Francesco Lecce: Sonate e Partite, 67 Works for Unaccompanied Violin


  • Artist(s): Vincenzo Bianco
  • Composer(s): Francesco Lecce
  • EAN Code: 7.46160916149
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Violin
  • Period: Classical
  • Publication year: 2023
SKU: C00767 Category:

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The violin is, in a manner of speaking, a “social” instrument. Its nature demands relationships with other instruments. With them, it may interact as a master does with servants (as may happen in virtuoso concertos or solo works with piano accompaniment), or as a peer among equals (as, for instance, in the string quartet); but its structure seems always to require harmonic support. However, numerous attempts have been made, throughout Western music history, to let the violin stand on its own feet, with unaccompanied solo works. Among the first composers who tried this are some Germans: Thomas Baltzar (1630-1663), who authored Two Preludes and An Allemande; Heinrich Biber (1644-1704), who crowned his magnificent “Mystery Sonatas” with an extraordinary Passacaille for unaccompanied violin, Johann Jakob Walther (1650-1717) and Johann Paul Westhoff (1656-1705), with brilliant polyphonic writing. Johann Sebastian Bach built on their work (and especially on Biber’s) for his monumental, and as yet unmatched, Six Solos, consisting of three Sonatas and three Partitas for unaccompanied violin. Other early examples include short works within larger collections, such as those by John Playford (The Division Violin, 1684) and Nicola Matteis (Ayres of the Violin).
At approximately the same time as Bach’s Sonate e Partite, other works enriched the solo violin repertoire, and some of them were authored by Italian composers. They include, for instance, the Ricercari by Girolamo Laurenti (works in an improvisational style); isolated movements by Nicola Matteis; a movement (the Gigue) from a Sonata by Francesco Montanari, as well as entire Sonatas for unaccompanied solo violin written by Geminiani and by Pisendel.
Later in the century Telemann wrote a set of twelve Fantasias (1735), while similar works started to appear in France (Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, Amusement pour le violon seul op. 18; Isidore Bertheaume, Sonate dans le style de Lolli and Sonatas op. 4; Jean-Baptiste Bédard and Julien Mathieu) and in Sweden (Johan Hemlich Roman, Assaggi).
In Italy, the tradition inaugurated by Matteis and Geminiani continued. Giovanni Battista Viotti, one of the foremost violinists of the era, wrote a Duetto per un violin; Pietro Nardini left a famous Sonate énigmatique, where also the technique of scordatura is called for. Bartolomeo Campagnoli authored numerous such pieces: sets of Fugues, Polonoises, Divertissements, and Préludes, as well as a monumental Recueil composed of 101 pieces. Other notable contributions to the genre came from Czechia (Václav Pichl), from England (James Brooks), but first and foremost from Germany (F. W. Rust, Johann Stamitz and Reichardt).
Little after the turn of the century, another Italian left an indelible mark in this repertoire: Paganini’s Capricci rank almost on a par with Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas; they would be followed by works by Vieuxtemps, Romberg, David, Jansa and Ole Bull. It was by the end of the nineteenth century that this genre knew a kind of a revival, with the impressive sets composed by Max Reger, and with Hindemith’s two Sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Other great composers of the same period include Philipp Jarnach, a longtime friend of Ferruccio Busoni, Hans-Werner Henze, and, of course, Ysaÿe, who was one of the main epigones of Bach’s monumental feats. Bartók’s Sonata (1944) is, however, probably the deepest and most profound example in the whole literature for unaccompanied solo violin, even though personalities such as Prokofev also contributed to the burgeoning repertoire for this instrument. In Italy, the twentieth century saw the engagement of Goffredo Petrassi (Elogio per un’ombra, 1971), Bruno Maderna (Widmung, 1967, and Pièce pour Ivry, 1971), Salvatore Sciarrino (Capricci) and Luciano Berio, whose ninth “Sequenza” is written for this sound medium.
All this notwithstanding, and in spite of the noteworthy and famous names cited here, it remains true that writing for unaccompanied solo violin remains a challenge for few, and that numerous great violinists/composers did not venture in this field.
It certainly requires great skill both of the composer and of the performer. Composers should normally be violinists themselves, in order to push the limits of the “feasible” to their breaking point, but without reaching it. They frequently enjoy the exploration of polyphonic textures, which might seem as even more problematic than other writing styles. The challenge of successfully and consistently sustain a multi-part violin writing for an instrument which normally has “just” the melody to play is a challenge which here and again resurfaces. This challenge is the one which keeps this repertoire alive, and – most importantly – is never completely solved, but keeps inspiring young musicians to try for themselves, and then to disseminate knowledge about innovative performing techniques.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023

