“Boni who?”. It would be easy, speaking of Boni, to cite the famous and trite boutade mumbled by Don Abbondio, the old and tired priest of Manzoni’s Bethroted. Indeed, different from Don Abbondio, our own “Don” fortunately is not remembered for his scarcely noble deeds. However, he shared with Carneade, the character about whom Don Abbondio wondered “Carneade who?” the same unlucky fate: a fate of oblivion and forgetfulness. He was born in Bologna in the second half of the seventeenth century (probably in 1686). In his youthful years, he was educated in his city, likely within the Accademia Filarmonica. Around the 1710s, he moved to Rome.
He had been recommended to Corelli by Giacomo Antonio Perti, the organist of San Petronio and a famous Academician of Bologna. Or, at least, so we may infer from a letter of October 21st, 1711, sent by Corelli in response to an unnamed “Very honourable Sir and venerable Protector” (Rinaldi). Thanks to this recommendation, Don Gaetano managed to enter the Eternal City’s musical elite, and in particular the circle of Cardinal Ottoboni. Consequently, he refined his compositional skill, which was already excellent. In the midst of Imperial columns and marbles, of Baroque churches and palaces, in his Roman years Boni could experience Rome’s eternal splendour. He breathed Rome’s characteristic ponentino, the wind which sweetened its stifling evenings, coming from the East and dispelling heat and smells. He walked on its unstable sanpietrini, the typical square stones of Rome’s pavements, and followed the itineraries laid by those whose giant’s steps had rhythmed its milestones. Frescobaldi, Pasquini, Corelli, Valentini: the Bolognese musician owed something to each of them. These debts could range from a frivolous melodic flourishing to a more stable harmonic support in how to lead a dance bass. Giuseppe Gaetano adopted the full vocabulary of the old Masters. He acquired their jargon, their phraseology, their syntax, and their verbal constructs. He thus made recognisable as “Roman” the music he wrote during his fortunate period in the Pope’s city. His output is wonderfully infected by the late-seventeenth century Italian instrumental tradition. His works display, at its best, the art of sonar da camera (i.e., chamber music playing) which was in vogue in the first three decades of the eighteenth century.
His twelve Divertimenti, a violin, violone, cimbalo, flauto e mandola date back to that period: in all likelihood, to the 1720-30s. This is a wonderful collection of Sonatas, opening up a multifaceted universe of sounds even before speaking through music leaves – its refined titlepage speaks for itself. The collection of instruments crowding the work’s titlepage is in fact the orchestra of timbres lighting and colouring the prestigious Roman academies, which were all the fashion in the most opulent of Bernini’s palaces. Among these academies, we may remember those at the Ghezzi house: Ghezzi was the only one who drew on paper the lopsided figure of the Bolognese musician – in 1731, just ten years before his presumed death.
Similar to the flutes and violins, the mandola found in those refined milieus the best stages where its delicate gut strings could resonate. There, it found also the most desired mirrors where it could admire itself, finally reflected side by side with Dukes and Barons. Bologna, Florence, Venice, like Rome, were only a few of the principal centres where the mandolin tuned by fourths (be it in four, five, or six courses) made memorable melodies resound, plucked by the skilled hands of famous instrumentalists. This instrument was employed in the most disparate contexts. We cannot omit mentioning the wise admonition sung by Vivaldi’s Giuditta, or the more worldly and subdued dreaming of Noafa, the protagonist of Francesco Bartolomeo Conti’s oratorio in two parts, by the title of Gioseffo. Its gentle and changing plucked sound would become a constant presence of sound and timbre, colouring suggestive theatrical moments or gladdening gallant academies in the palaces. It precisely to these, i.e. to these refined concerts, that we owe the entire instrumental output by Giuseppe Gaetano Boni. His Sonatas were conceived for the noble hands of passionate musicians/amateurs, who prided themselves of their musical skill. They represent the best works composed for the mandolin in that period – in detail for a mandolin in six courses, tuned by fourths. It is an instrument like the one built by David Tecchler (1723) and now preserved at the museum of the Parco della Musica in Rome. Tecchler was the first in a series of German luthiers who settled in the future Italian capital.
Boni’s twelve divertimenti are daring and ambitious. Their allegri are lively, just as their larghi and sarabande are melancholically pathetic in their grave pace. They are a kaleidoscope of human emotions, a continuing vortex of languid late-Baroque feelings. In the slow movements, Boni flourishes some wonderful melodic mannerisms and ethereal breaths of sounds. They are always sustained by very refined basses, as by robust and secure steps prepared by one who masters his pen well. In the martial and marked allegros, the melody becomes more linear, seemingly fanciless, though always very virtuosic and demanding. In particular, in these latter movements (especially gigues and courants) we can observe a certain analogy with Arcangelo Corelli’s harmonic-compositional architecture, which would characterize (among others) his Op. V, the most grandiose of his instrumental collections. True, Boni at times lacks the extraordinary stylistic and formal consistence of Corelli, the composer from Fusignano. (For instance, we could label Boni’s eclecticism as anti-Corellian, manifested in the variety of the sonatas’ movements’ number and size). However, we can appreciate in his works the fantasy of a musician who felt free to experiment. He was uninhibited by the obligations and commissions which ruffled, like a sword on Damocles’ head, the vapid peruques of composers who were much better known than him.
