joseph I, who held him in high esteem and appointed him imperial envoy for all Italian courts and principalities, dragged on. It was not until 1708 that he eventually returned to Bologna. Being a friar, Ariosti caused a sensation with his worldly, pompous appearance, and Empress Maria Theresa therefore banished him from court after the death of Joseph I in 1711 and is said to have requested his expulsion from the order. He apparently entered the service of the Duke of Anjou, later King Louis XV, as an envoy and stayed in Paris for a short time, as can be read in a letter to his brother in 1716, where he wrote that he would soon be going to London. There he quickly became famous, especially with his operas, and together with Francesco Bononcini and George Frideric Handel he rose to the “triumvirate” of the London music world. He also gained a foothold in aristocratic circles and in 1724 dedicated the printing of six cantatas and the six Lezioni for viola d’amore to King George I, the brother of Sophie Charlotte. More than 40 dukes and aristocrats subscribed, and his work became also a financial success. Ariosti was active as a teacher and instrumentalist on the organ, harpsichord, cello, and viola d’amore, which he first played as a new instrument in Handel’s Amadigi in 1716.

A surviving portrait of Ariosti (by an unknown painter) shows him with a viola d’amore with six main and six resonating strings. As he continued to be diplomatically active, he did not compose much more. After the failure of his last opera (1727) in the shadow of the overpowering Handel, Ariosti, known as a bon vivant and spendthrift, was impoverished and died penniless in 1729.

The manuscript known as the Stockholm Sonatas, a collection of 57 separate movements composed by Ariosti, also dates from the London years and is preserved only in a copy by the Swedish musician and violinist Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758) as Recueil de pièces pour la Viole d’Amour, now in the library of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm under the shelf mark RO:66. Roman was the most important Swedish musician of his time and was also called The Swedish Handel. During his study stay (ca. 1715-1721) in London, he was in contact with the most famous musicians and was possibly also a pupil of Ariosti.

He may have become first known some pieces for the viola d’amore during his stay in London and copied them. The division into 15 sonatas is not original and is done by combining individual movements in the same key.

They were first published in 1972 by Günther Weiss, who also found the manuscript. Further editions by Dorothea and Michael Jappe followed, as well as an online publication by Swedish musicologist Johan Tufvesson.

A characteristic of the viola d’amore, with its six or seven main and resonating strings, is its tuning to the main notes of the key of a work whose melodic and harmonic structure would be unplayable with an improper tuning chord. In the 17th and 18th centuries, music was usually notated in scordatura notation as a kind of tablature that allows the player to play with the finger position on the four high strings, like on the violin. Ariosti used scordatura in the Lezioni and for the cantata with viola d’amore Pur al fin gentil viola, but we do not know how he notated the 57 pieces because in Roman’s copy they are written in real pitch. So it is up to the player to find the adequate tuning for each sonata. On this recording, the tuning of the strings to a D major or D minor chord, which was quite common at the time, was assumed and only a few strings were changed for each sonata according to the different keys. In the individual movements, operatic composer Ariosti reveals himself both as a melodist and as possessing numerous witty ideas. He also lets the works emerge as amiable, delicate music. Not all of the pieces have movement names in the original; the missing ones have been filled in as appropriate and placed in square brackets. The sonatas are notated in a contemporary manner as solo and bass parts, with the bass sparsely figured. The harpsichordist adds the harmonies herself. The musicians in this recording vary the timbres by alternating the accompaniment of the viola d’amore by the harpsichord alone, in combination with viola da gamba or cello, or with duets between the solo voice and a bowed bass, thus emphasizing the movements‘ affect.

Marianne Rônez © 2021
Translation: Susan Ambler Schmit
and Chiara Bertoglio


Chiara Massini
Born in Rome, where she studied piano with Prof. Enzo Stanzani at the Ottorino Respighi Conservatory and musicology at La Sapienza University. Upon graduating, she attended several master classes in Salzburg and commenced an intensive study of early music. This led Ms. Massini to Vienna, where she studied harpsichord and figured bass at the University of Music and the Performing Arts under Profs. Gordon Murray and Augusta Campagne, graduating with distinction. In addition to numerous recordings for Austrian, Italian, Canadian and Spanish radio, she is currently a soloist and chamber musician with the ColorArte Ensemble. She has appeared at numerous festivals and concert series in Europe, Canada, Brazil and Lebanon; they include the "Al Bustan" Festival in Beirut, "I concerti del Gonfalone" and "I concerti del Quirinale" in Rome, "Soli Deo Gloria" in Reggio Emilia, the "Musikfestspiele" in Dresden, the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna. In August 2005 she performed Bach's Goldberg Variations at a number of European venues, subsequently recording them for Symphonia in summer 2006. The reactions of both the public and the press were enthusiastic: "C.M. shows she can genuinely captivate her listeners with her intensity.” (Alte Musik Aktuell) To date she has recorded four CDs with music of J.S. Bach.