Francesco Lecce was a Neapolitan violinist and composer; little is known about his life. He was born probably around 1740; he was concert master and “virtuoso” at the Royal Chapel of Naples from 1761 until the early 1800, according to the surviving documents; at the same time, he worked at the San Carlo theatre.
He had studied at the Conservatory of Santa Maria di Loreto, where he probably studied with Xavier Carcajus. Regarding this, on August 30th, 1771, the logbook of the Musicians of the Chapel of the Tesoro di San Gennaro reports:
Xavier Carcajus, with a petition, stated that he had served for approximately forty years, with the utmost attention, as a Musician on the instrument of the Violin; and that currently he is advanced in age, and, due to illness, he is no more capable to remain in this office. (…) His renounce having been accepted, Carcajus was replaced by the person of the esteemed Don Francesco Lecce, though with the burden that the above-mentioned esteemed Don Francesco Lecce must give him, as long as he lives, half of his emoluments.
In September 1771 we find him as the Chapel’s leader. Later, as witnessed by the payroll of September, 1773, he was remunerated with 2.5 Ducati for three soirees, by virtue of his belonging one of the first four violins “di piazza”.
In addition to the usual three soirees in September, on March 23rd, 1778, he took part in a Te Deum performed in the Tesoro chapel; however, he is not found on the occasion of the King’s visitation on April 3rd, 1778.
Among the members of his family, one Michele Lecce is found, between 1779 and June 1780, among the “extraordinary musicians”. He may have been one of his sons or relatives; he is found again on August 20th, 1780, as concert master. On April 5th, 1793, one of his sons, Gennaro Lecce, is mentioned in a note in the Music Chapel’s logbook:
Professor of Violin Gennaro Lecce had petitioned to be admitted as an extraordinary musician. He was thus elected as extraordinary member of the Chapel, and he was given licence to replace Francesco Lecce his father, in case of impossibility, illness or other circumstances.
Between 1774 and 1880, Francesco’s career progressed highly, both at the Chapel of S. Gennaro and at the Royal Chapel. He was appointed concert master at the Tesoro Chapel on June 16th, 1799; we find him there again on August 20th, 1799. He was also active as a first violin at the San Carlo Theatre up to the whole year 1800.
Unfortunately, since he lived in a hectic time of revolutions, struggles and turmoil due to political instability, and as a consequence of the constitution and fall of the Neapolitan Republic, it was impossible to find further biographical information.
His surviving works as a composer include vocal Duets and secular Arias for solo voices with orchestra. His instrumental music comprises his Sonate e Partite per violino as well as two known Sonatas for two violins and continuo (1762-72). As frequently happened with most instrumental works from the Neapolitan school, originally scored for one or two violins, one of his violin concertos has been adopted by mandolin players who sought a significant repertoire.
This collection of Sonatas and Partitas, written in a fresh and always fascinating style, mirrors the collections of Sonatas and Dances for an unaccompanied instrument and without continuo. This genre, first found in the late seventeenth century, had great success in the development of the Italian and Neapolitan school up to the twentieth century.
As concerns the labelling of their various movements (indications are missing in most cases in the manuscript), the choice was rather easy given the composer’s idiomatic writing, with flowing movements interspersed with Minuets, Andantes, Larghettos or Adagios.
The fact remains that this great collection of works is the first, and until now perhaps the only, to bear witness of the unaccompanied “solo” form for violin in Naples between eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Vincenzo Bianco © 2023


Vincenzo L.A. Bianco: Violinist, Neapolitan trained, violin teacher in Naples at the Secondary School, he obtained the Classical Maturity at the “A. Genovesi “ High School, at the same time he studied with the teacher G. Francavilla, first viola of the old Scarlatti Orchestra, graduating with the maestro F. Mezzena at the Conservatory of Pescara. He obtained a “Laurea in II Livello per l’ Alta Formazione Musicale” at "S. Pietro a Majella" Conservatory in Naples. He deepened his executive practice of the baroque violin with Enrico Onofri and with Chiara Banchini, with Nicholas Robinson and Alessandro Ciccolini, specializing at the Conservatories "D. Cimarosa "of Avellino and" S. Pietro a Majella " of Naples. He collaborates with formations of ancient music (MusicaPerduta, Musica Sacra Basel, Concert Dei Cavalieri, Talenti Volcanici, Il Labirinto, The Soloists of the Chapel of Pietà deiTurchini, Ensemble Le Musiche da Camera, Ensemble Carlo Gesualdo and Fanzago Baroque Ensemble ,of which he is leader and founder) and also with important Neapolitan Orchestras (Orchestra del Teatro S. Carlo - direction by Jeffrey Tate and Riccardo Muti, Orchestra A. Scarlatti and Orchestra of the Conservatory S. Pietro a Majella, Orchestra I Soloists of Naples and I Soloists of S. Carlo "). His solo activity at Baroque festivals and international festivals allowed him to play in several European and Italian cities such as Sofia, Basel, Munich, Hildesheim, Vienna, Oslo, Rome, Assisi. Milan, Naples. With Musica Perduta he performed in the "Festespielmusik" at the " Händel-Haus" of Halle, in Varese, Todi and in Naples,( where he performed ) performing the cantata "Apollo e Dafne" by G.F. Händel for the owners of the " Händel-Haus" Museum from London. In Naples he collaborates with the Center of Ancient Music "Pietà dei Turchini" where he performs concerts and unpublished Neapolitan sonatas. Besides recording for different record companies with different groups of ancient and baroque music, he recorded for OFM Conv. ,between 2004 and 2007, three volumes of "Incanto Serafico" for which he received a letter of praise from Pope Benedict XVI.
As an interpreter, instrumentalist and composer he cultivates his passion for musicology and deals with research and promotion of unpublished Neapolitan and European ancient scores, as well as of the historical re-evaluation of the Neapolitan Violin School. As a composer and transcriber of unpublished works, he has written and performed various music for the Neapolitan Church and for shorts films and film fragments, writing some music for Giancarlo Siani's film "Ci devo pensare".
He was co-founder of "I Figlioli di Santa Maria di Loreto". He currently collaborates with the baroque ensemble "Musica Perduta" of Perugia. He plays an instrument from 1780.

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