The result is a very felicitous music: an accomplished music, with mature forms, enriched by the intrinsic versatility which is proper of those scores whose timbre is undetermined. The composer sketched a score with an idiomatic plurality, since it was destined to more than one soprano instrument. He could not, therefore, take into account the needs of every single musician (such as a string leap uncomfortable for a violinist, which could instead become providential for a flute player in need of a mouthful of oxygen). Thus he “de-instrumentalizes” the bar, freeing it from practical constrictions, and making it, as much as possible, performable by all. The performer is entrusted with the task of knowing all aspects of the instrument he or she chose. They must master its timbre, its sound emission, and appreciate its characteristic features while overcoming its natural technical limitations. Only in this way will the mandolin be capable of mastering the printed score, being accompanied by a sound carpet woven in plucked sounds (those by the harp, by the harpsichord, by the theorbo, and by the guitar). The mandolin will thus drip drops of sound, and project the listener into a faraway universe. It is an iridescent world such as the one opened up to the curious eyes by the most bizarre of the eighteenth-century optical inventions, the “cosmorama”.
Indeed, the Age of Enlightenment was the century when baroque, rococo, style galante and classicism were stupendously intertwined. It was a century of controversial wonder and of paraded splendour. Italy, at that time, was a fatally divided country, between centuries-old ruins and golden stuccos, between womanizing priests and gallant youths. Still, Italy would become the most lively and vivacious emblem of that century, a comet one should follow in order to live the most extraordinary of the cultural epiphanies.
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Born in L’Aquila in 1992, Davide graduated in mandolin at the Conservatory of Music “A. Casella” in L’Aquila under the guidance of M° Fabio Giudice. In April 2016 he obtained his Summa cum Laude master diploma in Mandolin under the guidance of M°Dorina Frati. Within the same conservatory in 2018 Davide obtained the master diploma in Chamber Music under the guidance of M°Luca Morassutti.
As specialized in music performance with original instruments, Davide performs as a soloist in many Italian festivals. He also reported collaborations with the Teatro alla Scala of Milan, under the directions of M°Rizzi and M° Fournillier for the staging of Umberto Giordano’s “La cena delle beffe” and Sergej Prokof’ev’s “Romeo e Giulietta”. In 2018 he collaborated with the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, directed by M°Mariotti for the staging of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. In 2021, under the guidance of M° Giuseppe Sabatini and the direction of Nicola Ulivieri, Davide participated to a new staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Teatro Zandonai in Rovereto. Still in 2021, in Bologna at Teatro Duse, is once again Davide’s Mandolin accompanying Don Giovanni (interpreted on that occasion but also during the recitals at the Comunale, by the internationally famous baritone M° Simone Alberghini) in the staging by Tommaso Ussardi, Giovanni Dispenza and “Orchestra Senzaspine”. As a scholar and researcher, Davide is devoted to the re-discovering and enhancement of the mandolin repertoire during the 1600 and 1700, in the attempt to revitalize according to a divulgative modality, both through masterclasses in the Italian conservatories of music and publications for Lilium editions, Map editions and Da Vinci Publishing - an immense musical heritage which was for centuries forgotten.
Together with the internationally famous soprano Simone Kermes and the ancient music ensemble “Amici Veneziani” Davide participated to the recording of “Inferno e Paradiso” cd edited by Sony Classical.
In 2019 Davide founded the ancient music group “Accademia degli Erranti” for which he is also the artistic director.
In July 2020 “Tiranni Affetti, works for mandolin and voice” their first discographic work was released by Dynamic. The work was in full first recording and it is dedicated to the music of the Florentine composer Carlo Arrigoni (1699-1744). Still for Dynamic, Davide published the cd “Filippo Sauli’s Six Partitas and Other works”, a discographic project dedicated to the music for solo mandolin (mandolin with four orders and tuned for fourths) composed by the lutenist and mandolinist Filippo Sauli (XVII-XVIII cent.), and other scores still for the mandolin in four orders and tuned for fourths composed by Niccolò Ceccherini and Pietro Paolo Cappellini (these last two in full first recording). Davide is also involved since time in the drafting of a volume having an extremely high historical and musicological value dedicated to the mandolin, the theatre and the music culture during the 18th century.
Pietro Giuseppe Gaetano Boni (fl 1st half of the 18th century). Italian composer. He has sometimes been thought to be the composer of the opera Il figlio delle selve, performed at Modena in 1700, but according to Schmidl this results from a confusion of his name with that of Cosimo Bani. He may have studied in Bologna, since he was recommended from there to Corelli in Rome in 1711 (only Corelli’s reply to the letter of recommendation is extant). It has been assumed that he remained in Rome for some time, since his 12 Sonate per camera a violoncello e cembalo op.1 were published there in 1717. That year, perhaps as a result of this publication, he was made a member of the Accademia Filarmonica, Bologna. On the title-page of his Divertimenti per camera a violino, violone, cimbalo, flauto e mandola op.2 (Rome, n.d.) he is described as a priest. In 1719 he had a Cantata per la notte di Natale performed in Perugia; this may be the same piece as the Cantata per il SS natale di Nostro Signore Giesu Christo, for two voices and instruments, in manuscript at Manchester (GB-Mp). His opera Tito Manlio (text by Matteo Noris) was performed in Rome on 8 January 1720 and his oratorio S Rosalia at Bologna in 1726. In the libretto of this work he is referred to as abate. His 12 Sonate a violino e violone e cembalo op.3 were published in Rome in 1741. The set of manuscript sonatas (I-Bc) thought by Gaspari to be for keyboard has been shown by Newman to be for violin and continuo.