Giorgia Veneziano
Born in Messina, Italy. She began violin study at the age of ten at the “A. Corelli” conservatory in Messina, from which she graduated with unanimous distinction in 1994.This was followed in 1999 by a diploma on the viola at the “G.P. Pergolesi” conservatory in Fermo. She attended master classes with F. Tamponi (principal violinist with “I Musici”) and E. Porta (principal violinist at Teatro Comunale di Bologna). Ms. Veneziano was also a participant in a number of chamber music classes (1996-1998) as well as masterclasses at the Academy “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola and at the “Accademia Musicale” in San Marino with Prof. Piernaciso Masi. From 1994 to 1999 she was a member of the Messina opera orchestra. Ms. Veneziano has lived in Vienna since 2000. She studied the viola at the Musikuniversität Graz with M. Maurer from 2003 to 2004. From 2005 to 2011 Ms. Veneziano was a member of “Spirit of Europe”, where she participated in several recordings and concert tours. She regularly performs with the “Wiener Kammerorchester”, “Synchron Stage Orchestra” and the “Beethoven Philharmonie”. As a founding member of the “Wiener Kammersymphonie” string quintet she has performed in Spain, Poland, Denmark, Croatia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. She is now dedicated to performing on the viola d’ amore and has studied historical performance practice since 2017 under the leadership of Marianne Rônez. She performs on the viola d’amore “Budapest”

Ute Groh
Born in Weiz, Austria. She received her first cello lessons from Herlinde Schwarz at the J.J. Fux Conservatorium in Graz and continued study with Wolfgang Herzer at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna.
The course "Introduction to Historical Performance Practice" introduced her to the Baroque cello for the first time. This led to appearances as a soloist with the Viennese Bach Soloists. Performing baroque music has since been an essential element of her concert performances. This also led her to fulfill a long-held dream to master the viola da gamba and to perform publicly on it. From 2001 to 2005 Ute Groh was principal cellist of the Vienna Bach Soloists, the Graz Symphony Orchestra and the Sinfonietta Baden. Since then, however, her focus has been on the multifaceted nature of chamber music. As a long-standing member of the Concilium Musicum Vienna, she performs on stages at home and abroad on a period cello.


Attilio Ariosti (Malachia [Clemente]) [Frate Ottavio]
(b Bologna, 5 Nov 1666; d London, before 3 Sept 1729). Italian composer. From about 1672 to about 1684 he was a chierico (altar boy) at S Petronio, where he most likely received his musical training. By 1682 he had substituted Clemente for his baptismal name Malachia. As Frate Ottavio he entered the monastic Order of Servites on 25 July 1688, and he served as organist at their basilica, S Maria dei Servi, in Bologna. He became a deacon in 1692, and he preceded his name with ‘frate’ in dedications and correspondence. Yet he was usually termed ‘padre’ by contemporaries, so he may have attained the rank of priest. He dedicated his first two oratorios (1693–4) and his Divertimenti da camera (1695) to noble patrons. These works presumably attracted the attention of the music-loving Duke of Mantua, since Ariosti entered his service by March 1696, when the libretto for a Mantuan oratorio names its composer as ‘P[adre] Attilio Ottavio Ariosti, virtuoso della [duca di Mantova]’. In the autumn he was perhaps responsible for one act of the opera Tirsi, which was dedicated to the duke. After composing his first complete opera in 1697, he was sent by the duke to the Berlin court of Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg, whom he served as maître de musique (according to his title in the text of the serenata Mars und Irene). Since her court was Protestant, the Servite Order was highly displeased by this move and repeatedly commanded his return to Bologna. He had, however, quickly managed to become Sophie's favourite musician, and she successfully manoeuvred to extend his visit, enlisting Italian dukes and cardinals as well as the German philosopher Leibnitz to support her cause. Leibnitz reflected that Ariosti was not easy to replace, because he could sing, perform on several instruments and write dramatic texts as well as music. For Sophie he wrote the music for two operas and three shorter works, as well as the text for Giovanni Bononcini's Polifemo. After Sophie capitulated, Ariosti prudently declared his readiness to return to his order by way of Vienna, even though – as she wrote to Leibnitz – ‘he is dying for fear of returning to his monastery’.